Pro Esports player Tyler “Ninja” Belvins continues to take the world by storm, breaking barriers for professional gamers and pushing the envelope on what it means to be an athlete. Fresh off his deal with adidas Originals, Ninja attended the NBA All-Star Weekend in Chicago earlier this month as part of adidas‘ Legacy Program initiative. The Legacy Program’s founding mission is to show kids that playing basketball is not the only way in which one can have a career in the sport. However, Chicago’s launch furthered the program’s initial inception, by not only exposing kids to careers in apparel and footwear design, but also music, filmmaking, broadcasting, entrepreneurship, and gaming in what adidas has dubbed the “World’s Greatest Career Day.”
Ninja alongside the organization Sugar Gamers and the Chicago Bulls’ Zach LaVine taught children at the Gaming Lab workshop, where we at HYPEBEAST caught up to the Fornite star. In the interview below, Ninja talks about his first footwear collaboration with adidas Originals, the changes that came with Fortnite: Chapter 2, and of course All-Star Weekend’s Career Day.
How did your partnership with adidas come about?
My team and I were brainstorming one day, “Guys, let’s think about amazing brands we’d like to work with.” My team asked, “Well, who are you interested in?” I mentioned growing up, I was playing soccer my entire life, and I said, “Dude, I would always wear adidas gear.” I’m like, “adidas never had a gamer before. Let’s reach out to them.” And here we are.
So you were a big adidas-head.
Oh yeah, man, definitely. I had the cleats, socks, literally everything. My mom pulled up some pictures of me in my old Galaxy uniform; it was all adidas.
When talking with adidas about a possible partnership, what enticed you to say, “Okay, yeah, this is the brand”?
I mean, dude, just everything that they do. We looked at the people that they have and all the athletes that they represent and it’s just like this is nice. This is it. This is the choice. This is the decision.
And what about the merch line you launched about a year and a half ago?
That merch line is gone. It’s been gone. We’ve been just doing a lot of licensing and stuff as we’re really trying to develop something with adidas, something a bit more clean, professional, high-quality, high-end clothing. We want to make sure we find the right partner. We’ve just been pretty much coasting, taking our time, not rushing like we did the last time.
Right. Really strategizing…
Really strategizing. Making sure that the clothes are something that I like to wear, the hoodies that I want or the hoodies that I like to wear in terms of how they wash and how they feel. And are they tight on your wrist or is it loose? Is it one of those Ariana Grande ones where it just like takes over your whole hand?
So what about today’s Career Day; why did you decide to get involved?
My entire life, I just want to help people for the best and change people’s lives and just bring joy. If I can just change one person’s life, that’s it! I love giving advice and I’ve learned a lot. I’m only 28 years old, but I’ve been through a lot of stuff throughout my entire career, a huge rollercoaster, and I’ve been just trying to listen to a lot of people’s advice. I feel like I have a lot of advice to give back and definitely to kids who might not know a lot of things. Man, I’ve learned so much. So just try to help everyone out.
What do you hope the students are able to take away?
That just gaming can change lives. It’s bigger than just sitting in front of a screen and shooting a bunch of people all day. If you’re playing an FPS game or solving puzzles, you can entertain, you can take it and you can create video games. You can be an entertainer, you can be a professional player. There’s so many things you can do in the gaming industry. It just starts by knowing how to get into those things.
Did you yourself have a mentor or somebody that turned you onto gaming as a career?
Definitely not. It didn’t even exist really, because I was kind of right at the forefront of it all. But there was someone who was kind of in charge of my Halo team that said, “Hey man, I’d like for you to stream for our team” and I said, “Okay.” I just needed to buy the equipment. So I bought it, started streaming and then he never ended up… He had this whole business idea. He was going to come up with his own streaming platform and I was going to stream on there, but that never actually ended up happening. So I ended up just streaming on my own.
So now, I didn’t really have a mentor or anyone who was telling me what to do. Not with YouTube, not with streaming, not with any of that stuff.
For today’s Career Day, that’s only the beginning, right? Exposing underprivileged kids to professions they wouldn’t otherwise know existed is one thing. You also need to cultivate these interests, providing consistent mentoring and even funding.
