Would you rather accommodated LeBron James or Tfue?
The catechism was airish in December to 9-year-old Guy Dadon. He was sitting with his mother afterwards arena basketball in Los Angeles — aloof a few afar from Staples Centermost area James, the world’s best acclaimed basketball player, leads the Los Angeles Lakers, one of the best acclaimed NBA franchises.
“LeBr …” the mother began.
“Tfue!” the son interjected with a big smile.
The mother’s amateurish acknowledgment gave way to a attending of confusion.
“Tfue?” she asked.
(Video/Jhaan Elker; Photo/Eve Edelheit)
Given the all-around celebrity of James, who has graced able-bodied arenas and Hollywood screens while cutting up millions in endorsements, her abruptness was understandable.
But amid the adolescent generation, there is a able cull to a new blazon of celebrity, one that exists in a apple ambiguous by those who don’t actively seek it out. At the centermost of this apple — or absolutely abreast it — sits Turner Tenney, bigger accepted by to his admirers as Tfue (pronounced T-foo), the best watched gamer and amateur on the video bold alive belvedere Twitch.
An absurd star, the 22-year-old Floridian is one of the best accomplished players of Fortnite, a bold that draws tens of millions of players per month. Admirers tune in consistently for both his accomplishment akin and audacious attitude, appearance him as one of the arch personalities benumbed the growing acceptance of live-streamed video bold brawl to doubtful heights.
Tenney’s videos accept been watched 1.3 billion times and he has won added than $600,000 in prizes. Major bold publishing companies accept offered him six-figure paychecks to appearance off their titles. His net account has been estimated in the seven figures, still atom compared with addition like James, but alarming to those who never would accept advised arena video amateur could accommodate a advantageous career path. Some of Tenney’s aristocratic aeon accept anchored their own advocacy deals, a few activity so far as to assurance alone with a specific alive belvedere in barter for sums of money believed to adeptness into eight figures.
Richard Tenney, ancestor of Turner Tenney, rides on the advanced of a academy bus in the anniversary Holiday Artery Array in Indian Rocks Beach. (Eve Edelheit/For The Washington Post)
Merrick Westlund and Edwin Meza angle on top of a academy bus while accouchement affectation in advanced of cartoon activity bus. (Eve Edelheit/For The Washington Post)
Merrick Westlund throws stickers during the parade. (Eve Edelheit/For The Washington Post)
Fans band the artery acquisitive for swag and a glimpse of the Tenneys. (Eve Edelheit/For The Washington Post)
And his accent extends above the Internet. Tenney absitively aftermost year to sue the esports alignment that helped advance his admirers over what he advised a bloodthirsty contract. The move triggered a civic analysis of fair business agreements in a ambiguous profession still establishing its best practices. In the years to come, his family’s eyes could added advice appearance the approaching for streamers about the apple by introducing a adeptness in Florida committed to advice agreeable creators body their image, and an audience.
Esports and video bold banderole celebrity adeptness is not absolutely new. But it has been accessible to absence for earlier ancestors green to spending hours on sites such as Twitch, YouTube or Mixer, preferring instead to be entertained by Hollywood on TV and at the cinema, or by acceptable sports leagues. [Twitch is endemic by Amazon, whose CEO, Jeff Bezos, owns The Washington Post.]
“Gamer, esports athlete, amusing media influencer, there’s so abounding altered labels that you could characterization yourself as, so I don’t know. I’m aloof me, dude.”
Turney “Tfue” Tenney, on his video bold stardom
As such, Tenney stands as an archetype of an added abrupt bifurcation of acclaim amid ancestors that has arisen with a added siloed media mural and the adeptness of digital-first platforms to amplify video bold players.
To those beneath Internet-savvy, his accent in the evolving apple of brawl is a complete mystery. But to a assertive adolescent admirers Tenney’s acclaim rivals, and sometimes alike exceeds, that of the best acclaimed celebrities — alike if his accouterment don’t mirror those of a superstar like LeBron James.
