Kotaku’s Nathan Grayson decided to post a series of tweets defending his decision to run with the story about “Ellie”, the supposed female e-sports player for the Overwatch Contenders team, Second Wind. When it was revealed that Ellie was actually a smurf account operated by another male player going by the handle of Punisher, and that the whole drama of posing as a female player was part of a “social experiment”, none of the websites that posted the fake news apologized for misreporting the story based on a lack of information. Nor did the politically-driven sites correct themselves for throwing the gaming community under the bus after accusing gamers of being “harassers” and “doxers”, neither of which was ever proven to have taken place.
Following close on the heels of Rock, Paper, Shotgun deflecting the media’s culpability for spreading fake news — and also flagellated the strawman argument about e-sports being sexist — Kotaku author Nathan Grayson attempted to justify his lopsided article by saying that he was facing deadlines and didn’t have all the facts.
If you need a refresher on what happened, all of the necessary facts are outlined in the article here.
On January 6th, 2019, Grayson published a series of tweets on a thread defending his actions and justifying his method of reporting, writing…
“[Regarindg] the ellie story–a lot of people have been yelling at me about it for the past 48 hours, so I want to clarify some things […]
“People have decided that other reporters and I didn’t do our due diligence initially, and while I can’t speak for other reporters, I’m guessing they, like me, followed pretty standard protocol for these things: reach out to involved parties, wait for responses, and then write. Sometimes nobody replies. That happened here, and it sucks! If you’re on deadline, it means you’ve got to work off what’s available. is it ideal? No. A lot of things about online reporting–as well as social media, esports, and the internet, all of which played into this—aren’t”
In this regard, Grayson is somewhat correct.
There wasn’t a lot of available information at the time about what really happened regarding Ellie. Only a few people knew that the online profile was a smurf, a characterization, a hoax fabricated by another player. Even the team Second Wind didn’t know.
For this, I would say that not getting any answers but still feeling the story was newsworthy is not a problem so long as you treat the information impartially and only stick to the available facts at hand (to which there were very few in this case). Alternatively you can wait a day or two for more information to arrive; you might miss out on hits, but you might retain some credibility in the process.
Sites like Dexerto and Variety actually took this route by downplaying the importance of the story, and strictly stuck to the available facts.
Was it still fake news? Yes. But since sites like Dexerto avoided embellishing the story and actually offered both sides of what happened (including notes about the players who were skeptical that Ellie was actually a female), it mitigated some of the negative effects that followed in the revelation that Ellie was indeed being played by a male.
Grayson, however, attempted to pass the buck of accountability by saying that the obviousness of Ellie being fake was “historical revisionism”, writing…
“Some folks have decided I was the ringleader behind people believing Ellie, which is weird, [because] I was reporting on something the Overwatch esports community–not to mention prominent Youtubers, streamers, etc outside it–already felt was a big moment, were commenting on, etc.
“On top of that, the team in question, second wind, had issued multiple statements about Ellie, meaning that there was publicly available comment from a firsthand source. that–in addition to Ellie’s departure, aka something that *happened*–made it a story. If those things weren’t out there, I wouldn’t have written anything, [because] it would’ve just been a bunch of he-said she-said.
“Some people are acting like, in hindsight, it was INCREDIBLY obvious that Ellie was a fake. That’s some whiplash-inducing historical revision, [because] a few days ago, it most certainly wasn’t. people were making charlie-day-ass conspiracy charts to try and make sense of it, [for fuck sake].”
The charts weren’t wrong, though.
People compared Ellie’s player stats to other top 500 players and estimated (correctly) that her performance matched up with another player… Punisher.
There was even a chart posted in the /r/OverwatchTMZ/ sub-reddit on December 22nd, 2018, by user irisflame shortly after Ellie had been recruited by the Second Wind e-sports team. Their chart gathered the local community discussions and conspiracies and put them into a Paint-made image.
Truthsayer99 literally summed up the fascination with Ellie by the community, writing…
Even despite the warnings from the community, Grayson claims that there wasn’t enough evidence to doubt the veracity of Ellie being who she said she was, stating…
“[…] it wasn’t until punisher seemingly confessed to aspen (something that’s still uncertain, given that punisher himself has yet to say anything) that people started coming forward and even then, things are still rooted in screenshots and other hard-to-verify evidence, which is why I’ve yet to write an article that says “yes, punisher definitely did it, and here’s how”.
“The most solid, verifiable stuff I had at the time of my first article suggested Ellie was real. in addition, that seemed to be the going assumption of prominent people in the Overwatch esports community, including Ellie’s own team.”
The legitimacy of the screenshots that Rod “Slasher” Breslau acquired stands on much higher ground as a validation of Punisher being Ellie than the near fact-free article Grayson published claiming that Ellie was a female.
In fact, Grayson questioning the screenshots that Breslau produced featuring Punisher confessing that he was Ellie is more evidence than anything presented in Grayson’s article.
Further to the point, there was no evidence in Grayson’s January 3rd, 2019 article that indicated Ellie was actually a female, other than linking to the livestream that Punisher constructed to trick viewers into thinking Ellie was a female (which involved a 17-year-old girl to voice chat on behalf of Punisher), which was called out by anyone who could rub two stones together.
So why did Grayson run a lopsided story with no hard facts to back up his position?
Because he wanted to listen and believe.
Further down the tweet chain, Grayson wrote…
“Lastly–and this was a [judgment] call I made consciously at the time–I chose to believe a person who claimed to be a woman, [because] anything else would’ve fed into the preexisting atmosphere of rampant skepticism (verging on paranoia) surrounding women in competitive gaming scenes.
