ESPN’s feature story about the life and career of Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, the most popular Fortnite streamer in the world, is filled with interesting details about what it takes to achieve that level of success. Spoiler warning: It involves sticking to a schedule that doesn’t actually sound fun, or even tolerable for most people.
Maybe the most illuminating detail from the piece is how Blevins practices the game. It’s very unlikely that you approach Fortnite, or any other video game, in the same way.
I’m going to quote this section at length:
How does he stay so good? Pro tip: Don’t just play, practice. Ninja competes in about 50 games a day, and he analyzes each and every one. He never gets tired of it, and every loss hits him hard. Hypercompetitive, he makes sure he walks away with at least one win each day. (He averages about 15 and once got 29 in a single day.)
”When I die, I get so upset,” he says. “You can play every single day, you’re not practicing. You die, and oh well, you go onto the next game. When you’re practicing, you’re taking every single match seriously, so you don’t have an excuse when you die. You’re like, ‘I should have rotated here, I should have pushed there, I should have backed off.’ A lot of people don’t do that.”
How this is different from most players
It’s not just a matter of time, although Blevins likely plays far more hours of Fortnite a day than any of us. What’s important is that Blevins is playing in a very particular way. It’s not about enjoying the game; it’s about learning from his mistakes and focusing on his weaknesses.
When you or I play — and I may be making assumptions about how you play — our primary goal is to have fun. You get better with time, sure, but your focus isn’t on what you need to improve and what you need to do to make those improvements. What Blevins is describing here isn’t natural talent. Even if he’s naturally talented, he’s talking about prolonged, high-focus practice and repetition, with an eye toward not just catching his own mistakes, but studying them to ensure he never repeats them.
The video below does a good job of separating effective practice from just doing something over and over.
If you don’t want to watch the whole thing, one of the key points is that “mastery isn’t simply about the amount of hours of practice; it’s also the quality and effectiveness of that practice. Effective practice is consistent, intensely focused, and targets content or weaknesses that lie at the edge of one’s current abilities.”
Blevins is combining a high number of hours played with a high degree of mindfulness when it comes to evaluating his own play, while maintaining a consistent level of competitive spirit across every match. It’s not what we think of as fun, and most people burn out from scrutinizing themselves like this relatively quickly. But being able to do it day in and day out is what makes him so good.
So there you go: practice for an ungodly amount of time every day, and focus on what you’re doing wrong. Drill yourself on your weaknesses. Watch the replay of every match. Make sure you care about the outcome of every round.
Will you have fun? Absolutely not. Will that recipe make you better? No question. The only unknown is how long you, or, most mortals, can keep it up.