“Gamer, esports athlete, amusing media influencer,” Tenney said in an account with The Washington Post while sitting on the roof of his adolescence home. “There’s so abounding altered labels that you could characterization yourself as, so I don’t know. I’m aloof me, dude.”
Tenney prepares to beck Fortnite. (Eve Edelheit/For The Washington Post)
The Tenney ancestors home is anchored in Indian Rocks Beach, Fla., a small, mostly boilerplate chic association of a few thousand affected by Clearwater to the north, St. Petersburg to the south and Tampa to the east. Perhaps the alone adumbration that the single-story, beachfront abode ability be of agenda is the connected attendance of a sheriff convoying abettor anchored in an adjoining lot — and a 20-foot artificial dolphin, perched in a timberline on their property.
Aloof hours afore accommodating in a Fortnite clash featuring $187,000 for the acceptable squad, the world’s most-watched esports amateur sauntered out bleary-eyed from his abode and into the winter sun. Dressed in a decrepit T-shirt, shorts, Gucci flip-flops and championship-sized design ring, Tenney leered at his father, Richard, who was continuing in advanced of a academy bus spray-painted dejected with the white belletrist of “Fortnite” stenciled on the side.
“Who’s the f—— a—— that appointed this interview?” he asked his father, dead and monotone. A additional passed, again came a smile directed adjoin his dad/PR agent.
The deadpan acrimony from Tfue is the aboriginal adumbration of how abutting the cool banderole is with his ancestors and how ample a role they comedy in his beatnik life.
Tfue, a name Turner best about afterwards analytic for an accessible gamer tag with four letters, was built-in the third of four siblings. His parents afar during his childhood. Asked about his academy experience, he laughed, “What experience?”
“I went to boilerplate academy for a week. It sucked. I dipped,” Tfue said. “I never absolutely went to school, technically I was home-schooled.”
His father, Richard, who was adopted burghal abettor in Clearwater in his aboriginal 20s, said the 1988 academy cutting in Winnetka, Ill., area he abounding boilerplate and aerial academy in the 1960s, fabricated him alert about their safety. He additionally aggregate that his acquaintance in Florida schools as a adolescent was lacking.
“I went to boilerplate academy for a week. It sucked. I dipped.”
Turner “Tfue” Tenney
“There was annihilation for me to do there,” Richard said in his Johnny Cash-sounding, John Wayne-cadenced rasp. “I sat my youngest son bottomward at 14 years old with [online educational software] Khan Academy and he formed his way through aerial academy in a month.” Alone the oldest Tenney sibling, Alex, a above model, had academic ancestry amid the children. Turner’s earlier brother Jack, 25, has his own multimillion online afterward as a YouTuber.
“The ocean was their school, they abstruse to pay absorption out there,” Richard said, abacus that the boys formed actual adamantine from a adolescent age. “Eighty-hour weeks, 100-hour weeks. I had them affairs TV antennas at flea markets. They awash them all!”
In their adolescent days, the Tenney boys pursued two audible interests: filmmaking and activity sports.
“Anything crazy, adrenaline-related, I admired doing. Annihilation on the beach, annihilation with a lath appealing much,” said Turner, who won surfing contests and was aggressive as a decline skateboarder. Jack is a able skimboarder.
“Turner could’ve accept been a pro surfer, no problem. Jack, too,” said Richard, dressed in his signature slip-on bank shoes, shorts, baseball cap, and a T-shirt featuring Ice Cube.
The two Tenney boys accept benefited from this affectionate of abutment from their father, and from anniversary other, aback they began cutting videos at the ages of 12 (Jack) and 8 (Turner). That acquaintance helped put the Tenneys advanced of the ambit aback it came to the accepted era of Internet video agreeable as a commodity. The world’s top esports banderole got his alpha as a bit amateur in his brother’s videos, which accurately of Rob Dyrdeck and “Jackass,” alike admitting they weren’t accustomed to watch the MTV appearance aback they were growing up.
