The last few days were weird and strained ones for the Overwatch community. They featured a story most bizarre which, among other things, highlighted some glaring problems in OW esports and games journalism as a whole.
The story begins on Dec. 12, 2018 when Second Wind, a North American Overwatch Contenders team, signed a female DPS player named Ellie. Ellie had no real name. Nobody knew who she was or where she came from. And so, as is so common to esports, a hunt began.
Several players and community members called out Ellie for being not what she claimed. Some checked the young age of her account and concluded that this must be a smurf. Someone must’ve been playing on her account, with Ellie taking the credit. Atlanta Reign player Daniel “dafran” Francesca doubled down on that theory. Yes, you could hear her voice, but that’s not much proof of anything in the online sphere.
With the community on her tracks, Ellie decided to then drop out of Second Wind, before playing a single OW Contenders game. Second Wind stated “unforeseen reactions” as the reason.
Unfortunately, due to some unforeseen reactions, Ellie has opted to step down from the team. We hope you continue to support her in her ventures in Overwatch as we will
— Second Wind (@SecondWindGG) January 2, 2019
What followed was the much expected hot takes from esports and gaming press and other figures involved. The community was to be criticized for the harassment — an act that ruined the future of an aspiring female gamer. “Between needing a player to live up to huge expectations and having to question their own safety, it seems that the OW community isn’t ready to just view a player as just a player,” said Justin Hughes, Second Wind’s owner.
(2/2) their Messiah. Between needing a player to live up to huge expectations and having to question their own safety, it seems that the OW community isn't ready to just view a player as just a player. We wanted a player, but it seemed like the public wanted something else.
— Justin Hughes (@SwerteSiJustin) January 2, 2019
Of course, some folks will have to take their works back with the surfacing of new information. During a recent broadcast, Cloud9 streamer Becca “Aspen” Rukavina said that it is in fact high-level player Punisher who’s behind the Ellie moniker.
“Ellie is Punisher,” Aspen said. “He did this for like a social experiment thing, and did not expect it to get out of hand, so that’s kinda the juice around that.”
Esports insider and journalist Rod “Slasher” Breslau also came along with more information, adding that none of Second Wind’s players and managers knew of Ellie’s identity.
Punisher, the player assumed to have played as Ellie, is just another NA ladder player. Not a pro smurf or semipro. It is also possible more than one person played under her name.
Correction: The meeting between Blizzard and SW has not yet occurred, will happen in the next hour.
— Rod Breslau (@Slasher) January 4, 2019
Now, the findings of Punisher’s asshole-ish “social experiment” are manifold. First and foremost, it does highlight the push-back a female could get simply for being female. Regardless of the final truth, the events that led to its uncovering are nothing if not discouraging to other female players. More than discouraging, even: they are ruinous to future potential, legitimate careers and that actually happened with the help of a female player. This was an ugly outcome, highlighting an ugly reality.
But in the end, we already knew all that. We knew how harshly some female gamers can be treated by the male majority. It’s an important issue to highlight, but it’s no new issue. Hell, Hearthstone even had a familiar incident years ago, where a player by the name of Hyerim “MagicAmy” Lee was caught in a similar conspiracy theory that she was but the female forefront of an actual male player. Community’s reactions, too, were almost identical.
We didn’t need this “social experiment”. We don’t need to go through the “Yeah? Remember Ellie and how she wasn’t really a girl?” routine every time an aspiring female player comes up. Nobody, least of all female players, has benefited from this.
Whatever the real truth behind Ellie is, such conspiracies should never exist in the first place.
What the Ellie case teaches us more, however, is the amateurism one can encounter in the Overwatch Contenders scene. Whatever the real truth behind Ellie is, such conspiracies should never exist in the first place. Not in a scene which is on the fabled “Path to Pro”. OWC is where the future OWL talents are discovered, forged and then sent up to chase bigger glories. So, how do you employ a person not knowing who they are? How can you call out a whole community and then be embarrassed by your own ineptitude a day later?
And make no mistake, this is a case of ineptitude. Second Wind’s own management admitted to not knowing their own player’s identity. Pressed by time or not, they ignored due diligence, hoping to “set an example” and be the first to market a female Overwatch Contenders player.
Whoever created the Ellie persona is not without fault but at the end of the day, it was Second Wind who put themselves in this situation. Blizzard were nowhere to be found during those twenty days either. Presumably, they were busy coming up with new ways to moderate what their fans can and cannot say on the Internet, instead of verifying the identity of a player who was either an impostor or a legit talent with shit flung in their face.
As for Ellie, all we got was a “sorry” tweet and a tower-long string of responses from people who’d rather cling to a false reality than accept there was more to the one and only truth they chose to believe in.
— ellie (@ellie_ow) January 2, 2019
So as the quick-fingered gaming press now picks up the pen to write how it’s all our fault, let’s take pause and consider these other lessons instead this time. There is more to write about the story than just what the threat of doxxing can do (although this is obviously nothing this author supports or condones) and it shouldn’t be ignored. This is a sign to Blizzard that there’s a whole branch of their beloved Overwatch — yes, unfortunately the one that isn’t netting them millions — where laity can run unchecked and where immediate attention is needed.
This is a good time to also ask this: if misbehaving in game or Twitch chat nets you a permanent account ban, what do you deserve for compromising the legitimacy of a team or, worse yet, an entire tournament?