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Ninja breaks through for historic ESPN The Magazine cover

ESPN The Magazine’s first-ever issue with a professional gamer on its cover takes a deep dive into the world of Tyler Blevins, the Twitch streamer better known as “Ninja,” who achieved in March what no gamer had ever done before: He broke through to mainstream fame.

In her cover story “Living the Stream,” ESPN The Magazine’s general editor Elaine Teng explores how hard it is for a gamer to stay on top and how Ninja maintains his level of excellence. Teng took some time to answer a few questions on how the current issue came together:

ESPN The Magazine’s Gaming Issue Cover (Benedict Evans for ESPN)

How did ESPN The Magazine decide to go with Ninja as the first gaming superstar to be featured on the cover?
We’ve been covering esports and gaming alongside our digital partners for the last few years, waiting eagerly for a star transcendent enough to put on our cover. Ninja was it! With his astronomical follower numbers and widespread fame this year, he is very much the man of the moment. It only seems appropriate that the first gamer on our cover is the industry’s first crossover star.

Was the Mag’s approach the same when doing an issue focused on esport as it is when covering traditional sports?
By and large, yes. A good story is a good story, no matter the sport, and our goal is always to identify the best stories and tell them in a meaningful way. But covering esports does present unique challenges. Because the vast majority of our readers are less familiar with the subject, the key was to make sure our issue was appealing to both the mainstream audience and esports fans. We needed to explain just enough to help our average reader understand while not talking down to hardcore fans. For instance, our “Good Guide, Well Played” piece, a humorous, tongue-in-cheek flowchart designed to help our readers choose an esport to follow, was intended to be helpful for readers but also fun enough to make the hardcore fan chuckle.

How does working with a gamer differ from a mainstream athlete?
The schedule! Ninja follows a strict timetable every day that maximizes the amount of time he spends livestreaming. As he himself says in the profile, every hour he’s away from his computer costs him money in the thousands [of dollars], so he weighs every choice — to go to an event, to visit family, or to do our photo shoot and interview — against the cost. We tried to be as respectful as possible, to stick to the schedule and make sure we didn’t interrupt his stream or take too much of his time.

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