While professional gamer/streamer Tyler Blevins—better known to his millions of followers, subscribers, and supporters as Ninja—has been on my radar ever since he broke the internet (and Twitch streaming records) with Drake back in 2018, it wasn’t until I needed some quarantine distractions that I really dove into the wide world of Twitch. The site is one of the new frontiers when it comes to online celebrity and community, and Ninja’s one of many examples of turning streaming success into exciting new opportunities, which for Ninja include feature film cameos, new collaborations with Adidas, and his own graphic novel. What a way to celebrate one year of COVID-19 quarantine (and Twitch immersion) than by hopping on Zoom for a quick chat with Ninja ahead of the May 18 release of said graphic novel, Ninja: War for the Dominions (which is available for pre-order on Amazon)?
War for the Dominions—which Ninja worked on with a talented team that included writer Justin Jordan (The Strange Talent of Luther Strode) and art from Felipe Magaña and Mike Anderson—is the second (and last) book in a journey that debuted back in December of 2019 with Ninja’s first graphic novel, Ninja: The Most Dangerous Game. Both books place the wildly popular streamer inside the world of a video game, digging into him personally before engaging in epic battles. It’s one of many offline adventures the Sneaker Shopping alum has been embarking on recently, including joining popular streamers like Jacksepticeye and Pokimane (with whom is also exclusively streaming Valorant Champions Tour) to be a part of Ryan Reynolds’ upcoming film Free Guy. The action-comedy finds an NPC (Reynolds) suddenly waking up and becoming the hero of his own game, and will premiere on May 21, which means Ninja already owns that small chunk of May 2021.
Ninja talks all of this and more, including teasing what’s next for him and Adidas, the graphic novel process, and what game he can wait to get his hands on. Check out the full conversation after this look at the Ninja: War for the Dominions cover.
It’s been a year since a lot of people went on quarantine because of COVID-19. Being a streamer, I know you’re always active, but did you spend time working on War for the Dominions during the quarantine?
No. We have a really good group of guys that I’ve been working with. We hop on phone calls a couple of times a year and just go over what everything is going to be about. We give it the thumbs up if we love the path that it’s going down, and make sure that it’s not corny, honestly.
I always want to set the record straight, man, I’m not sitting here writing this shit. I don’t know how to write a five-page essay anymore, man. I was terrible… Terrible way with words and timing. They’re honestly so creative and the art style of this stuff, man, it’s incredible.
Back when the first novel came out, I read that it was the first part in the series. How far out do you have these series of Ninja graphic novels planned?
This is our final baby for the time being. We had it planned out that we knew we were going to do a sequel almost immediately. That was actually kind of exciting, knowing that after we finished the first one, I was just like, “All right, I can’t wait to already see how the second one is going to be.”
Did you grow up reading comics? How did this process come about?
My agency at the time, they were like, “Hey, Ty, people want to do a book on you, [a] whole series.” They wanted to start it with my book, Get Good, which, that one was a lot of work. And I was like, “All right. You know what? Let’s do it.” To be immortalized as a character in a graphic novel? I was pumped for that. I was not a comic guy growing up, but I’ve always loved comics, the idea of it, and the passion behind people who love comic books. Just like the same thing [with] sneakerheads. So, no, this wasn’t something that I dreamed about, but it’s something that I absolutely love.
Do you have any plans on doing any other writing after the graphic novel comes out?
That’s definitely something that I would not be opposed to. It’s not something that I’m currently passionate about. We have a lot of other projects that we’re working on that involve stemming out of gaming.
I saw that you have a cameo in Free Guy, which is actually pretty dope, considering that that film is also set in a gaming world. How did that come about?
Shawn Levy, the director. I don’t know if all directors are like this, but [he was] just such a nice guy. He and his team reached out. We were like, “Of course, we’re super interested.”
Here’s the thing, Shawn, him and Ryan are so authentic and so real. They went out of their way. They reached out to so many gamers; I’m not the only one with a cameo in that. They wanted this to be as real as possible, and put as much gamer street cred in the movie. They just killed it, man. It’s so easy for a director or someone who wants to make a movie about video games to just add a bunch of random actors who have absolutely no idea what they’re talking about, and then just make them seem like they’re big gamers and streamers, essentially pretending to be us. They got the biggest gamers, the biggest streamers, and they put them in this movie to just juice it up. It was such a cool experience.
Ryan Reynolds is the exact same person on camera as he is in real life. Jess and I were so taken back when we saw him walking at us in the middle of the street where we filmed one of the scenes. And he was just like, “Hey guys, nice to meet you. I’m Ryan.” He was just so humble and he was so kind. I always think that that’s actually so huge. You want to know how you know someone is not a piece of shit? They introduce themselves even though it’s like, “You know who I am.”
The man under the Deadpool mask is like, “What’s up? My name is Ryan Reynolds.”
Yeah. “Hi, I’m Ryan. Nice to meet you, man.” And it’s just like, “Dude, come on, bro. Obviously.” But yeah, it was awesome.
Is acting something you’ve always wanted to do? Were you in awe of even being able to experience that, or was it hard getting into that world?