“It’s a accumulation of accompany aggravating accept as abundant fun as accessible all the time,” Jack said. “The aboriginal video got added angle than bodies I knew, which blew my mind, and that was the alpha of it.”
The adventures with his brother’s crew, alleged the Joog Band (Joog is a bounded argot insult they appropriated) were so allusive to Turner that he has a boom address the name.
“Growing up, I absolutely didn’t accept too abounding friends, aloof a few, but mainly I would adhere out with my brother and his friends.” Turner said.
Admitting Jack anticipation his brother would do article anon accompanying to the Squad, he said he has not been afraid by his success.
“He was consistently like the bashful killer,” Jack said. “We aloof consistently wondered aback or how or why is Turner activity to draft up?”
His aboriginal assignment with his brother able-bodied able him for his alive brilliant turn. Anniversary one of these new alive celebs blurs the curve amid a YouTube personality, amateur and radio/talk appearance host, as they attempt at the accomplished levels of their corresponding games, affable aback and alternating with accompany and commenters in a alive online babble while they play.
The activating gives an ambience of accessibility that is aberrant for bodies with such a akin of fame. To wit: A cine fan may see a admired Hollywood amateur on awning for a few hours annually, at best, additional some promotional interviews. Tfue bests that aural a distinct day, about alive from apex until 9 p.m. — steadily architecture an admirers all the while, decidedly amid the boilerplate and aerial schoolers.
At a contempo cruise to a store, captured on YouTube, kids acicular at him, wide-eyed, and yelled “Tfue!” The aforementioned day as the Fortnite tournament, Jack and his accompany collection the dejected Fortnite bus in the Indian Rocks Bank Anniversary Holiday Artery Parade. A accumulation of accouchement darted over to it, actually boring their parents in some cases, acquisitive to accommodated Tfue — who was practicing at home.
“The aboriginal video got added angle than bodies I knew, which blew my apperception and that was the alpha of it.”
Jack Tenney, about the alpha of his alive career
And yet, neither the Holiday Inn agent nor the server at Jimmy Guana’s restaurant in Tenney’s hometown had heard of Tfue.
Asked if he considers himself a celebrity, he demurs at first.
“I guess, depending on who’s around,” he said.
As the analysis in acceptance in his own hometown alludes, Tfue and his alive aeon are adequate a new affectionate of fame. And while sports and awning stars can apprentice the acquaint of their predecessors for best matters, with no dejected book to follow, Tenney’s ascendance has appropriate some on-the-fly learning.
Tenney purchased a barn that he affairs to use as a affectionate of educational affected for ambitious streamers. (Eve Edelheit/For The Washington Post)
Letters from ‘Joogsquad’ admirers are taped on the bank Richard Tenney’s home. (Eve Edelheit/For The Washington Post)
Tfue prepares to comedy Fortnite in his home. (Eve Edelheit/For The Washington Post)
At the Tenney ancestors home aftermost month, Tfue’s albino dreadlocked earlier brother Jack watched the TV as actor Kevin Hart sat in an ice ablution and conducted an account with Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, the video bold alive personality best accepted by the boilerplate public. Tfue’s father, Richard, scoffed at the appearance and said Tfue could accept had all the aforementioned opportunities Ninja has enjoyed to date — ESPN The Magazine covers, “Ellen” appearance appearances, advantageous sponsorships.
Blevins was additionally the aboriginal big-name banderole to assurance an exclusivity deal, abrogation Twitch for Microsoft’s Mixer belvedere aftermost year. A cardinal of added high-profile bold streamers followed suit, some signing with Mixer, others with alive platforms such as YouTube, Facebook Gaming or Caffeine. Tfue charcoal on Twitch, area he is now the most-watched banderole afterward Ninja’s departure, but he has not active an exclusivity contract.
“We angry bottomward deals,” Richard said in commendations to abeyant alive exclusivity offers. “Turner’s focused on streaming.”
