Guess Who's Back Already? Ninja!

I don't want to say I told you so, but...

He’s back!

Tyler “Ninja” Blevins has returned on social media and with a big announcement. Starting Friday, he’ll be streaming everywhere—Twitch, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and TikTok, all at once. A huge step for the once-most-popular streamer, but an obvious and disgusting use of mental health and burnout signs as a marketing ploy after less than a week off.

On Sept. 1, Ninja “rage quit” a “Fortnite” game and signed off of his Twitch stream in the most bizarre way possible.

“Chat, I don’t know when I’m going to be live and I don’t know where I’m going to be live,” he said. “But I gotta get off, man.”

In the next few minutes, his Twitter account username changed to “User Not Found” with his profile picture removed and a new Twitter banner that said, “Time/Out” — seemingly a reference to his mental health initiative that made “Good Morning America” news in April. Less than an hour later, he lost his Twitch partnership status, something that only previously happened after he left the platform the first time in August 2019.

He also fired off a tweet that day. “I just need a break... I don't know when I will be back, or where,” he wrote. The tweet received 3,000 replies, including some of Ninja’s most powerful peers, concerned for his well-being, and understandably so.

Except, as some, including myself, anticipated, this quick switch of assets and emphasis on “where” wasn’t real. The answer? Everywhere!

After I wrote a newsletter edition on Sept. 1 calling Ninja’s bluff and pointing to its well-manufactured nature, I got a lot of negative feedback.

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Some of that was from gullible folks who thought that Ninja actually needed a break or that he wasn’t alluding to mental health at all. But some of it was more understandable—people wrote to me in public and private that the headline of that edition fell into mental health tropes of people faking it in legitimate times of crisis. That wasn’t my intent.

What I aimed to do was provide critical analysis of a publicity stunt orchestrated by the most important figure in gaming to pop culture and describe how his actions affected others who do experience mental health breakdowns of this kind.

By feigning a crisis, or at least the common signs of one, Ninja was crying wolf on an important issue—one he claims to care about when it’s convenient to say so on national TV.

There’s no charitable way to slice it here, and I’m not alone in my analysis. Nathan Grayson of The Washington Post and Zach Bussey, two reporters who cover the streaming beat with the best of them, seemingly concur.

The saddest part is Ninja’s announcement on Thursday solicited almost no negative feedback from his peers—including the ones who expressed their concerns a week ago—or at least not in public. It was more or less the congratulatory b.s. you’d expect from video game industry luminaries.

But it’s hard to let the sour taste go here, when there are streamers out there who are truly struggling. If Ninja is willing to pull a stunt like this, then who isn’t?

On the same day Ninja staged his ploy, Imane “Pokimane” Anys released a video explaining her decision to deprioritize Twitch and livestreaming to improve her mental health.

In September 2021, former CLG CEO Devin Nash, who now represents many big-name creators, including Kaitlyn “Amouranth” Siragusa, at his ad agency, made a video essay about creator mental health issues. And tragically, livestreamer Byron “Reckful” Bernstein committed suicide in July 2020 after a series of vulnerable interviews with Alok “Dr. K” Kanojia, a licensed psychiatrist who is controversial for doing live interviews about mental health on Twitch and YouTube.

Not all streamer mental health issues arise from streaming. But it’s hard to maintain the 6-to-10-hour-a-day interaction that it takes to sustain a living as a livestreamer.

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Not to mention all the questions around them—who’s really in your corner versus who’s there just for fame and fortune? How can you find the time to manage the rest of your life when it revolves around entertaining? These are well-known issues, ones Ninja’s faced and has been vocal about in the past. Making light of them is irresponsible at best. Abhorrent at worst.

But what should we really expect from someone who has prioritized money over everything and has repeatedly shown little tact?

Ninja famously defended Jidon “JiDion” Adams, a YouTube prankster, after he sent a series of hate raids to Pokimane’s channel, which resulted in JiDion’s suspension from the site. When Pokimane quipped back at Ninja, his wife, Jessica—at the time Ninja’s manager—threatened to sue Pokimane for defamation, an unrealistic and certainly bad-faith aggression due to the high standard required to actually defame public figures.

Ninja might gain more eyeballs with his new move, and it’s a big deal. He’s the first mainstream streamer to forgo an exclusive deal with a platform to multi-stream in this way. But it’s hard not to sit here and think: At what cost did he just go to in order to promote it?