- Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images
- Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, a pro streamer on Twitch and the most popular “Fortnite” player in the world, says he doesn’t play with female gamers.
- Blevins’ decision has sparked a larger discussion within the gaming community.
“I don’t play with female gamers.”
That’s what “Fortnite: Battle Royale” streamer and ex-professional e-sports player Tyler “Ninja” Blevins told Polygon last week.
“If I have one conversation with one female streamer where we’re playing with one another, and even if there’s a hint of flirting, that is going to be taken and going to be put on every single video and be clickbait forever.”
Ninja owes much of his mega-fame to the Amazon-owned livestreaming website Twitch – where, as he rightfully points out, rumors spread quickly. In the same way that many YouTube stars have risen to fame by chronicling their personal lives for strangers to watch, it’s not uncommon for Twitch stars to over-share with their audiences, and fans are often more than eager to know the intimate details.
However, while Twitch may be a well-known breeding ground for gossip, it is much better known for the widespread and nearly unavoidable harassment and belittlement of female streamers.
After Blevins’ comments went viral, Ninja’s no-girls-allowed policy inspired a wave of backlash on social media that lasted through the weekend.
On Monday, Blevins clarified his stance with a statement posted to Twitter:
Please read. pic.twitter.com/egfplBQFYD
— Ninja (@Ninja) August 13, 2018
When the dust had settled, it was clear that Ninja’s comments raise tough questions about the importance of inclusion in gaming culture, and the cost of internet fame in the modern social media-centered world.
So far, reactions to Blevins’ comments have varied widely
“As the largest streamer on Twitch, he had the opportunity to make a difference when it came to gender equality in gaming,” said Riley J. Dennis, a YouTube creator, live-streamer and podcast host. “And instead he prioritized his comfort over the right of women to be treated as equals.”
Dennis continued, in an email sent to Business Insider: “If he had taken a stand and told his audience that they need to respect women and that he’s going to be streaming with platonic female friends, they would listen to him.”
This point was echoed on Twitter all week:
While I understand not wanting rumors every time you play with someone of the opposite gender, maybe the most influential streamer could make an example so opposite genders COULD play together and have it not be a stupid rumor mill, especially since he's married. https://t.co/e08e9MJ0DK
— Austen Marie – PAX WEST (@AustenMarieTV) August 11, 2018
Last word on this:
I am not blaming Ninja for trying to protect his family.
But going into an interview, in front of an audience of millions, and saying Women are Not Allowed in My Gaming Space is wrong.
It’s keeping women and men segregated in gaming space. It’s Not Okay.
— bluejay (@bluejay_712) August 12, 2018
Meanwhile, some of the most prominent women streamers have come out on social media in support of Ninja’s decision.
“I’ve been a fan of Ninja for a long time. He’s always been respectful to everyone in this space, myself included,” said Renee Reynosa, a livestreamer and YouTuber. “I was unaware that him playing with a woman was an ongoing discussion. I just figured he played with people he liked and worked well with, just like the rest of us. I never assumed otherwise.”
Fortnite streamer Rachell “Valkyrae” Hofstetter tweeted her support of Blevins on Monday: “It has NOTHING to do about being sexist. And it is not teaching kids to not play with women. It should only show others the importance of putting the health of your relationships first, over work.”
Many Twitter users have also noted that Ninja’s support doesn’t directly undermine or prevent the success of women streamers:
Ninja's choice not to game with female #streamers doesn't lessen my place, or any other woman's, in the gaming community. Who he does or doesn't play with does not affect me, my community or my journey.
He's not a god.
His words change nothing.
Women are still pillars in gaming.
— Human Pizza Roll (@PlayWithJambo) August 11, 2018
It feels relevant to note that of the female streamers and content creators I reached out to while writing this story, several declined to comment because they hoped to avoid “targeted” online attacks from Ninja’s supporters on social media.
At the very least, Ninja’s comments raise some serious questions
Besides being a reflection of the casual sexism that exists on Twitch, Ninja’s comments have also inspired some troubling questions: For example, what’s more important? Ninja’s desire for privacy, or improving the platform that he is now synonymous with?
“The thing to remember about creators is that their authenticity – their willingness to be open, share personal stories, offer their opinions, communicate with fans directly, that kind of thing – is their biggest strength,” said Megan Farokhmanesh, an internet culture writer for The Verge, told Business Insider in an email.
“The relationship with creators is a para-social one, where audience members develop a strong attachment to someone they’ve never met – and will likely never even know they exist,” she said. “The loss of privacy and the ensuing harassment Ninja seems to be referencing is currently part of the cost of internet fame, but it shouldn’t be a required price.”
YouTube creator Riley J. Dennis offered a different perspective.
“I do that think Ninja and other Twitch partners should want to improve the platform by promoting and supporting women gamers,” said Dennis. “It’s just the right thing to do. I don’t know how to make the argument that compassion for people who are different from you is important – you should just want to extend your compassion towards those people.”
Clearly, there are no easy answers.
What we know is that social media, including platforms like Twitch and YouTube, has redefined the modern understanding of fame and celebrity. And while the pressure to be open with strangers obviously doesn’t excuse the writing off of an entire gender, it is certainly enough to spark an understandable amount of fear and, in turn, result in some ugly – however unintentional – divisiveness.
“Taking on the issue of sexism in gaming isn’t a burden I would ever place on a single individual. It has to be a group effort,” said Youtuber Renee Reynosa. “So, while I’m not a fan of how everything unraveled, I’m glad that the end result was a discussion on how we can be more inclusive and supportive of one another.”