Tfue and Ninja apperceive anniversary added but are not friends, Tenney said. “He doesn’t absolutely like me too much, so I don’t accessory with him. That’s consistently been his choice.”
Both berserk popular, there are some key differences amid the world’s two top streamers. Compared to the added aesthetic and corporate-approved Ninja, Tenney is added of the Rolling Stones to Blevins’s Beatles.
“I’m like Darth Vader and he’s like Anakin Skywalker,” he said, apropos to Ninja. “He’s added of the child-friendly, nicer dude.”
Being cast, comparatively, as the bad guy hasn’t aching Tfue’s earning potential. In September, Tfue said he was offered $140,000 by EA aloof to comedy Madden in a sponsored stream.
Turner — who currently has no sponsors, according to his ancestor — put it addition way.
“I aloof like to be myself. I don’t appetite to act like article I’m not, alike if it agency it’s gonna get me added sponsors or like, get me on altered shows or whatever. If bodies [want to work] with me again they do, you know?”
A assurance in the barn advises guests of the rules. (Eve Edelheit/For The Washington Post)
Amid the aboriginal who capital to assignment with him was FaZe Clan, a arresting esports alignment featuring a ample abiding of accepted agreeable creators based in Los Angeles. Tfue’s ascendance began in ardent in backward bounce of 2018, aback he active with FaZe. At the time, Turner alleged it “a dream appear true.” His appearance counts began to edge into six abstracts and beyond, forth with a accelerated uptick in subscribers on YouTube and Twitch, according to Amusing Blade. He confused to L.A., residing in FaZe Clan’s arrant abode in the Hollywood Hills. The afterwards summer would prove to be a amusing media asset for him, as his accounts saw exponential growth.
Tfue credits his acceleration to a host of factors, including acquisition the acclaimed Ninja in Fortnite bout play, as able-bodied as earning bark outs from Dakotaz and DrLupo, both high-profile gamers with their own massive followings. He conspicuously did not advertence FaZe Clan.
Richard addressed the role FaZe had on his son’s acceleration directly.
“The kid was a rocket ship,” Richard said. “Anybody could accept jumped on.”
Tfue’s acquaintance with FaZe Clan acquired civic absorption aftermost May afterwards he bankrupt his arrangement with the organization, claiming its arrant attributes and citation accent in which FaZe could affirmation 80 percent of any advocacy money brought in by Tenney. The move led to a altercation aural the industry apropos fair affairs for players as able-bodied as the able role of organizations adverse their players. The agitation is ongoing, as is activity amid Tfue and FaZe Clan, alike as Tfue continues to aggregation up with some FaZe associates for assertive competitions and streams.
FaZe has claimed that they alone fabricated $60,000 off Tfue, a amount which he disputed.
“I apperceive for abiding they fabricated a lot added money off me,” he said.
Turner added that addition acumen for abrogation FaZe was to advice added gamers, those with beneath prestige, to attain added rights and leverage. He additionally capital to put himself in a bigger position to focus on his craft.
“L.A. gets old and you gotta kinda go aback to your roots sometimes,” he said. “I was actual brainless and dumb, but now I apperceive a lot added about acknowledged stuff. … I abstruse that I should not blitz into things too quickly, alike at a time aback things are affective fast.”
There accept been instances area moving, and speaking, absolved has created altercation and aloft appearance questions about Tenney. He was abeyant by Twitch two times, already for application the chat “coon,” a appellation with able anti-black connotations, during a alive stream. Tfue said in an online video he was application Southern argot for the animal, aback his opponent’s appearance looked and played like a raccoon. Addition Twitch ban was issued adjoin him for bottomless reasons. He was not banned by Twitch afterwards acutely application a aberration of n-word in a “Minecraft” beck aftermost September. Fortnite administrator Epic Amateur additionally acclimatized him for actionable their end user acceding agreement accompanying to affairs in-game merchandise.
Tenney has appear videos acclamation the altercation on Twitch, area he apologized. He took albatross for his Epic ban in a abstracted video.
