Would you rather meet LeBron James or Tfue?
The question was asked in December to Guy Dadon, 9 years old. He was sitting with his mother after playing basketball in Los Angeles, a few miles from the Staples Center, where James, the world’s most famous basketball player, leads Los Angeles Lakers, one of the NBA’s most famous franchises.
“LeBr …” the mother began.
“You were!” The son intervened with a big smile.
The mother’s unfinished response gave way to a look of confusion.
“You were?” She asked.
Given the worldwide fame of James, who has adorned the sports stadiums and Hollywood screens while accumulating millions in guarantees, his surprise was understandable.
But among the younger generation, there is a strong attraction to a new type of celebrity, one that exists in a world that those who do not actively seek cannot be discovered. In the center of this world, or certainly near it, is Turner Tenney, best known by his fans as Tfue (pronounced T-foo), the most watched player and artist on the Twitch video game streaming platform.
An unlikely star, Floridian, 22, is one of Fortnite’s most talented players, a game that attracts tens of millions of players per month. Fans tune regularly for both their skill level and their cheeky attitude, which makes them one of the main personalities of the growing popularity of live video game entertainment at unimaginable heights.
Tenney’s videos have been viewed 1.3 billion times and has won more than $ 600,000 in prizes. Major game publishing companies have offered six-digit paychecks to show their titles. Its net worth has been estimated at seven figures, still peanuts compared to someone like James, but amazing for those who would never have considered playing video games could provide a lucrative career. Some of Tenney’s elite pairs have secured their own sponsorship agreements, some come to sign exclusively with a specific transmission platform in exchange for sums of money that are believed to reach eight figures.
And its importance extends beyond the Internet. Tenney decided last year to sue the electronic sports organization that helped develop his hearing on what he considered a predatory contract. The measure prompted a nationwide reevaluation of fair trade agreements in a nebulous profession that still establishes its best practices. In the coming years, his family’s vision could help shape the future of streamers around the world by presenting a facility in Florida dedicated to helping content creators build their image and an audience.
The culture of celebrities in esports and video games is not really new. But it has been easy to overlook for older generations who are not used to spending hours on sites like Twitch, YouTube or Mixer, preferring instead to be entertained by Hollywood on television and movies, or by traditional sports leagues. [Twitch is owned by Amazon, whose CEO, Jeff Bezos, owns The Washington Post.]
“Player, sports athlete, social media influencer, there are so many different labels that you could label as, so I don’t know. It’s just me, friend.”
Turney “Tfue” Tenney, in his video game stardom
As such, Tenney stands as an example of an increasingly marked fork of fame between generations that has emerged with a more isolated media landscape and the ability of the first digital platforms to amplify video game players.
For those less knowledgeable about the Internet, its importance in the world of evolving entertainment is a complete mystery. But for a younger audience, the renowned Tenney rivals, and sometimes even outperform those of the most famous celebrities, even if their outfits don’t reflect those of a superstar like LeBron James.
“Player, sports athlete, influential in social networks,” Tenney said in an interview with The Washington Post while sitting on the roof of his childhood home. “There are so many different labels that you could label, so I don’t know. It’s just me, friend.”
The starting point of a streaming star
The Tenney family home is located in Indian Rocks Beach, Florida, a small, mostly middle-class community of a few thousand framed by Clearwater to the north, St. Petersburg to the south and Tampa to the east. Perhaps the only indication that the single-story beachfront house could be notable is the constant presence of a sheriff’s patrol vehicle parked in an adjacent lot, and a 20-foot plastic dolphin, perched on a tree in his property.
Just a few hours before participating in a Fortnite tournament with $ 187,000 for the winning team, the most watched esports player in the world left his house with his eyes full of tears in the winter sun. Dressed in a tattered T-shirt, shorts, Gucci flip flops and a diamond ring the size of a championship, Tenney looked at his father, Richard, who was standing in front of a blue-painted school bus with the white letters of “Fortnite” . Shed to the side.