So what are you and adidas going to do to make sure that this isn’t just a weekend thing, that you’re going to help these kids realize their pro-gamer dreams?
Oh dude, if they follow me or if they follow any one of the adidas athletes, I’m sure that they’re going to continue to deliver advice on their social medias. That’s what I do. I try to tweet out lessons. On my Instagram story, on my stream all day, I’m always answering questions and talking. I just feel like all of the adidas athletes are going to continue to do so as well. And it’s not just this weekend. You know what I mean? I answer questions, I help people out all the time. This is just one thing. If they do more of these things, I’d be happy to help out.
Now onto some gamer talk: what’s the story behind your Fortnite skin?
Dude, it’s been in the works for two and a half years, well I’ve been wanting it for two and a half years. Right before I came on, I was like, “it’d be really crazy if I had my skin.” Epic was not necessarily hard to work with, it was just more of a right place, right time thing. I really felt like I helped out a lot with the increased exposure of Fortnite and just being a positive ambassador for the game. So I felt like it was a long time coming. Really happy that it’s finally here.
What are your thoughts on Chapter 2?
Chapter 2 is an incredible; refreshing basic state of Fortnite. It brought back the original feeling, and it’s great. I think it’s a great starting point for an entirely new chapter, but I’m really excited to see what they do because this season is the longest season they’ve ever had. It’s been like 120 days of really not that much content. But season 2 is literally… Let me check my fake watch…In five days I think, apparently, there are some big changes coming, so I’m excited.
You’ve been outspoken and opinionated on Fortnite’s new direction; does that get a little tricky being an ambassador?
I feel like the things that I speak about are usually true when it comes to what a game should do to help increase the longevity and the competitiveness of it and just keep it fresh and creative. If they think that I’m wrong or if they ever have an opinion that isn’t the same as mine, I would like to think that just like in any relationship, they can come and talk to me and we can figure it out. Or they can just tell me to shut up, and maybe I will. Or they can maybe just take some of the advice.
It’s a give and take relationship, man. Just because they’re the biggest game in the world right now doesn’t mean that they’re perfect. I’m not perfect.
That’s the same with any sport. The NBA is a great example of this.
Yeah, You’ve got to learn, grow and adapt. These traditional sports definitely need to evolve to attract the younger audience. I feel like the NBA is killing with that. They’re dominating it.
What is your advice to someone looking to retire solely as a professional gamer?
Just keep putting the hours in to be talented at the game that you’re playing and just always learn, watch other streamers, watch other professional players. There’s so much to learn, but you may get comfortable, right? I got comfortable when I was on Twitch a lot and I kind of felt like I was just going through the motions. When I switched up to Mixer, I felt like I kind of got a little bit of the old me back in terms of how I was communicating with my viewers and how I was streaming — just being more energetic. You can kind of get lazy once you’re doing this for such a long time. So just always question yourself and make sure that you’re continuing to evolve and try to get those new audiences.
I hopped on TikTok a little late, because I was a little afraid of it at first. It was just like what a lot of people are like with anything new, but by always adapting to new things and new social media, you’re going to continue to grow your brand and it’s going to last longer, as long as you don’t just get stuck and stay in the past.
Okay, last question: What does the upcoming adidas Ninja 1 look like? What does it have to have? Is it a gamer shoe, and what does that even mean?
Just comfort in my opinion. Dude, I wear shoes that I don’t wear outside, but I wear around the house because they’re super light, super comfy. I love the Ozweego shoes, that shoe line is incredible. I feel like I’m walking on feathers. So something like that but with a little gamer twist to it. I got something cooking up. I don’t know if I can say that, but yeah, dude, trust me, I’ll show you in a little bit.
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@ninja attended the NBA All-Star Weekend in Chicago earlier this month as part of @adidasoriginals “World’s Greatest Career Day” Legacy Program. In our interview, Ninja discusses his new footwear collaboration, @fortnite, and All-Star Weekend’s Career Day. Check the link in bio for our discussion. Video: Cyril Soliman/HYPEBEAST