Last night, Drake, the real famous guy, tweeted that he was going to play a video game.
He wasn’t alone: Drake played the game Fortnite live on Twitch — the streaming platform where you can watch other people play video games — with Ninja (a rising video-game streaming star), rapper Travis Scott and Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster. The resulting stream broke viewing records for Twitch and became an Extremely Big Deal online pretty much immediately.
The reasons why will be obvious for some. But the rest of you might need an explainer. We are your extremely qualified guides to this world: Abby, a writer who exclusively plays video games offline and all alone, and Gene, who occasionally plays with others.
What is streaming?
“Streaming,” when it comes to video games, just refers to playing them online through a livestreaming service. The people who do this are called “streamers.” Twitch is the most popular of these platforms, but some use, say, YouTube or another service. Some streamers earn money as they play, through a combination of ads, sponsorships, merchandise sales and paid subscribers.
Wait, people watch strangers play video games online?
Yes, it is an extremely popular genre and has been for some years now.
PewDiePie, the popular and perennially controversial YouTuber, got famous by playing video games on his channel and commenting on them as he played. Some personalities like PewDiePie make what are more or less comedy videos, in which their actual skill at playing the game doesn’t matter. Others are more competitive.
Ok, fine. Who is Ninja?
“Ninja” is Tyler Blevins, a Twitch streamer and YouTuber whose popularity has exploded over the past several weeks. He’s a former competitive Halo player who now stands to make hundreds of thousands of dollars a month by streaming on Twitch. He has 3 million Twitch followers and 4 million YouTube subscribers.
After streaming with Drake, Ninja now has more than 180,000 paying subscribers on Twitch as well, which is an enormous amount of subscribers. While plenty of people subscribe to channels on Twitch to support their favorite personalities, some channels do offer perks.
Over at Polygon, Julia Alexander explained recently that Ninja gained so many subscribers in a short amount of time that some in the streaming community suspected bots or some other trickery might be involved (Twitch, in a statement, said this theory wasn’t true). Ninja’s rise could also be explained by his incredible mastery of Fortnite, the game he streams most often. That game has also become extremely popular, very quickly.
… and what is Fortnite?
Fortnite is the most popular competitive video game of the moment, created by Epic Games. It’s a little bit like Minecraft in that a lot of the game-play involves breaking down and collecting resources to create fortifications against a zombie horde.
But the version Drake and Ninja played was “Fortnite Battle Royale,” which is completely free to play. The “Battle Royale” feature was added late in 2017, hopping on the trend started by last year’s most popular game, “Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds.” The “Battle Royale” concept takes after the cult Japanese film of the same name, with 100 players in an ever-shrinking map armed with nothing but a pick ax. Players have to scramble for resources and weapons and survive fighting each other, instead of the zombies in the original game. You can have up to four members on a team. Last night, that was Ninja, Drake, Travis Scott and JuJu.
Why is Fortnite so popular?
Honestly, it’s just really fun to watch people play the “Battle Royale” mode. It’s a great combination of tough and lighthearted. The game-play is pretty different every time, too, which means it’s not super repetitive to watch a bunch of people stream the same game multiple times. Also, it doesn’t hurt that this particular version of the game is free to play.
Why is Drake playing it?
During the stream, Drake told Ninja he’d been playing Fortnite for “a month or two,” and he plays video games a lot during his downtime in the recording studio.
“We stay in the studio for so long, sometimes like 20 hours,” Drake said. “It’s just nice to take a little mental break.”
As for why Drake is playing with Ninja? Well, it turns out he’s a fan and regular viewer of Ninja’s streams. The rapper, being an avid Instagram user, found Instagram clips of Ninja and followed his account. Ninja nearly fell out of his chair during a stream when he realized that Drake was following him.
So did their playing together become a meme?
Oh, yes. Drake is already the source of numerous memes, which made it extremely easy to meme the heck out of his hour of streaming with Ninja.
Here’s one, below: Drake is shunning last year’s popular streaming game, PlayerUnknown’s “Battlegrounds” and saying “yes” to Fortnite.
This next one takes an often-memed dance from Drake’s “Hotline Bling” video to praise a moment during the stream, when Drake dropped a bunch of useful game items to help out Ninja.
This one should be pretty easy to figure out:
Who benefits from this?
Well, Ninja for starters, who added all those subscribers. And the makers of Fortnite also win because a ton of new people (like perhaps you, reader!) have now heard about this game because Drake played it.