There’s no one bigger in the world of shooting game Fortnite than Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, who makes more than $500,000 each month playing the mega-popular battle royale game online.
Blevins has more than 10 million subscribers on video game live-streaming website Twitch, turning the chance to play on his squad for a few rounds into a huge opportunity for any up-and-coming videogame streamer. But that chance is apparently only available to men.
Blevins doesn’t play with "females" out of concern for his marriage, he told gaming site Polygon. If he played with a woman on his team, Blevins explained, fans would spread rumors that he was having an affair with the woman.
“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.
“The only way to avoid that is to not play with them at all,” Belvins said, calling his approach "just kinda like a respect thing."
Blevins’s no-women rule has been mostly well received in the male-dominated world of video game live-streaming, with fans and other gaming personalities defending him on the grounds that it’s his choice who to play with. But as more money and attention floods into the world of Twitch livestreaming and “esports,” critics say Blevins’s decision not to play with women only reinforces sexist attitudes towards women gamers.
“If you worked an office job or any other job, if you told somebody you didn’t want to work with other women, that wouldn’t fly,” said Katie Robinson, a Memphis streamer who plays under the Twitch screenname PikaChulita.
Blevins, who ran into another controversy earlier this year after he used a racial slur during a live-stream, didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Female Twitch streamers are already subjected to endemic harassment, denounced as “Twitch thots” accused of using their looks to get ahead or targeted with constant comments on their appearances. Last year, a male Twitch streamer was suspended from the site after going on a rant in which he claimed the site had been taken over by “sluts.”
Robinson said she’s frequently targeted by Twitch viewers who criticize the clothing she wears. Now she fears Blevins’s comments about women will have an impact on his many young male fans.
“People are going to look at that and magnify that,” Robinson said.
Angela Natividad, a co-founder of creative esports agency Hurrah.gg, said she regularly encounters sexism in the gaming industry, including esports teams that won’t recruit women because of fears that they will date male players.
Already, says Natividad, many female gamers turn off their mics or play under gender-neutral screen-names in an attempt to avoid the impression that “their wins or losses are representative of their gender.”
Natividad said Blevins’s no-women rule gives men another reason to discriminate against female gamers.
“What this actually does is give high-profile dudes one more way to exclude women from the sector—chivalry!” Natividad told The Daily Beast.
For Robinson, Blevins’s concerns about online gossip about his romantic life are nothing compared to what women who try to make a career in gaming already face.
“It’s kind of like ‘woe is me,’” Robinson said. “Well, imagine how it feels to just be a woman on Twitch.”