How Ninja and Drake literally made history playing Fortnite
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I still remember where I was when I found out.
My phone would not stop vibrating in my pocket as I lounged around my parent’s place. “It’s probably just another group chat going off...” I thought. I wasn’t in the mood to jump into a long-winded mindless conversation about how Dennis Rodman was why Donald Trump and Kim Jon Un shook hands.
But as the notifications got more consistent, I decided to look at my phone. Facebook messages, texts, emails, literally the entire gaming world was in a frenzy. And for a good reason.
“DRAKE IS PLAYING FORTNITE...WITH NINJA...ON TWITCH...RIGHT NOW…”
For gamers, the hysteria was real. It’s not every day that you get to watch one of the largest names in music play a free video game that you enjoy live. But for Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, Twitch, and Fortnite, this moment was bigger than the 600,000 viewers it attracted.
“We literally made history tonight.” - says Ninja as Drake signs off.
Forget setting the record for the most concurrent viewers on an individual's stream. More importantly, the moment paved the way for other celebrities and athletes to share their love of gaming and become free influencers for these platforms. Travis Scott, JuJu Smith, Marshmallow, Harry Kane, Dele Alli, and numerous other names came forward to play Fortnite after the collab.
After Drake picked up the controller and played Fortnite with Ninja, streaming gained legitimacy in the eyes of millions around the planet.
What is Fortnite? Who is Ninja?
Truth be told, if you haven’t heard of Fortnite by now, you probably don’t know who Ninja is or why any of this is important. So after you dust yourself off from under that rock, here’s a quick refresher to get you up to speed. If you know what I am going to say, well, I’ll be speedy.
Fortnite is a free-to-play Battle Royale game designed by Epic Games. Due to its cross-platform capabilities, family-friendly themes, and free-to-play nature, the game was able to grab a huge player base right from launch. Ninja was a top PUBG and Halo player at the time but had yet to crack large audience numbers on Twitch for streams.
When Fortnite arrived, Ninja quickly ascended the ranks and became one of the best players on the planet at a new game. Certain types of people simply learn games faster than others, which gives them a window to thrive before the rest of the player base catches up.
Ninja is one of those people. Fortnite was the game that empowered him to become the biggest streamer on the planet, and he, in turn, helped propel the game skyward with his viewer base. A trajectory would place him in a collision course with arguably the biggest hip hop artist on the planet.
The Stream - Duos with Drake
We all miss 2018. It was a simpler time, before COVID-19 and the Australian Wildfires. When less chaotic forces allowed for an up-and-coming streamer to play a free video game with one of the largest names in music. Here’s how it all went down.
Ninja began playing Drake songs in his stream a couple of weeks before the collab to drop hints on his audience. But the legendary team-up still caught the world by surprise.
When Drake and Ninja began playing their first game, it was like two friends catching up after a year-long hiatus. Ninja was a little nervous, but when you have ChampagnePapi in your game, and he’s about to tweet to his 36.8 million followers that he’s playing with you…
The stakes are raised.
As they played, Drake shared how he had been a fan of the game for a while now. Funny enough, he played Fortnite in the studio between 12-hour production sessions for a “mental break.” Ninja was trying not to “fanboy” out in front of hundreds of thousands of viewers, so he kept his excitement lowkey.
But it was Drake that demonstrated some vulnerability when he shared that he had been watching Ninja’s stream “for a minute now.” He even watched Ninja win a PUBG tournament.
“That’s insane.” Ninja replied. In turn, that’s exactly what Drake had to say about Ninja. It seemed like the two had mutual respect, both operating at the highest level in their respective fields.
They played for a while, teamed up with Travis Scott and Juju Smith, and then wagered $5,000 if Ninja could win the game. Ninja won, Drake gave him some pocket change, and the world left a happier place.
“That was pretty lit, man, about as lit as it can get,” said Ninja after the games were finished. “Drake said he had to pack for a flight tomorrow, so he’s out...We made history tonight.”
The aftermath and the numbers
Before the Drake collab, Ninja’s stream averaged around 70,000 concurrent viewers. When Drake teamed up, the stream topped 628K concurrent viewers and broke records for the most viewers on an individual's stream.
Kate Jhaveri, Twitch’s SVP of Marketing, had this to say about the collab,
“(The stream) attracted 628K concurrent viewers, setting a new milestone in terms of peak concurrent viewers on an individual’s channel. Seeing a top gamer and musician come together on Twitch and unite their large and passionate communities is a cultural moment in terms of building awareness around the appeal of social video…”
The power of these two audiences together was felt by others within the industry. Piers Harding-Rolls, a games analyst at IHS Markit, says
"While most of the commercial attention has been concentrated on the potential for esports video, this example of live entertainment demonstrates the wider value of games content to the video (and music) industry."
I think it’s exciting that a simple game of Fortnite can make the world realize the power of casually streaming video games. Both during gameplay and after Ninja ended the stream, social media was aflame with reactions and jokes.
The memes created on this one night will go down in gaming history and represent a snapshot of a much lighter time.
The future of streaming and celebrities
Since Drake’s appearance on Ninja’s stream, Fortnite has gone out of its way to include more celebrity and brand collaborations. Just going from the top of my head, they added:
- NFL Team Skins for players
- John Wick skin addition
- Thanos/Avengers skin collection
- Star Wars skins
- 24-premier league soccer skins
These cosmetic purchases are combined with powerful in-game events that look to ignite the same energy that the Drake and Ninja stream sparked. It’s all about bringing together different communities to function as one audience.
The first one I can remember brought the DJ Marshmallow LIVE into the game. There was a stage where all the players could gather and show off their best skins and dance moves.
It was a pretty surreal experience, and Marshmallow talked and hyped the players up live during the scheduled showtimes. I wasn’t a fan of Marshmallow, but I played Fortnite and I sure as hell wanted to be part of a one-time in-game event.
Next came the Thanos/Avengers crossover, the Star Wars in-game event, and even Travis Scott did his Fortnite concert. Brands and other celebrities started to realize the power of combining audiences and tapping into the millions of gamers worldwide.
All of this is possible because of the Drake X Ninja collab.
Today, Fortnite is a much different world than when Drake and Ninja teamed up. New weapons, game-modes, and meta changes mean the game is in a constant state of flux. Like Bugha and Tfue, young players have quickly ascended the ranks and removed the original juggernauts from their throne.
Ninja is no longer on-top—but he can rest easy knowing he did his part for the future of streaming and gaming.