“Who is the f —— a —— who scheduled this interview?” He asked his father, serious and monotonous. A second passed, then a smile came to his father / public relations agent.
Tfue’s inexpressive sarcasm is the first indication of how close the super serpentine is with his family and how important is the role they play in his unorthodox life.
Tfue, a name that Turner chose at random after looking for an available player tag with four letters, was born the third of four brothers. His parents separated during his childhood. When asked about his experience at school, he laughed, “What experience?”
“I went to high school for a week. It stunk. I immersed myself, ”said Tfue. “I never really went to school, technically I was educated at home.”
His father, Richard, who was elected city commissioner in Clearwater when he was just over 20, said the school shooting in 1988 in Winnetka, Illinois, where he attended middle and high school in the 1960s, It made him distrust his safety. He also shared that he lacked his experience in Florida schools as a child.
“I went to high school for a week.
It stunk. I submerged.
Turner “Tfue” Tenney
“There was nothing I could do there,” Richard said in his Johnny Cash scraping, John Wayne. “I sat my youngest son at age 14 with [online educational software] Khan Academy and worked in high school in a month. “Only Tenney’s older brother, Alex, a former model, had formal education among the children. Turner’s older brother, Jack, 25, has his own billionaire in line like YouTuber.
“The ocean was their school, they learned to pay attention out there,” Richard said, adding that the children worked very hard from an early age. “Eighty hours a week, 100 hours a week. I had them sell TV antennas in flea markets. They sold them all!
In their youth, the boys of Tenney pursued two distinct interests: cinema and action sports.
“Any crazy thing, related to adrenaline, I loved doing it. Anything on the beach, anything with a board or so, “said Turner, who won surfing contests and was competitive as a downhill skater. Jack is a professional skimboarder.
“Turner could have been a professional surfer, no problem. Jack too,” said Richard, dressed in his exclusive beach shoes, shorts, baseball cap and a T-shirt with Ice Cube.
Tenney’s two boys have benefited from this kind of support from their father and the other, since they started filming videos at age 12 (Jack) and 8 (Turner). That experience helped put the Tenneys at the forefront in regards to the current era of Internet video content as a commodity. The world’s leading electronic sports transmitter began as a secondary player in his brother’s videos, which looked like Rob Dyrdeck and “Jackass,” although they were not allowed to watch the MTV show when they were little.
“It’s a group of friends who try to have as much fun as possible all the time,” Jack said. “The first video got more visits than the people I knew, which blew my mind, and that was the beginning.”
The experiences with his brother’s team, called the Joog Squad (Joog is an insult to the local jargon they appropriated) were so significant to Turner that he has a tattoo with the name.
“Growing up, I really didn’t have too many friends, just a few, but mostly I went out with my brother and his friends,” Turner said.
Although Jack thought his brother would do something directly related to the Squad, he said he was not surprised by his success.
“He was always like the silent killer,” Jack said. “We always wonder when, how or why Turner will explode.”
His first works with his brother prepared him well for his stellar shift in streaming. Each of these new streaming celebrities blurs the lines between a YouTube personality, an athlete and a radio / talk show host, while competing at the highest levels of their respective games, joking back and forth with friends and commentators in a live online chat. to play.
The dynamic provides an unprecedented aura of accessibility for people with such a level of fame. Namely: a movie fan can see a favorite Hollywood actor on the screen for a few hours a year, at best, in addition to some promotional interviews. You beat that in a single day, usually broadcasting from noon to 9 p.m. – constantly building an audience all the time, particularly among middle and high school students.
On a recent trip to a store, captured on YouTube, the children pointed at him with wide eyes and shouted “Tfue!” On the same day of the Fortnite tournament, Jack and his friends drove the blue Fortnite bus at the Indian Rocks Beach Annual Street Holiday Parade. A lot of children threw themselves at him, literally dragging his parents in some cases, hoping to meet Tfue, who was practicing at home.