It was super easy, super natural. Also a great show, Supernatural. It was really easy. I’ve always wanted to act, not like act act. When I think of actors, or someone who has wanted to act, I always think of theater. Growing up, we would watch movies with my parents all the time, as a family. I’d be able to quote the entire movie watching it once, in the voices. My parents were always just like, “How does he remember this stuff?” So, dream come true. And honestly, it was. This was one of those things, growing up, I was like, “Oh my God, I would always love to. I would always love to be in a movie.” Then we got the opportunity, and it was a Ryan Reynolds movie, and it was about video games, and I was going to play myself. I was like, “Oh dude, this is it.”
Can’t say no.
No, can’t say no, absolutely not. This was a dream come true.
Do you have any aspirations to get more into acting?
Absolutely, dude. I would say nothing is off the table when it comes to acting, or voice acting. It’s definitely a passion of mine. I filmed one voice acting thing recently, I can’t really say what it is yet. It’s coming out soon, though. I had a blast, man. I had an effing blast. I was basically playing myself, but not, but I was, so I didn’t have to change my voice or anything. So the energy, everything was all me. It was the first time I’ve ever done voice acting, honestly, a voice recording for something that was going to be for a show.
So more voice acting, definitely, and as many films that I feel like I would be good for. Jess and I are very much not ever trying to do things that we don’t like or we’re not passionate about, because if we do, people are going to notice. I’ve been saying this a lot: In 2020, 2021, it’s getting really hard to be fake, and we’re not fake. People know when shit is being forced, and at this point—I hate using this word, but I use it all the time now—it’s just cringe. When you see someone doing something that they shouldn’t be doing or something that they’re not good at, or something that they don’t enjoy, and you see it, it is awful.
Cringe is a funny word. Over the last year, I invested time trying to figure out what was going on with Twitch, and cringe is a word I’ve heard a lot during that time. It’s a word that makes me cringe, but it’s probably the best way to describe that feeling, that, “Why are you here? What are you doing here?”
“Ugh,” yeah, absolutely. Jess and I were just rewatching Breaking Bad, and we just got to the scene… Spoilers if you haven’t watched Breaking Bad, skip past this question or whatever, [but] where she overdoses. Oh my God, through that whole scene, the whole scene with the needles and stuff. I don’t know what it is, I don’t what happened to me as a kid, man, but any hard drugs that I watch, I can’t. I literally have to look away from the screen. I walked around the house, Jess was like, “Are you serious?” I’m like, “I can’t watch this.”
That scene was graphic, though, and a heavy situation to wrap your head around. What else have you been watching during quarantine? What’s your quarantine binge been like?
We haven’t really been binge-watching it, but Hell on Wheels with Gordon Ramsay. It’s actually been pretty good. Obviously Shark Tank, whenever a new episode comes out. But I’m watching a lot of animes. There are a lot of great animes that are coming out, and one just finishing, Attack on Titan. Demon Slayer, I think, is coming out soon with Season 2. So good. The Promised Neverland, awesome.
You’ve also been streaming. I know you got to do some exclusive streaming with Valorant recently. What’s that experience been like? When will we get to see more?
The rest of the tourney is from March 19-21, so [this] weekend. It’s going to be big, the biggest matches. I’ll be streaming all those, commentating them live and stuff. I’m just so grateful, personally, to be able to stream the games and have the permission to do so. Back in the day, there was such a disconnect between players, streamers, and gaming companies, so it’s really nice. It almost feels like I’m dreaming, that I’ve been entrusted or even have been in communication with these companies. Riot is the largest gaming company, really, honestly, competitively, on the planet, League of Legends is the biggest game in the world. And Valorant is on its way, in my opinion. So, I’m honored. I’m blessed. I love it, and I would love to do more stuff like that across the board.
I can’t talk to former Sneaker Shopping guest Ninja and not talk sneakers. What’s up next for you and Adidas?
Dude, all right, we do. My boy Rick Williams, we got some stuff coming out, and we’re really, really proud of it. But I think that what I am allowed to talk about is, our next Adidas collab/collection is. We haven’t selected everything yet, but we’re going to be doing a huge donation to some of the schools in Chicago, for some leftover clothing and whatnot.
[We’re] figuring out all the nitty gritty details, but it’s coming out soon and always trying to just do a little more.
Great to see. Now I don’t know how it works in the gaming world, especially for a guy like Ninja, but-
Oh, no, you’re good, man.
Do you have any guilty pleasure games? Is it wrong for you to be like, “Oh yeah, I play Animal Crossing: New Horizons in my off time. Are there any games like that, that people will be surprised that Ninja is playing right now?
I don’t think so, man, truly. Not right now. Well, first off, Animal Crossing was the shit, and I played that all the time with Jess. We played that every day for like two months straight, for hours.
[Not so much] games that I’m playing right now, but games that are coming out this year. The New Pokémon Snap game, dude.
I’m going to play the shit out of that game. I’m going to stream the shit out of that game. It’s going to be so dope. Pokémon Snap was like, oh my God. I never owned a Nintendo 64, my best friend did, so I was over at his house every day. I’m so pumped. I actually don’t know in-depth details about it, but, dude, hello, there’s like 900 Pokémon. Do you have any idea how long this game is going to be, if you got to try to take a picture of them all? Do you know what I mean? It’s got to be crazy, man.
Ninja: War for the Dominons is available for pre-order right now over on Amazon.