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The Overwatch Contenders tournament scene has been rocked by the ongoing controversy of their first female North American player “Ellie.”
The player stepped down from the tournament due to threats of doxxing, while later it was revealed her high ranks were due to the actual player being another professional Overwatch player, “Punisher”, who is a man.
A brief primer on the lead up to the fiasco: the Overwatch Contenders is a tournament organized by Blizzard, and acts as a “development series” below the main Overwatch League tournament. Essentially, it is a way for aspiring professional eSport players to compete and work their way up into the League tournament.
One of the North American teams is Second Wind. It is typical for teams to change up members, with a new member going by the username Ellie. Ellie got a lot of attention due to her quick rise on the North American competitive Overwatch servers in solo play – playing without a pre-organized team and working together with random people.
In Overwatch, player ranking for competitive matches represents how skilled a player is on a scale of 1 to 5000 (with lower being better). This “skill rating” is affected by how well a player does in a match, win rates, and the difference in the teams average skill rating. Based on a tweet Ellie made on December 16th 2018, not only had she achieved Rank 4, but she was in a band of one of the top 500 players on the North American competitive server.
On December 21st 2018, Second Wind confirmed Ellie would be joining their team via a tweet. Her role would have been to use DPS characters on the team. The day after, Ellie posted a tweet of alleged attempts by professional Overwatch player “Haunt” requesting her dox via a Discord server. Haunt’s Twitter account has been suspended, but it is unknown if this is related to the allegations.
If genuine, Haunt seems to find it suspicious that Ellie’s name had not yet become public knowledge. Our own research would seem to suggest that professional eSports players that have their real name revealed (by their team or those close to them) once they get more attention and/or do better in tournaments.
Haunt then seems to suggest that since Overwatch Contenders’ player’s real names “get leaked” inevitably, that he requests or hopes for her to be doxxed (a person’s real name or other personal information to be revealed without their consent). He clarifies that it is “not for malicious intent. Just to figure shit out.”
Ellie allegedly began to receive harassment online while she was streaming. On January 2nd, 2019 Second Wind confirmed Ellie would be stepping down from the team before even playing for them. Many at the time assumed this was due to the threat of doxxing and/or harassment. The harassment allegedly continued even after she left the team.
This lead to several gaming news outlets decrying what had occurred without fact checking anything. The fact the first female professional player in the North American region for that tournament had been driven out led to stories about male gamer’s being bigoted and sexist towards female players.
Blizzard announced on December 26th, 2018 (four days after Ellie joined Second Wind) that to use the Twitch Chat during Overwatch Contenders, users would have to link their Blizzard Battle.net and Twitch accounts. One of the reasons this was done may have been to prevent harassment and negative comments towards players like Ellie during the tournament.
Justin Hughes, the owner of Second Wind, took to Twitter on January 2nd 2019 to denounce what had happened to Ellie.
“When we brought her onto the team, people acted like we had brought on a symbol of empowerment. I get that people meant well, but on one side, we had people questioning her legitimacy, issuing threats, etc. while on the other hand, we had people acting like they had found 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.”
The story may have ended once Ellie left the team, with the accusations of sexism rumbling for as long as the journalists could report on it. That all changed due to Aspen – a female streamer affiliated with eSports organization Cloud 9.
During a Twitch stream on January 4th, 2019, Aspen claimed that professional Overwatch player “Punisher” had confessed to her that he was Ellie, and that “Ellie” was a “social experiment”.
“There’s so much talk around this Ellie person right? Feel free to clip whatever I say I seriously don’t care. (Sighs) Ellie is not Ellie, ‘kay? Ellie is not Ellie. The whole situation was meant to be in a way like a social experiment. Ellie is actually Punisher and he told me yesterday.
So… There you go. Hello Reddit. Yeah Ellie is Punisher, he did this for like a social experiment thing and did not expect it to get out of hand so… That’s kind of the juice around that. That’s all the juice.”
A longer clip uploaded by a third party to Youtube can be found below, expanding upon the above:
“Literally, the whole situation… Made like, everyone who talked garbage or everyone who talked any sort of like negativity around it, made them look trash.
Like, even if it was real dude, even if Ellie was a real person, like… The community around the Contenders and the people who talk about like female gamers and saying it’s like “Oh it’s not real, camera proof!” Like it’s garbage!”