“The first video got more visits than the people I knew, which blew my mind and that was the beginning.”
Jack tenney about the beginning of his streaming career
And yet, neither the Holiday Inn receptionist nor the Jimmy Guana restaurant server in Tenney’s hometown had heard of Tfue.
When asked if he considered himself a celebrity, he refuses at first.
“I guess, depending on who is close,” he said.
As the division in recognition in his own hometown alludes, Tfue and his streaming partners enjoy a new kind of fame. And while sports and screen stars can learn the lessons of their predecessors for most matters, without a project to follow, Tenney’s rise has required some learning on the go.
“The boy was a rocket”
At the Tenney family house, last month, Tfue’s older blond brother, Jack, watched television while comedian Kevin Hart sat in an ice bath and did an interview with Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, the personality of Video game broadcast best known to the general public. Tfue’s father, Richard, mocked the show and said that Tfue could have had the same opportunities that Ninja has enjoyed to date: ESPN The Magazine covers, “Ellen” show appearances, lucrative sponsorships.
Blevins was also the first renowned streamer to sign an exclusivity agreement, leaving Twitch for the Microsoft Mixer platform last year. A series of other high-profile game streamers did the same, some signed with Mixer, others with streaming platforms like YouTube, Facebook Gaming or Caffeine. Tfue remains on Twitch, where he is now the most watched streamer after Ninja’s departure, but has not signed an exclusivity contract.
“We reject offers,” Richard said regarding possible offers of transmission exclusivity. “Turner is focused on the transmission.”
Tenf and Ninja know each other, but they are not friends, Tenney said. “He doesn’t really like me too much, so I don’t associate with him. That has always been his choice.”
Both very popular, there are some key differences between the two main streamers in the world. Compared to the most refined and company-approved Ninja, Tenney is more of the Rolling Stones for the Blevins Beatles.
“I am like Darth Vader and he is like Anakin Skywalker,” he said, referring to Ninja. “It’s kinder to children, kinder.”
To be chosen, comparatively, since the bad one has not damaged the profit potential of Tfue. In September, Tfue said EA offered him $ 140,000 just to play Madden in a sponsored broadcast.
Turner, who currently has no sponsors, according to his father, put it another way.
“I just like being myself. I don’t want to act like something that I am not, even if that means that it will get me more sponsors or I like it, to take me to different programs or whatever. If people [want to work] With me then they do, you know?
Among the first who wanted to work with him was FaZe Clan, an important electronic sports organization that featured a large group of popular content creators based in Los Angeles. Tfue’s rise began in earnest in late spring 2018, when he signed with FaZe. At that time, Turner called it “a dream come true.” His views count began to creep to six figures and more, along with a rapid increase in subscribers on YouTube and Twitch, according to Social Blade. He moved to Los Angeles, residing in the dazzling FaZe Clan house in Hollywood Hills. The following summer would turn out to be an unexpected gain for social networks for him, as his accounts saw exponential growth.
Tue attributed his rise to a large number of factors, including the defeat of the acclaimed Ninja in Fortnite match play, as well as winning shouts from Dakotaz and DrLupo, both high-profile players with their own massive followers. In particular, he made no reference to the FaZe Clan.
Richard spoke directly about the role FaZe played in his son’s promotion.
“The boy was a rocket,” Richard said. “Anyone could have gone up.”
Tfue’s experience with FaZe Clan caught national attention last May after he broke his contract with the organization, claiming its exploitative nature and citing the language in which FaZe could claim 80 percent of any sponsorship money brought by Tenney . The move led to a discussion within the industry regarding fair contracts for players, as well as the proper role of organizations with respect to their players. The debate is ongoing, as are the disputes between Tfue and the FaZe Clan, even while Tfue continues to team up with some FaZe members for certain competitions and broadcasts.
FaZe has claimed that they only earned $ 60,000 from Tfue, a figure he disputed.
“I know for sure that they earned a lot more money from me,” he said.