“Obviously there’s a few instances area I’ve said brainless things that I didn’t mean,” he said.
A assurance the home of Richard Tenney. (Eve Edelheit/For The Washington Post)
Alike as he is still affected in the activity with FaZe, it appears Tfue is on the bend of entering a new appearance of his career. The Tenney ancestors is alive calm to actualize a centralized hub of video bold streaming, activity sports, stunts, and added hijinks, area both Tenney boys will both actualize agreeable and advise others how to akin up as well.
“We aloof booty Jack and Turner, put them in a building, and appearance these kids how to do it,” said Richard, afore ripping a golf brawl off the bank of the space, admonishing bodies to be acquainted of ricochets.
“We gonna accompany ‘em in, get ‘em started. If you accept two, three, bristles thousand [followers], you accept a chance!” he exclaimed, referencing how abounding subscribers he believes are bare to activate ample calibration growth. To that end, Tfue bought an old, 16,000-square bottom barn application acquirement administration gain from Fortnite, which he said is his better antecedent of income. His absolute balance accept accustomed him to acquirement a home of his own, additionally in Indian Rocks Beach.
Accurate to the family’s form, alfresco the barn there are mock-ups of “SpongeBob SquarePants” appearance homes, a destroyed car, and the big dejected bus, which was Tfue’s aboriginal car.
The warehouse-based abstraction is partially based on Rob Dyrdeck’s Fantasy Factory, featuring skate ramps, flat space, and added accouterments to baker up fun and drive business. The added allotment of the abstraction is to actualize a new affectionate of gaming or alive org, area called bodies will be accomplished fundamentals of how to abound their following. Richard additionally mentioned accessible online courses that would be accessible to everyone.
Tfue competes at the 2019 Fortnite Apple Cup. (Johannes Eisele/AFP via Getty Images) (JOHANNES EISELE/JOHANNES EISELE)
In abounding ways, Turner is beat the culture, and expectations, of what it agency to be a video bold star: he spends best of his canicule central arena video games, but still adventures some anxiety, he loves surfing, fishing, skeet cutting and jumping off alpine things.
But he’s quick to point out that he’s not aggravating to be a “nerd, inside” and instead hopes to “get gamers into alive out.”
“Just because I accept a lot of followers or added money than the boilerplate being doesn’t beggarly I’m activity to be a altered person. I’m aloof the old me accomplishing the aforementioned s—,” he said.
On the morning of the Fortnite Champion Series tournament, Tfue had other, added acute concerns. With aloof a few hours afore the Chapter 2-Season 1 finals, his arrangement wasn’t working. The world’s best watched amateur was on his easily and knees bribery with one of his adamantine drives, aggravating to get it assignment right. Two dogs rushed in, followed by his girlfriend, who approved to shoo them out.
His aggregation would abode seventh, acceptable for a award-winning of $5,625 per aggregation affiliate — a black accomplishment in both adjustment and payout, Tfue said.
A brace canicule later, aloof afterwards the rooftop interview, Richard was ambulatory Jack and the Joog Band for a angle taco run, with allocution of a stop at bounded smoothie collective that hand-draws airy designs on its Styrofoam cups.
As Jack absolved out the door, he discussed affairs to bolt the latest activity at a surfing antagonism with his friends, blur some new content, and again allow in his amusement of digging for bluff teeth afterwards that night. Richard grinned as he aggregate a antic he was mulling, afore axis to ask Tfue if he capital to accompany them.
“I’m activity to stream,” he said, walking into his adolescence allowance and to an acquisitive admirers of thousands.
Tenney puts on his angle and prepares to stream. (Eve Edelheit/For The Washington Post)
Noah Smith is a approved contributor to The Washington Post and a docuseries TV producers based in Los Angeles. Chase him on Twitter @VildeHaya.
Joe Moore is the art administrator for Launcher, the Washington Post’s home for advantage of video amateur and esports. He works throughout the newsroom on book and agenda projects. He was ahead the advance sports artist at The Boston Globe.
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