Aspen continues, saying how she’s “read a few Reddit posts” and how she believes that many claim that if a female gamer on stream doesn’t show their face or have a mouse cam then it is not really them playing, and that is “female gamers in a nutshell.”
“It’s like you need to show them your birth certificate if you want to go pro. Like that’s how garbage it is. Like if it was real that’d be even worse. But it was a social experiment gone wrong. It went too far.”
She claims that even pro female players are “begged” for proof they are really playing the game, and that is “the gaming community in a nutshell. It’s trash.”
A Twitch user then asks her a question: “How does a social experiment get assigned to a team?” Alpen says she does not know, then continues to talk about how many did not believe Ellie was real.
ESports consultant Rod Breslau posted a long chain of tweets on January 4th, allegedly detailing what happened. She confessed to her teammates that it was not her playing, and that “she is a 17-year old girl but is ‘not good’ at [Overwatch]”. It seem none of the Second Wind players or management knew this beforehand.
Punisher is another player on the North American competitive “ladder”-though Breslau claims he is not a professional “smurf”. A smurf account is where a player that is famously good at the game makes an alternate account to hide their identity. It is synonymous with more skilled players attempting to appear new and inexperienced.
Breslau had also received Discord screenshots from another Overwatch player called “Catsui”, who had also allegedly learned what Punisher was doing. He makes the connection that Punisher “uses his ‘egirl smurf’ to grief [Overwatch League] and other top players.” A video of Catsui discussing these screenshots has also surfaced online.
Catsui spoke with Breslau over the phone, allegedly claiming that Punisher had asked her and other women similar “social experiments” as he was playing as Ellie. Another unnamed female player says that Punisher has “a lot of” women who can speak for him while he was playing as Ellie, and that he had been given money by players attempting to seduce “Ellie”.
Yet another anonymous female Overwatch player claimed Punisher was “behind the Ellie Discord and Twitter accounts. It’s all fake. No girl or person was initially harassed by Haunt.” In addition, she claims she acted as a female voice for him at one point, he would count down to cue her in. She also corroborated claims he had several women lend their voice.
On January 5th 2019, Second Wind offered their statement via TwitLonger. They explain how they “had just recently lost players for various reasons and we desperately needed to find a substitute.” Hiring high-ranked players had never caused issues before.
The closing roster deadline combined with how several team members had played against Ellie meant they offered her the role of a substitute.
“When we originally contacted Ellie, there was nothing that would spark suspicion. They seemed to be very genuine and willing to work with us on calls and within private messages. Due to the fact that we do not have any physical contact with our players, we wanted to verify their identity but also wanted to respect their privacy as well. We genuinely had no idea of what was to come, and at the time we underestimated how important it would be to set an example as the first team to take on a female player for Contenders. “
Second Wind continues, claiming “As soon as Ellie was announced” that many questioned her legitimacy. They attempted to quell these fears by asking Blizzard Entertainment to help verify her identity, and increased her public presence (streams and interviews).
When Second Wind heard Ellie had received the threat of doxxing, they asked Blizzard to keep her “real name” off the roster list on the Overwatch Contenders website. If the aforementioned information sent to Breslau was true, we can only assume this would have been a fake name, or that the request to dig into her real identity was dropped.
“In a bid to respect Ellie’s request for privacy, we contacted Blizzard about not having their name published on the Contenders website. As a team, we admit we handled this poorly. More could have been done to support our players, but we had found ourselves unprepared for the attention Ellie got upon their onboarding; we had full faith in them. Due to our desperation to fill a roster, we unfortunately overlooked crucial information that should have been paid more attention to. We did not properly allocate enough time to communicate with the public as a means to support our players, and as a result caused more questioning that could have been avoided.
Ellie decided to step down on their own, and shortly afterwards we announced their departure from the team. As of today, Blizzard had gotten back to us on the background of Ellie, and notified us that they were not who they claimed to be, and discovered that the Ellie account was used for purposes we do not support. We apologize to the community as a whole for not handling this situation better when we should have, and we will aim to do better.”
“After investigating the matter, we found that “Ellie” was a fabricated identity and is a smurf account. The owner of Ellie’s account is a player with no current or prior involvement with any Overwatch Contenders or Overwatch League team. “Ellie” was never formally submitted to the active roster of Second Wind and never played in a Contenders match.”
How do you guys feel about the whole debacle? Should professional gamers have to prove their identity prior to being signed onto tournaments or eSports teams? Sound off in the comments below!