“You can say that, given the outcome of things, I played a role in ultimately reinforcing people’s erroneous assumptions about women, but the alternative would’ve been to reinforce those assumptions in a diff way–and to implicitly be *always* operating under those assumptions. That seems pretty awful to me, so I’m not gonna do that! and this isn’t me trying to sound all self-aggrandizing or whatever; I’m just outlining my thought process in hopes of helping people understand how this all unfolded
“Second wind cited similar rationale underlying their decision not to be more skeptical of Ellie, and on that front, I think they did the right thing. beyond that, I do think they fucked up massively in their rush to fill out their roster, but I digress.”
How did they mess up anymore than the two dozen websites that ran a story based on unverified information? The difference between the two is the damage done. Second Wind doesn’t publish articles that reach hundreds of millions of people around the world. Second Wind isn’t a publishing platform. They don’t owe anyone the due process of journalistic integrity because they’re not journalists; they’re an e-sports team.
They absolutely did mess up by not vetting the player and then running the bogus announcement that Ellie was practically harassed off the team, but they weren’t the ones who spread that story far and wide to millions of other gamers: Kotaku et al did.
Here, Grayson justifies publishing fake news instead of waiting for more facts to arrive. It was better to “listen and believe” than to get the story right. And with Grayson’s own admission, no one can say that Kotaku puts factual integrity above ideological agendas.
Grayson is admitting the agenda is more important than the facts.
Grayson goes on to say…
“So I wrote a story. then credible info surfaced suggesting ellie was an impostor. I updated my story and sought more info from sources who could clarify, rather than add gossip to what had, by that point, become an incredibly tangled ball of the stuff. that’s how reporting works.
“Journalists are people, and reporting is a process. it’s by no means perfect or infallible. when a story twists like this, you just keep reporting and trying to learn more, because that’s your job.
“The idea that publications are now “backtracking” is, as always, laughable. the story advanced. so of course, that means we write about the new developments, too.”
The story was fake news from the start.
The difference between a site like Dexerto and Kotaku was that Dexerto didn’t rule out the possibility that it was a hoax. Thus, their story was based on Ellie leaving Second Wind under suspect conditions. Kotaku’s story was agenda-driven drivel.
For instance, Grayson took a leap in logic to broadly paint the e-sports community in a negative light based on the false presumption that Ellie was harassed off a team. His diatribe had nothing whatsoever to do with Ellie or the claims that her recruitment was all part of one giant hoax. Grayson wrote…
“Esports is not a meritocracy; it’s a male-dominated scene in which gender essentialism runs rampant, and in which women are often made to feel unwelcome. Even in a game as ostensibly inclusive as Overwatch, a woman can’t just be ‘a player’—not without ample infrastructural support from an understanding team—and Ellie’s situation exemplifies why. This situation has led some fans to question what Second Wind did to help Ellie before she left and why the team didn’t publicly decry the harassment she was enduring before her departure.”
Everything is wrong with this entire paragraph.
- E-sports is a meritocracy: if you aren’t good, you shouldn’t be in tournament play. Ever.
- Grayson’s statement about women needing “infrastructural support” is a statement basked in sexism. Grayson is admitting that women can’t compete the way men can, and thus they need help in all their e-sports endeavors to do so. Grayson basically thinks of women as generally being lesser than men.
- Why would Second Wind decry the harassment if there was never any proof Ellie was actually being harassed? Again, this had nothing to do with the available facts at hand. There was never any evidence Ellie was ever harassed at all, and until it surfaces it’s a red herring.
Kotaku’s sensational take on the story is what led other unethical outlets to mirror Kotaku’s reportage and put equally bad takes on the situation, including Comicbook.com, Game Informer, ShackNews, SegmentNext, Syfy, GameReactor, and more than a dozen other sites to misreport on the matter.
Even in Grayson’s Twitter thread there was a frequent reader of Kotaku who chastised the writer for not even getting a second opinion or bothering to look into the criticisms posed by the community.
Next time try reaching out and finding sources in the community who can give you a better picture of the facts inoted of just assuming based on little evidence.
— Steven “Man of Many Nicknames” T (@MatadorOW) January 7, 2019
There are plenty of people in the community who could’ve given him an accurate picture of both sides of the issue so he could write a more informed article….you’re talking to one. “I was on deadline” isn’t an excuse to writing an ill-informed article
— Steven “Man of Many Nicknames” T (@MatadorOW) January 7, 2019
Steven is correct.
There was literally nothing stopping Grayson from talking with the people labeled as “conspiracy theorists” and finding out more about why they came to those conclusions about Ellie. If the story had been shaped that an e-sports player quit among the controversy of possibly being an imposter, it may have given Kotaku a lot more credibility coming out the other side of the situation following the reveal of the information that Ellie was, indeed, an imposter.
Funnily enough, Unikrn was the one who reached out to Blizzard on January 5th, 2019 to get the actual facts about Ellie, to which Blizzard responded, with a rep telling the outlet…
“After investigating the matter, we found that “Ellie” was a fabricated identity and is a smurf account – created by a veteran player to obfuscate their identity.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.’”
So even if you completely ignore talking about Punisher as the puppeteer of Ellie, Blizzard confirmed – just a day and a half after Kotaku published their article – that Ellie was a fake.
Unfortunately, there are still some people defending Grayson’s decision to publish fake news on Kotaku, claiming that deadlines and lack of secondary sources were against him. But lack of information doesn’t mean that it’s okay to fill the void with fabrications and propaganda, which is exactly what Grayson did.
In the end, not only was Grayson responsible for #GamerGate becoming a bigger fiasco than what it should have been, he was also responsible for the false narrative that many sites followed when he published the one-sided piece about Ellie, which turned out to be fake news.
(Thanks for the news tip Blaugast)
(Main image courtesy of Miss O’Deorain)