Overwatch ‘Ellie’ Brings Controversy to Competition

With the popularity of esports, which are professional gaming competitions, the gaming community has gained attention from players and viewers by the thousands. Esports has a list of dozens of games that have been in tournaments and are eligible for the competitions, from fighting to sports and racing. These officially recognized games include League of Legends, Super Smash Bros., Madden, Overwatch, and more. This ever-growing fame has had controversy not only in its industry, but also with its players. An Overwatch esports team has been exposed for having a player that lied about their identity on their roster. The debate over this player has reached news sources outside of the esports community.

The conflict began on Dec. 21, 2018 when Second Wind, a semi-professional Overwatch team, signed a player named “Ellie” on their roster. No other information on this player was released, for this player requested to be anonymous. And so, unlike her teammates, her full name was not displayed on Second Wind’s website. Though no personal information on this player was published, her Overwatch account was known as one of the highest ranked online at No. 4 on competitive servers. Even before the truth about Ellie was revealed, this in itself was news: this would have been the first female player to join not only the team, but a North American active roster. Furthermore, Overwatch is one of the more successful esports titles, with prizes for matches in the 2018 season totaling $3.5 million and its tournaments reaching an audience of 10.8 million. Within two weeks, however, what was believed to be progress in the gaming community would turn out otherwise.

In Ellie’s time as a member of Second Wind, she received harassment through comments, messages and more. This was sent from competitors, many of them male, and fans alike, the majority of their hate stemming from suspicion of Ellie’s identity. The team was criticized with Ellie, accused of giving the player preferential treatment based on her gender. There were fans that came to Ellie’s defense, but the negative feedback towards the player did not end. The questioning of Ellie turned into threats, with players saying that if she did not publish her personal information, they would do so themselves. Such an act has been named ‘doxxing,’ and means that someone’s private or identifying information is released online against their will, typically out of malicious intent.

Ellie’s position on Second Wind didn’t see its second week. Though she repeatedly proved her claimed authenticity through voice chats while playing, Ellie resigned from the team on Jan. 2 “due to some unforeseen reactions,” according to a Tweet by Second Wind. Posted in the wake of the announcement of her leaving were screenshots of hate messages that she’d received, the implied reason for her being removed from Second Wind. Justin Hughes, the owner of Second Wind, confirmed this in Tweets stating that the harassment had been too much for Ellie.

From there, the plot of this mysterious player thickened. On Jan. 4, Ellie was discovered to be a hoax. Ellie was not Ellie, and wasn’t a she at all. A male player who went by the alias “Punisher” was revealed to be the culprit behind the lie of Second Wind’s Ellie. His posing of a female was made elaborate through having women speak for him in voice chats and newly-made social media accounts, the latter of which had been a detail that inspired doubt towards Ellie’s identity. Punisher took advantage of esports’ presence being mainly online, for his existence and Ellie’s lack thereof could not be confirmed if his teammates and viewers never saw him in person. Ellie was supposedly created for the sake of a “social experiment” which, in its lifespan of under two weeks, deceived many, and drew the unknowing teammates and owners of Second Wind into the lie.

There was now closure on who Ellie truly was, but there was anything but for the debate over her. It was the opposite, with discussions on women – real women – in the gaming community in general. In Punisher’s case, the aftermath ranges from internet memes to arguments on whether or not the harassment towards Ellie was the result of sexism. Both the worship and condemning of Ellie joining the team had come in overwhelming amounts. The true purpose of Punisher’s experiment is still left to speculation, with nothing more than claims from other streamers and the women that played Ellie to secure Punisher’s act.

Punisher’s character Ellie caught the eyes of thousands both inside and outside of esports. The treatment of women in the industry and as gamers is an argument that has gone on years longer than Ellie’s two weeks on Second Wind. Regardless of Punisher’s justification for the act, Ellie succeeded in checking the state of the gaming community as a whole.