If you've tuned into a Tyler "Ninja" Blevins livestream lately, you've probably noticed that things sound a little different now. Twitch's biggest star is trying to make his entertainment more family-friendly, and some fans aren't taking it very well.
Image source: H3H3 Interview
He says he's doing it for parents and their kids. The fans he's angered worry that he's selling out.
Earlier this year, Blevins was mired in controversy after rapping a racial slur, something he apologised for at the time. Beyond that incident, however, Blevins was known to curse and lose his temper while playing - one infamous clip circulating a month ago of the streamer has him going on a vulgar 30-second curse-filled tirade about Fortnite weapons.
That Blevins, it seems, is a thing of the past. In 2018, Blevins has been making a concentrated effort to change the tone of his streams. In an interview with YouTuber H3H3 back in April, Blevins said that he was trying to make the stream G-rated.
"My goal is to make it like your classic Spongebob Squarepants, where like, the parents at home can get a dirty joke or something like that, but the kids are completely oblivious," Blevins said.
His decision, he explained at the time, came from getting an email from a parent who told him that they wished they could watch without having to mute the streams. Cursing, Blevins asserted, was a common gaming thing - and a habit that kids shouldn't adopt.
"In my opinion, man, the cursing thing is like, of course little kids shouldn't be running around dropping F-bombs or swearing at all at that age. And simply just because, you don't understand the meaning behind it."
Filtering out cursing wasn't difficult, Blevins said, because he had already seen someone close to him do it. Blevins' brother is a teacher, and Blevins has watched his sibling turn cursing on and off depending on the environment that he was in.
"That's something I'm trying to master," Blevins said.
A few days ago, Blevins took that initiative further by applying "ratings" to his streams, so that viewers would be able to tell what kind of content he was providing before they click play:
One thing I am going to start doing is applying a “rated” (pg,pg13,R) in some YouTube videos and twitch stream titles depending on the content. I understand some celebs I play with might be a little more.. tasteful than others lol.
PS: going for 200k in total shirt sales 2night
— Ninja (@Ninja) May 8, 2018
Despite Blevins' commitment to cursing less overall, the streamer is known to squad up with other players who speak more freely - in one top Twitch clip, for example, rapper Travis Scott can be heard saying "eat my dick". Blevins doesn't want to give those celebrity streams up, but he does want to provide an easy way for viewers to decide if they want to hear any of it.
While Blevins' decision seems like a mature and sensible one, not all of his followers are happy with it. For some, the change comes across as Blevins censoring himself, or being fake. Many of the top responses to Blevins' May 2018 Twitter announcement are surprisingly negative.
"You are trying to be mainstream, stop it," one fan said.
"Sellout," another responded.
"Just be you man," another fan opined. "Seriously though bro when you're streaming you shouldn't change for your audience," they continued.
"It's not ninjas job to look after little kids, the parents should be the ones to do that," said one fan. "This was 100% a $$ move by ninj."
It seems that this sentiment has bubbled up, because last night, Blevins' wife and manager took to Twitter to defend the decision:
It's a change that I'm proud of him for. This is why he is implementing the rating system. He will still have some crazy nights and play with people who have quite the vocabulary...who cares! For the younger ears and eyes, they will have the rating and the parents will know.
— Jessica (@JGhosty) May 10, 2018
Blevins did not respond to a request for comment, but he did flesh out his thoughts further in a livestream today. He noted that while he wasn't going to stop streams with people who curse, a 10-year-old probably shouldn't be listening to someone swear like a sailor. He wants to make the parents who email him happy.
Given how popular Fortnite is with kids, it makes sense that Blevins has to be mindful of that slice of his viewership.
The controversy is ostensibly over cursing and parenting responsibilities, yes, but most fans seem to be against the spirit of the change. YouTubers and livestreamers become popular by selling an image of authenticity, of letting viewers really get to know them. While major celebrities in music, sports or movies erect walls and have PR firms control what they say, a top Twitch streamer is often seen as a more down-to-earth and approachable personality.
By admitting that he's filtering something out, Blevins is shattering that fantasy for his viewers, and they hate that.
"This is like a lesson, I'm telling you this," Blevins said during today's stream. "Someone will leave your stream because you're swearing too much." But, he added, they're less likely to leave for swearing too little.