How Ninja rose to fame and how you can too.
There is little else the world is talking about when it comes to esports. Veteran gamers and mainstream society are all coming to grips with the mind-boggling rise to fame of Ninja, a rise the likes of which has not been seen before. He has the most followed channel on Twitch with over 1 million monthly followers currently and a peak of over 2 million, along with over 40 million monthly views from March to May of this year. He is currently sitting at over 30 million monthly views and 80k subscribers on Twitch.
By most measures, he is the most popular streamer around, despite not being anywhere near his peak of just under 300k subscribers. Although his popularity has skyrocketed over the last year off the back of the latest gaming sensation ‘Fortnite’, he has been in the industry for much longer than that. And while it is predominantly another case of being in the right place at the right time, Ninja has worked hard to be in a position where he could take advantage of a ludicrous opportunity. Read on and you can find out how you can too.
Where it all began
Ninja began his esports career at the age of 18, with the game Halo. In 2009, he began competing in tournaments all over the USA. He first competed in Halo 3, across 2009 and 2010 and played at MLG Anaheim, MLG Orlando and MLG Columbus, with a 26th, 29th and 25th place finishing at each. This is where esports first heard of the now world-famous Ninja, although it was a very small whisper in a small scene. No one who witnessed the beginning of this superstar could have ever have imagined what he would become from his humble beginnings.
Ninja continued his career in the new title Halo: Reach, where he encountered a taste of the success that was to come. He would place no lower than top 16 at the major events he attended, even picking up 4 top 8 finishes and narrowly missing out on first place at the last professional Halo: Reach event, AGL 2 Columbus.
It was in Halo 4 that Ninja reached his peak as a professional esports athlete, placing top 4 at every event he attended, with a 4th, a 3rd, two 2nd and a whopping four 1st place finishes, all under four different teams. He took out the top spot at the MLG Fall Championship 2012, AGL 6 Pittsburgh, EGL 9 and AGL 8 Knoxville. They would be the last victories of Ninja in the Halo scene, but his career in Halo was still far from over.
Ninja would go on to place no lower than top 8 in Halo 2: Anniversary, but with all his placements from 4th to 8th place. It was at this time, however, that he would first play under household names in esports, playing for teams with the likes of Cloud 9 and Team Liquid from late 2014 to mid-2015.
Ninja would then join Renegades with the onset of Halo 5: Guardians, where he enjoyed 2 excruciatingly close 2nd place finishes as well as 4 other placements in the top 8 at major events. He temporarily played under Cloud 9 for an event before being picked up by Evil Geniuses with whom he placed 3rd, 4th and 6th and UGC St. Louis 2016, ESL Burbank Summer 2016 and the HCS Pro League – Fall 2016 Season. His professional career ended with Luminosity Gaming for whom he played for his last 11 events, with his best results featuring second place at the Halo World Championship 2017 NA Open Qualifier 3. He attended his last event in July 2017 at Dreamhack Atlanta, placing 7th-8th.
However, Fortnite was only released 2 months later, so how did Ninja transition from a Halo professional to the biggest streamer in the world in a matter of a few months? The secret lies in what he was doing for the best part of a decade before Fortnite was even released.
The birth of the streamer
Ninja began streaming in 2011 under Justin.tv with later became Twitch.tv as a small Halo streamer. His only advantage was having been a professional Halo player, which gave him a small initial audience, which over half a decade would rarely crack 10 000 viewers. Thanks to his humble beginnings in Halo, he managed to achieve quite a sizeable audience, but it was a long way from the biggest streamers at the time, and even further from what he would grow to achieve.
While initially streaming Halo, Ninja kept up with the latest crazes and would play whatever he found enjoyable, lending to the genuine feel of his stream. So, when one of the early battle royal games, H1Z1, started becoming big, Ninja was all over it. He tapped into the moderate popularity of the title in the early infancy of the battle royale scene to grow his stream and participated in 3 notable tournaments, which resulted in 3rd at the H1Z1: Fight for the Crown, 2nd at the H1Z1 Elite Series – Atlanta, and 1st at the H1Z1 Invitational 2015.
PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds was the successor to H1Z1 in the battle royale genre and exploded in popularity. Ninja took advantage of it and grew his stream even further, but the biggest winners from the time of PUBG dominance were streamers like Shroud and Summit1g, with Shroud setting the records that Ninja would go on to break. Ninja managed to find success at the Gamescom PUBG Squad Invitational (under Luminosity Gaming), and his stream was bigger than ever and close to being bigger than any had ever been.
The story you all know
In late 2017, esports history would be changed forever. Epic Games entered the scene with their cartoony take on the battle royale genre, Fortnite. The record-breaking growth of PUBG that amazed gamers around the world was dwarfed by the new record-breaking game on the block, which amazed the entire world, gamers and the public alike. Ninja would begin his record-breaking year when he switched over to Fortnite, and with his respectable stream, began to break jaw-breaking record after record. The rest, of course, is history. He plays in and even hosts multiple large-scale events, has the most social media followers of any athlete in the world.
And that is the story of Ninja: where most people see an internet sensation that skyrocketed seemingly overnight, the truth shows a young, hardworking gamer who was passionate about his hobby and kept at it. And while he did have a head-start as a professional gamer, at the end of the day, he was simply at the right place at the right time. Anyone could follow in his footsteps, even you. And while you might not become big enough to stream with Drake, Travis Scott and Juju, you can – quite realistically – grow a stream into a sizeable community that can make you a decent income.
It all starts with setting up a stream, and to give yourself the best head-start, done while playing esports at a high level, or even casting them. It took Ninja the best part of a decade before he caught his big break, but it was worth every minute at the end of the day. Ninja wasn’t the first, and he won’t be the last. Why can’t you be the next?