There’s a growing list of websites who have decided that jettisoning their reputations out of the airlock of journalism in order to white knight for a non-existent female e-sports player named “Ellie” was the hill they wanted to die on. Two of those sites included SegmentNext and Dot Esports.
On January 4th, 2019, SegmentNext’s Ahmad Hassan covered the situation of a supposed female player named “Ellie” joining the Overwatch Contenders little league team, Second Wind, back in later December, 2018. However, players questioned her lack of credentials in the e-sports space, and seemingly coming out of nowhere with no history of stats or presence in the Overwatch community. Some players tried prying into Ellie’s details to find out more, because many felt that it was a man operating Ellie and that she was actually just a smurf account. Ellie ended up abruptly leaving the Second Wind team, to which the team and media pointed to harassment and community pressure being the reason for Ellie’s departure.
SegmentNext proceeded to divide the community and blame the gaming audience for Ellie’s exit from the Overwatch e-sports team, writing…
“The eSports scene is mostly dominated by male players. However, that is not the issue, the issue is gamers not perceiving a player as a player but instead has a female player and a male player. Needless to say, Ellie leaving Second Wind generated responses from the Overwatch community.
All of this points out that these gamers questioning the identity of Ellie were nothing more than trolls. This is an issue that needs to be addressed as this will only scare away other female Overwatch pros or any other game’s.
“We need to understand that trolling has a limit when it reaches to a point where a player decides to leave indicates that it has gone too far.”
Actually, it turns out that those gamers were not trolls.
On January 4th, 2019 Cloud9’s Becca “Aspen” Rukavina, confirmed that the skepticism and reluctance employed by the community wasn’t without merit. It turned out that Ellie was a smurf account created by a top 500 player in Overwatch going by the handle of Punisher.
To no one’s surprise, the source for SegmentNext’s article was Kotaku’s piece from Nathan Grayson, which turned out to be fake news.
As of the writing of this article, SegmentNext has not updated the article nor have they corrected the misinformation.
But SegmentNext wasn’t alone in blaming the community for a crime they didn’t commit, and for doing what the games media are either too incompetent to do on their own or too ideologically blinded to carry out in the name of objectivity.
On January 4th, 2019 Dot Esports also took aim at the gaming community in a lengthy editorial that is more of a diatribe about gender politics in gaming than the actual news about what happened.
To their credit, Dot Esports attempted some semblance of due diligence to get comments from Ellie and the team Second Wind, but completely failed to examine any of the critical views promulgated by the community itself; namely that Ellie was a smurf account operated by a man.
Dot Esports’ Nicole Carpenter wrote…
“The community often asks, where are the women in esports? On paper, Overwatch esports should be a meritocracy. But it’s not—and Ellie’s situation is a stark reminder of that. Women in esports typically face similar harassment for skill or perceived lack-thereof. It happens at all ranks, on the ladder and in elite-level play.
“[…] ‘We’ve seen this in games for years,’ Washington Justice general manager Kate Mitchell told Dot Esports. ‘A generation of girls are growing up playing and making games and seeing that succeeding makes you a lightning rod for the worst the internet has to offer. It takes tremendous bravery to put yourself out there.’
“Mitchell said it’s on players and team staff to act as ‘moral leaders.’ Fan conduct can’t be directly controlled, they said—but support from management and other players can help mitigate the damage. ‘Players and staffers should be more vocal speaking up against harassment and sending a message that it’s not acceptable in our community,’ Mitchell said. ‘It’s something we can all do better.’
“Teams must begin pushing back on community harassment and finding tools to protect its players—not just women, they said.”
However, it turns out that Ellie wasn’t actually a female e-sports player.
Ellie was a mish-mash of ideas to render a reaction from the community as a “social experiment”, according to the male Overwatch player who put the whole flimflam of a fiasco together.
E-sports analyst and consultant, Rod Breslau, detailed how a top 500 player going by the handle of Punisher concocted his experiment to get actual females to sort of role-play as Ellie on social media and during livestreams while he actually played Overwatch.
Catsui tells me over the phone that Punisher also proposed to her a similar ‘social experiment’ as his playing through/with Ellie, and she says that he apparently had asked several women in the Overwatch community the same.
— Rod Breslau (@Slasher) January 5, 2019
According to Breslau, there’s actually even more to the story than that, but at the time of writing this article that information is not available.
What is available is the statement from the team themselves, which was posted up as a Twitlonger post on January 5th, 2019. In the post Second Wind apologized to the community for not doing their due diligence in vetting Ellie after it was discovered that she was just a smurf account used by Punisher for his “social experiment”. The team wrote…
“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.”
Dot Esports later updated their story to say that it was a “developing” story after linking to the information from Aspen and Rod Breslau, and then proceeded to publish a completely separate article late in the day on January 4th, 2019. In that article they claimed that Blizzard was “investigating” the “Ellie” controversy, opting to finally stick to the facts, but not without adding in more divisive language in the closing statements, where Carpenter writes…
“Overwatch fans on Twitter are outraged by the situation, many suggesting that the alleged “social experiment” will make the esports industry less accessible to women. Women have been speaking out about abuses experienced in video games for years—and the “experiment” adds nothing positive to the narrative. “
Carpenter, however, never updated the old article to say that nearly everything about the original piece is fake news.
The actual facts also created quite the schadenfreude for outlets like PC Gamer, which had adamantly stated that calling out Ellie as a smurf for a top-male player in Overwatch was a “conspiracy theory”. Before the facts had become available, PC Gamer published a one-sided article that didn’t even bother to attempt to get any additional sides of the story, with Bo Moore opting to print propaganda instead of facts, writing…
“The whole situation is an unfortunate reminder of how unwelcome the esports world can be to women. Even now, following her decision to step down, many comments in the Competitive Overwatch subreddit still perpetuate the conspiracy theory”
The article looks embarrassing at the moment when you see the two updates that negate the misinformation that Moore originally printed.
Now I mentioend schadenfreude a few paragraphs up… and it’s in ample supply thanks to the comment section calling out PC Gamer for their agenda-driven agitprop that was published before the facts became present.
That’s just a small sampling of the comment section. Moore gets ripped to shreds for taking such a one-sided approach in the original piece before it was discovered that Ellie was actually a smurf account operated by a dude.
PC Gamer, Dot Esports, and SegmentNext join a whole host of other websites – nearly two dozen – all of which published fake news about the gaming community harassing a poor female e-sports player, only for the story to turn out to be fake news. The lead culprit for pushing that angle was Nathan Grayson from Kotaku, who was the same one that actually caused #GamerGate to become as big as it did due to his journalistic indiscretions, as detailed over on DeepFreeze.it. Various other propagandists more inclined to denigrate the gaming industry than report the facts followed suit, with PC Games Insider, GameReactor, SyFy, J Station X, GameRant, ShackNews, and Game Informer all joining in on the agitprop. And that’s not even half of them.
There’s actually a full list for some of the outlets who decided to push this fake news over on Kotaku in Action.
Now not all of the outlets jumped into the harassment narrative pushed by sites like Kotaku. In fact, some of the outlets, like TwinGalaxies, took a more neutral, matter-of-fact approach to the information, even objectively bringing up some of the concerns raised by the skeptics about Ellie, such as the player’s identity being unconfirmed at the time of publishing their article.
Nevertheless, for most of the other sites, you can basically see in real time how a lot of readers can become misled about a lot of simple stories when news outlets stop being objective and start being ideological.
(Thanks for the news tip Lyle and Blaugast)
(Main image courtesy of SlenderMane)