“I don’t play with female gamers,” says Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, Twitch’s biggest streamer and one of the faces of the Fortnite fandom. This edict may be surprising to hear, especially as emphatically as Blevins said it when we spoke at a recent Samsung event.
Though Blevins isn’t shy about being married, and his more than 10 million subscribers include people of every gender identity, the internet’s love of gossip has convinced the Twitch star not to invite women to participate in his Fortnite Battle Royale livestreams. With fame comes scrutiny of every thing you say or do, he suggested, and that can sometimes lead to questions about who you’re sleeping or flirting with on the sly.
“If I have one conversation with one female streamer where we’re playing with one another, and even if there’s a hint of flirting, that is going to be taken and going to be put on every single video and be clickbait forever,” Blevins told Polygon.
There’s some truth to the idea that flirting can lead to YouTube clickbait and invasive questions — Blevins has asked some himself when playing with other well-known (male) streamers. Take the clip below, from a Twitch stream with Fortnite star Ali “Myth” Kabbani.
Imane “Pokimane” Anys is another big name on Twitch whose popularity grew rapidly over the last year, and when she started playing Fortnite on streams with Kabbani, viewers began to ask: Are they dating? Fans assume Twitch streamers are in a relationship just as often as they speculate on their marital status. And that apparently includes Blevins, who used his mega-platform to further perpetuate that rumor.
Whether or not it’s true that Anys and Kabbani are together is, obviously, their business. But when it comes to his relationship with streamer Jessica “Jghosty” Blevins, who often appears on her husband’s channel, Blevins is happy to open up about his devotion.
“[Not being connected to other women online,] that was something I made 100-percent sure,” he said. It was his decision alone to keep his streaming partners men-only. “That was not even her. She had nothing to do with it. That was me being, ‘I love our relationship,’ and, ‘No — I’m not even gonna put you through that.’”
A growing Twitch means a diminishing sense of privacy, especially for women on the platform. Female streamers have opened up before about the difficulty in maintaining a separation between their Twitch personas and who they are offline — often at the behest of viewers who demand answers, lest they assume what’s going on for themselves.
Respect is a major part of playing Fortnite and other games. Yet women often are the receiving end of anything but: “Twitch thots,” harassment, warding off obsessive or judgmental viewers are all serious concerns for well-known female streamers. In contrast to the reality of being a woman on Twitch, Blevins’ choice to draw a line feels like a conservative gesture — even a familiar, divisive one.
“There hasn’t been a single female gamer or streamer on Twitch or anything like that who’s been upset about that,” he said of possible pushback. “I honestly think that [...] it’s just kinda like a respect thing.”
Ninja may not hear criticism of his decision, but similar gender-based views have received pushback in the political sphere — think of the outcry surrounding Vice President Mike Pence’s supposed marital boundaries. Still, the Twitch streamer is sticking to his absolute, which he believes is the only choice.
“The only way to avoid that [gossip] is to not play with them at all.”
Update: Ninja has since responded to — and stood by — his comments to us on Twitter. Read more in our follow-up story.