Turner added that another reason to leave FaZe was to help other players, those with less prestige, get more rights and leverage. He also wanted to put himself in a better position to concentrate on his trade.
“LA. Gets old and you have to go back to your roots sometimes,” he said. “I was very stupid and dumb, but now I know a lot more about legal matters. … I learned that I shouldn’t rush into things too quickly, even in a moment when things move fast. ”
There have been cases in which moving and talking without control has created controversy and generated questions about the characters around Tenney. Twitch suspended him twice, once for using the word “coon,” a term with strong anti-black connotations, during a live broadcast. Tfue said in an online video that he was using southern jargon for the animal, since his opponent’s character looked and played like a raccoon. Another Twitch ban was issued against him for unconfirmed reasons. Twitch did not ban it after apparently using a variation of n-word in a “Minecraft” broadcast last September. Fortnite’s publisher, Epic Games, also sanctioned him for violating the terms of the end-user agreement related to the sale of products in the game.
Tenney has posted videos that address the controversy on Twitch, where he apologized. He was responsible for his epic ban in a separate video.
“Obviously, there are some cases in which I have said stupid things that I did not mean,” he said.
Coming soon: Tfue Studios
Even when he is still entangled in the battle with FaZe, it seems that Tfue is about to enter a new phase of his career. The Tenney family is working together to create a centralized streaming center for video games, action sports, stunts and other tricks, where both Tenney boys will create content and teach others how to level up as well.
“We just take Jack and Turner, put them in a building and show these kids how to do it,” Richard said, before pulling a golf ball from the wall of space, warning people to notice the rebounds. .
“Let’s bring them, start them. If you have two, three, five thousand [followers], You have a chance! ”, He said, referring to how many subscribers he thinks are necessary to catalyze large-scale growth. To that end, Tfue bought an old 16,000-square-foot warehouse using Fortnite’s shared revenue, which he says is its largest source of revenue. His total earnings have allowed him to buy his own house, also in Indian Rocks Beach.
True to the shape of the family, outside the warehouse there are models of houses of characters from “SpongeBob”, a destroyed car and the big blue bus, which was the first Tfue car.
The warehouse-based concept is based partially on the Rob Dyrdeck Fantasy Factory, which features skate ramps, study space and other implements for cooking fun and conducting business. The other part of the idea is to create a new type of game or broadcast organization, where the selected people will be taught the basics of how to grow their followers. Richard also mentioned the next online courses that would be available to everyone.
In many ways, Turner is a pioneer in the culture and expectations of what it means to be a video game star: he spends most of his days playing video games indoors, but he still feels anxious, he loves surfing, fishing, the shot to the plate and jumping of high things.
But he is quick to point out that he is not trying to be an “internal nerd” and instead hopes to “make players train.”
“The fact that I have a lot of followers or more money than the average person does not mean that I will be a different person. I’m just the old me doing the same thing —,” he said.
On the morning of the Fortnite Champion Series tournament, Tfue had other more urgent concerns. Only a few hours before the end of Chapter 2-Season 1, his system was not working. The most watched player in the world was on his hands and knees toying with one of his hard drives, trying to make it work properly. Two dogs entered, followed by his girlfriend, who tried to expel them.
His team would be seventh, good for a prize of $ 5,625 per team member, a disappointing end to both placement and payment, Tfue said.
A couple of days later, just after the rooftop interview, Richard was gathering Jack and the Joog Squad for a fish taco, with the talk of a stop at a milkshake place that hand-drawn cheerful designs on their cups of polystyrene foam.
When Jack came out the door, he discussed plans to take the last action in a surfing competition with his friends, shoot new content and then enjoy his hobby of digging shark teeth later that night. Richard smiled as he shared a joke he was reflecting, before turning to ask Tfue if he wanted to join them.
“I will broadcast,” he said, entering his childhood room and before an enthusiastic audience of thousands.
Noah Smith is a regular contributor to The Washington Post and a television docuseries producer based in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter @VildeHaya.