'Ellie,' Social Experiments, and Harassment
On December 21, 2018, North American Contenders team Second Wind announced that they had added Ellie, a female player from the Top 500 in Competitive play, to their roster. On January 2, 2019, Second Wind announced Ellie had left the team, and by January 4, Ellie was revealed to be a hoax, or at the very least a character loosely based on a real person.
What happened? There are hypotheses and conspiracies abound out there, but here are the known quantities as of this writing.
15 Days of Fame
Days before Ellie was added to Second Wind, the team had lost a handful of players such as flex player Coluge and support player CarCar, losses that left the team with a roster of only 6 players. On December 16, Ellie posted a picture of their season and career high SR, saying they mostly played that day with ATL Academy’s sugarfree. By the 17th, Second Wind players Frill and MirroR had made comments (1) (2) saying Ellie was a great Doomfist and she was given a welcome to the team. On December 21, Second Wind officially announced they had taken in Ellie and Tehpwnzoor, presumably as DPS and support respectively.
When Second Wind announced they were adding Ellie, some in the community became suspicious of her authenticity because they hadn’t seen or heard of her before. It’s not impossible for an unknown to be out there, but at the higher tiers of play, players tend to know others by their BattleTag if nothing else due to a smaller pool of players to pull from for matches. Unfortunately, a few took their desire to know who Ellie was to an extreme, and there was talk of attempting to dox her.
On January 2, 2019, Second Wind said that Ellie had decided to step down from the team after “unexpected reactions.” This news caused an uproar because it highlighted the all too familiar story of a woman feeling they had to quit something they enjoyed due to harassment.
On January 4, Cloud9 streamer Aspen said on her stream, “Ellie is not Ellie. The whole situation was meant to be a social experiment. Ellie is actually Punisher and he told me yesterday.” Slasher reported that Ellie started saying to teammates via DMs (Direct Messages) that she was not the one who has been playing, and the person playing as Ellie was another ladder player. It turned out that this Punisher had contacted others either as “Ellie,” or as themselves in the past in attempts of doing a similar “social experiment.” As of this writing, Slasher has added that Punisher will give his version of events soon.
Late on January 4, Second Wind released a statement saying that they knew nothing about the deception. Their side of the story is that they were scouting after losing a few on their roster, and a few players on the team who had played with and against Ellie brought her up. Second Wind talked with her and added her to the team, and then they reached out to Blizzard to verify the identity of Ellie. While waiting on an answer from Blizzard, they continued onboarding her and helping her with a social media presence. In their haste to fill their roster quickly, they overlooked unspecified, “crucial” information. On the same day of the reveal by Aspen, Second Wind said Blizzard got back to them and verified Ellie was not who they claimed to be. Dot Esports reports Blizzard confirmed this, and that the account in question was a smurf account of another high-ranked player.
Now What? (or Time for Sabriel’s Rant)
As a woman in the space, that someone would do this is quite infuriating. If in fact this Punisher deluded themselves into thinking this was an actual social experiment, something my gut tells me is a cover for something that got away from them, it was a cruel experiment. In this case the experimenter has the privilege of being able to walk away from it all without having to think about it again. Those of us who live it everyday? We don’t get that option.
Women and minorities have been talking about and sharing our experiences for years, and there’s nothing new to learn by “trying it yourself.” I’ve had to put up with transphobia on the official Overbuff account in the rare times I’ve posted my picture there, and I’ve had to put up with harassment in-game multiple times from guys who plead for me to give them sexual favors, or how boast they’re going to “reward” me if we win the game.
Many of us know the story of Geguri’s harassment when Overwatch came out, and some may know about Second Wind’s own team captain on just December 15 saying on a private account that “females” shouldn’t be in his 4500 [SR] games. He thankfully apologized (link), but most of us are not afforded that. If the harassment is in-game, we can try to Avoid as Teammate for competitive mode, or hope that the player pool is large enough that we’ll never see them again. Reporting is an option, but it does nothing immediately, and due to the anonymity in Blizzard’s after-action reports, we will rarely know which harasser of the likely many we’ve reported, was the one punished.
Now much of the harassment “Ellie” received wasn’t necessarily because they said they were a girl, but by the end, the story reported by Second Wind was that Ellie left because the levels of harassment and attention she received was unexpected. The story of a woman being harassed out of a space isn’t a new one, and women were rightfully upset even if Ellie was just a character. That Ellie turned out to be a character doesn’t negate the fact that women are harassed in and around the game.
This little “experiment” changes things for women in the future. The first thing we’re going to see in the future now whenever any woman tries to flex their muscle into the semipro scene will be, “Is this another Ellie?” This is especially so if this person tries to hold onto as much privacy as they can, while they can.
I do have hope. Looking at tweets sent to the Ellie character’s account, there are far more messages of support than not. It’s actually kind of wholesome and a reminder that there IS good in the community and outside of it. That support needs to keep happening.
If you experience experiencing harassment first hand in games or out, you can do something, too. It’s not “white knighting,” it’s being a decent human being. The biggest thing you can do is call it out. Show that you support your friend or the random person who was placed on your team. Call it out, report if it continues, and block/mute.
While “Ellie” turned out to be fake, if you’d like to watch some women play in Contenders, Nicole Carpenter of Dot Esports started compiling a list of many who are already there. This may not be a comprehensive list, but it’s a start. Playing in South America is Win98 on FURY, in Australia there is Mini on Legacy Esports, babyporo on Breakaway Esports, Leveret, Eevee on Athletico Esports, in the Pacific Region is Redfox on Cyclone Coupling, and in China is Muahorse for Zenith of Optimism.
This whole ordeal never had to happen. Even if Second Wind and their players truly never knew the truth, it could have been avoided with more due diligence. If this actually was some sort of social experiment by Punisher, they could instead have stepped back and just accepted the truth without having to try and live it out themselves.
Lastly, just listen. When we say we’re being targeted. When we share our experiences, listen and learn.