Photo: Ninja

It’s one thing for a regular player to report somebody who might be cheating or griefing in a game like Fortnite, but when a Twitch star does it? Then it unavoidably carries a different weight, especially when it’s the Twitch star, Tyler “Ninja” Blevins. Over the past week, Blevins has found himself surrounded by an ever-encroaching storm of criticism for reporting other players—even though the players he reported seemingly didn’t face consequences.

Blevins has reported people on stream before, but the incident that kicked off this particular controversy saw him angrily report a player who he believed had stream-sniped him earlier this month. “I’m going out of my way to get this guy banned,” he said after getting killed in Fortnite. He believed that the player had been watching his stream in order to find and kill him. When that player emoted after the kill, he took that as proof of stream-sniping (the idea being that he was emoting in response to hearing Blevins’ teammate and fellow streamer DrLupo say “watch for the emote”). Calling him an “idiot,” Blevins reported the player.

The player, IcyFive, took to Twitter to vehemently protest Blevins’ claim, saying that he was just celebrating having “lasered” a famous target. “I don’t understand why you raged, called me an idiot, and said you were going to try and get me banned,” he wrote. “I know that you can get me banned cause of how much power you have within Epic. You are the face of Fortnite.”

Blevins ultimately relented and apologized for falsely reporting IcyFive, but pushed back at what was then becoming a widespread notion that Blevins could get people banned whenever he wanted. “Epic will never ban people for no reason even if I say anything,” Blevins said to IcyFive on Twitter. “You assuming they do is naive. Stop playing the victim. You aren’t getting banned, I am sorry. Stop milking it.”

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This response didn’t do much to help Ninja’s reputation with his fellow Fortnite fans. Flash forward a week, to last Saturday: a different player claimed that Ninja had reported him in October for “having higher ping” than him and that, a few days later, he got banned by Epic. The ensuing Reddit thread got over 44,000 upvotes, leading to more speculation that Blevins had more power than the average player to get his rivals banned.

Problem: that story was a fabrication, according to Epic. A representative of the company appeared in the thread to explain what had actually happened. “We take the reporting and actioning of accounts very seriously. We treat every report the same and follow the same process to determine what action is necessary,” they said, before outlining a series of events involving two different accounts, which they named “Account A” and “Account B.” Account A was the one reported by Ninja, and Account B was associated with the video that caused all the fuss. Here, according to Epic, is how it happened:

On Oct 2nd, Account B was disabled for reasons unrelated to player reporting.

On Oct 3rd, Account A was reported by Ninja. It was investigated and not actioned due to lack of evidence.

On Oct 4th, Account A changed their display name away from the name reported on October 3.

On Nov 13th, Account B was re-enabled based on a review of the underlying system.

On Nov 17th, account B changed their display name to match the display name of account A at the time of Ninja’s report.

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In other words, nobody got banned due to Blevins’ actions, but somebody either juggled multiple accounts or quietly changed one account’s name to that of another to make it look like their unrelated ban resulted from Blevins’ report.

Despite that, it doesn’t appear that once-incensed fans are flocking back to Blevins. People continue to make anti-Ninja threads on Fortnite’s subreddit, and while some are calling for people to cool it, others still believe that Blevins actually did get people banned or, failing that, that he’s in the wrong for reporting people regardless. In a thread pleading for people to “calm down with the Ninja hate,” the top reply reads, “How about Ninja stops reporting and trying to ban ppl for killing him?”

Yesterday, in an interview with YouTube drama maven Daniel “Keemstar” Keem, Blevins said he thinks that Epic’s correction isn’t going nearly as far as the false information that preceded it.

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“Damage done,” said Blevins. “The guy made a false fabrication, slandered my name, framed the whole thing, and it worked. I’m getting hate on every single social media. People saying, ‘Maybe you should get ‘em banned, lol.’”

He pointed to it as evidence that Twitch fans abandon their old favorites when they achieve success. “LeBron signs a big deal, no one’s like ‘I’m not gonna support LeBron anymore. He makes enough money. I’m not buying his jersey,’” he said, also asserting that flaunting wealth is the “goal” of rap music.

“But if I posted something like that—or any other YouTuber or someone who makes a decent living gaming and streaming—they’ll just be like ‘sellout,’” he said. “You know what I mean? It blows my mind.”

Granted, it’s worth noting that Blevins did recently post something like that in the form of his top-of-the-line, extremely blue new stream room. And while there were definitely some responses like “stop flexing, we get you are rich,” others expressed excitement and awe. Since Fortnite came out, a major part of Blevins’ appeal has been his meteoric rise to fame and fortune—the broken records, the mainstream recognition, the collaborations with rappers and demographically adjacent figures like, er, Ellen DeGeneres. Longtime fans feel like they’re with Blevins on that journey, while newcomers just want to see where it all ends up. “I’ve been with you since your first video,” reads a comment on a behind-the-scenes video of the new stream room, echoing a commonly repeated sentiment among Blevins’ fans.

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The real issue here is twofold: One, Twitch streaming is still tied to increasingly unrealistic expectations of authenticity, of real people chilling, playing video games in their bedrooms, and feeling like they’re viewers’ best pals. The further somebody like Blevins strays from that—even if, arguably, he hasn’t been that in a while and never was in many respects, because streaming is ultimately an act, just like any other performance—the more blowback they’re likely to face.

The second part of it, though, is more specific to Blevins. There’s a pervasive narrative that he’s turned “toxic” in recent months. He rapped a slur, he won’t stream with women, he rages and reports people he thinks are cheating or stream sniping. And so, even as fans are impressed by Blevins’ accomplishments, they feel betrayed. “Ninja, this video is awesome. This is why we love you,” reads one of the top comments on the stream room video. “BUT, lately you’ve turned into the most toxic, hating creator in the community at the minute. Please take a break and come back once all this toxicity has left. Don’t hate me.”

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But of course, Blevins is only human, and he’s a human who happens to be under more pressure than many. He’s fabulously wealthy, but he’s also constantly performing for immense live audiences and constantly escalating those performances. It’s not surprising to see him lose his cool. When people are under stress, tempers flare. It’s also about as “authentic” as it gets, but Twitch fans have been conditioned to rarely want to see streamers’ ugly sides—only the quips and the quirks. Blevins has said quite a few dumb things and made some big mistakes—and he is ultimately responsible for those things—but there’s more to it than a simple, sudden heel turn. He is, in part, a product of his career and a platform that can drive the people who butter its bread to the brink.

During the Keemstar interview, Blevins said he plans to stop “giving more ammunition to fuel the fire” and is more focused on moving forward than looking back.

“The amount of incredible things that are coming in the next four months, five months—it’s gonna blow people’s minds,” he said. “It’s so ahead of just streaming and gaming now that this stuff is just more of an annoyance than anything. I’m just trying to continue to do big things. Fortnite’s amazing, gaming streaming’s amazing, but we’re taking this whole Ninja thing to [the] next level.”