The popularity of Fortnite streamer Tyler "Ninja" Blevins was on full display Wednesday night at an exhibition event in Las Vegas at the newly opened Esports Arena in the Luxor Resort & Casino.
The event, which was streamed live on Twitch and pitted high-level Fortnite players against Ninja, peaked at 667,000 concurrent viewers. Last month, Ninja shattered the single-streamer record with just over 600,000 viewers when he was joined in-game by rapper Drake, Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and rapper Travis Scott. Ninja then rose to No. 3 on the list of most social interactions in March, just behind Cristiano Ronaldo and LeBron James.
But Ninja says he's not letting his newfound fame get to his head.
"I don't feel famous. I still have to pick my dog's s--- up when I go outside. I'm just a guy gaming. It feels good and I'm definitely starting to feel and think about things different, but it's just a professional thing," Ninja told ESPN on Saturday night.
The popularity of his Las Vegas event mirrored the meteoric rise of Fortnite, the battle-royale-style game that everyone seems to be playing from pro gamers, athletes and college students alike. While some games have become popular, modern gaming hasn't really seen anything like Fortnite.
"I did not think [starting to play Fortnite] would be here, ever. That's just because, I don't think a game has ever done this. You have popular esports games like League of Legends and those are obviously super popular and competitive, but a game that's gone viral and infected the world, really, especially with a younger audience, it hasn't happened since Minecraft, in my opinion," Ninja said.
The Las Vegas event coincided with the opening of the Esports Arena, a large gaming and entertainment space meant to blend a club atmosphere with video games. It is the latest in a series of spaces dedicated to professional gaming and esports opening across the country over the past few months.
The exhibition awarded competitors $2,500 for finding and killing Ninja's character in the game and an additional $2,500 for winning. Ninja's competitors played on systems that were set up around him on the arena floor, and they each paid $75 to play in three games. For his part, Ninja won one game out of nine and finished second twice.
"Everybody is playing this game and talking about this game. There's no official league around it, but this is an interesting way to put a competitive scene around it, in a one-off style. No one has taken a stream and done it in this way. Usually these streams are done at home. Here, it's on a stage, in front of people, with lights. We're looking to define what these events could be and take it from there," Allied Esports CEO Jud Hanigan said.
It was the highest-profile broadcast of the game created by Epic Games, with clear goals of becoming a top-level esport in the future. While Ninja, who formerly competed professionally in Halo, might not go pro in Fortnite, he thinks the sky is the limit as the game continues to take the country by storm.
"Bigger, better, more. That's all I want to do, use this, grow as much as possible and spread a positive message," Ninja said. "I wouldn't say there will be a pro league built around me, but I would love to be able to throw events like this -- bigger, better, I'm talking a stadium."
Brett Okamoto contributed to this report.