Is Ninja Faking a Mental Health Crisis to Tease a Streaming Platform Switch?
A "Time/Out" banner for a Twitter account renamed “User Not Found," on the same day Twitch revokes his partnership? It's all just a little too perfect.
On Thursday afternoon, I hosted a Twitter Space with Ludwig Ahgren, arguably the most influential content creator in all of gaming today.
We talked about streamers and content creators, their responsibility to their audience and how their integrity matters. And while we were live, two major stories broke about two high-profile streamers not present on the call.
First, after a month off from streaming, Imane “Pokimane” Anys uploaded a 14-minute video stating she would be reducing her focus on Twitch and increasing her time on other platforms such as TikTok and Instagram, in part due to burnout and mental health issues she has faced due to the platform.
The other: Tyler “Ninja” Blevins—once the most popular gamer in the world—”rage quit” a “Fortnite” game he was playing with fellow streamer Ali “SypherPK” Hassan. His signoff?
“I’m going to lose my fucking mind,” he said, seemingly in a near panic. “I know we were supposed to play all day. I’m sorry, dude. Chat, I don’t know when I’m going to be live and I don’t know where I’m going to be live. But I gotta get off, man.”
These are the last few moments of @Ninja's stream before he went dark on his socials.
— Esports (@esports)
Sep 1, 2022
Excuse me? “Where”? What does that have to do with anything?
Over the next 10 minutes, Ninja would remove his profile picture from Twitter, rename his account to “User Not Found” and update the account banner to “Time/Out.” His tweet—again reiterating the “where”—got millions of impressions and condolences from his peers, many of whom seemingly bought that this was a legitimate mental breakdown.
Except, over the next hour, it became increasingly clear that it probably wasn’t.
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Earlier Thursday, he posted his Twitch link with the caption: Big things are coming. After the abrupt end to his stream, it didn’t take long for Twitch to remove the partnership from Ninja’s account—meaning he presumably also lost all monetization features on that account.
The last time the company did that? When Ninja announced he’d be switching to Mixer, the now-defunct, Microsoft-backed streaming platform that paid Ninja a reported $30 million to join. It’s not coincidental, either, that this month is exactly two years after he signed a “multi-year” agreement to return to Twitch in September 2020.
So again: “Where”?
Emphasized twice, it’s almost apparent what’s happening here, and requires little speculation: Ninja is feigning a mental health crisis to drum up interest in a move to another platform.
The taste in my mouth is beyond sour. On the day one of his peers is legitimately opening up about her mental health struggles, Ninja is seemingly pulling a publicity stunt around a similar issue.
I expect the floor from many creators. This is the basement.
I don’t think Ninja planned at all to collide with Pokimane’s announcement. But the juxtaposition makes it that much more startling.
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Over the past two years, it has become increasingly clear that a large amount of the gaming streaming audience left Ninja behind. Among Twitch streamers, he ranked #187 in August, according to Twitch Tracker.
Ninja remains among the highest earners, though, as brand deals continue to flow in and the mainstream media lags behind current trends. That includes a recent deal with MasterClass to create a course on how to become a streamer—which has been smacked by some of his creator peers as “sellout.”
But it’s hard to feel like Ninja’s falling relevance didn’t play a role in his apparent decision to leave Twitch again, and to do it in this way. It’s dangerous, gross and reinforces the notion that money and fame mean more than integrity to many of gaming’s top influencers.
I want to be charitable here—but it’s important to call a spade a spade. If I’m wrong, so be it. And maybe there is a level of truth to his mental health breakdown, but the execution is too perfect. The Twitter banner, the name change, Twitch revoking his partnership. All in one fell swoop.
That feels too perfect. It likely is.