By now the dust has settled on another embarrassing chapter for both the Overwatch League and the mainstream gaming press. If you missed Ellie-gate you missed a classic. In summary, an above average male player, with the help of another to disguise him as being the perpetrator, co-opted some female friends to create a deception that made it look like a new high-skilled woman had appeared on the scene. Despite the only identifiers for this person being a Twitter account and an Overwatch account with a suspiciously short amount of playing time for someone with her ability, a considerable number of people ignored the signs it was a hoax and instead gushed to support the fake person. Even though they were given multiple warnings something wasn’t right about the situation and even Reddit threads in the public domain that exposed the lie, the contenders team Second Wind were willing to risk it all to sign a high skilled and high-profile woman to the team. When it became clear that the confederacy of dunces running the hoax would have to submit to a background check and expose the whole thing as a lie, they withdrew from the team just two weeks later.
Sensing another chance to dunk on gamers, the games press instead wrote up a series of articles about how this non-existent person had been “harassed” out of the scene, despite the only evidence of such harassment being one discredited and banned player saying he would dox the individual. Every publication with even a cursory interest in esports had their story, proof they said, that girls will never be allowed to simply play and Overwatch was losing a brilliant new talent because of the actions of unnamed, unseen crazies. As the wave of uniform articles did the rounds, it would actually be a woman that would put a stop to the madness. Cloud9 streamer Becca “Aspen” Rukavina said that not only did she know it was a hoax, but she had spoken with the person behind it who had confessed. From there, esports journalist Rod “Slasher” Breslau uncovered the rest of the story, which he did in approximately two hours. Embarrassingly enough, it was simply a matter of establishing a timeline, asking a few questions and reaching out to a few players, something that every games journalist had failed to do in their desperate bid to prove once and for all that all gamers hate women.
That should be the big takeaway here, that every journalist who wrote about this was duped by such an obvious deception and were happy to put their byline on a comprehensive work of fiction. It presents a philosophical question for the new age of wokeness should; “If a person doesn’t exist is it possible to harass them?” To people like myself who dabble in this thing called “reality” the answer is a fairly straightforward “no.” To games journalists desperate to save face they are trying to tell you that there is a discussion to be had around this nonsensical premise.
That should be the big takeaway here, that every journalist who wrote about this was duped by such an obvious deception and were happy to put their byline on a comprehensive work of fiction.
For example, despite the overwhelming evidence pointing to the Ellie persona being a fabrication, it didn’t stop Nathan Grayson from Kotaku peddling the narrative that not only was she was inarguably real, but the harassment the nonexistent person received was somehow proof that esports was a sexist cauldron of hate.
“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 was echoed by PC Gamer’s Bo Moore who wrote, “The common refrain says that esports is a meritocracy, and women will succeed if they’re good enough. In this case, Ellie clearly had the skill needed to play in Overwatch Contenders—the toxicity of the esports community prevented that from happening.”
There were other suspiciously similar passages, but far be it from me to suggest the cartel of modern games journalists copy each other’s homework. Instead let’s acknowledge that “Ellie” has no situation because she isn’t a real person. The reason “Ellie” wasn’t allowed to simply be a player wasn’t because she was suspected of being female. Rather this person was suspected of being illegitimate, a smurf, a cheat, a fraud. Anyone who has followed esports for years knows that the competitive community, for good or ill, act as gatekeepers with a very strict set of rules that all must go through in order to be accepted and it certainly isn’t gender specific.
“Ah” say the narrative-drunk dunderheads, “but we can prove this is wrong Richard. They did it to Geguri too. Remember when they called her a cheat and she had to turn up to a LAN and play in order to prove herself. How is that not sexist? Why does the only female pro have to do that? Checkmate sir.”
I’ve seen this parroted almost verbatim in comments on social media and websites that incorrectly covered this story. I’m sure these morons think they have a point. They don’t, of course and if anyone, a journalist perhaps, wanted to engage in some very basic research there are high profile examples that show men going through exact same baptism of fire. Fortunately for me, because I actually follow the esports industry instead of just using it for clickbait hits to prop up dying publications, I am equipped to inform you about them.
Let me tell you a little story about a professional CS:GO player called Robin “ropz” Kool. An unknown player who rose through the ranks of the FACEIT pick-up game system he qualified for the FACEIT Pro League where he was literally playing alongside the highest level of player that CS:GO has. Not only did he do that he had the highest winrate of any player. Pros couldn’t believe it. They said he must be cheating. I made a YouTube video defending the player, explaining that pros should know better than to make assumptions. One of the most decorated players in CS:GO, Jesper “JW” Wecksell, said during a livestream, “f— this Ropz retard. I don’t know why we just ban him” comments for which he apologized at length. He explained that he simply couldn’t understand why a player that good wouldn’t join a team. Robin was still focusing on school. People didn’t buy it.
Kool came under such scrutiny that FACEIT themselves flew him to London to play while they observed him, the exact same thing that happened to Geguri, and like his Overwatch counterpart he played to the same high standard despite the pressure. People had to accept it that the kid was the real deal and it wasn’t long before he was picked up by Mousesports, where he had a great first year as a pro.
There are multiple examples like this across all esports. Having to prove yourself in person is a rule competitive gaming had to adopt to stop widespread cheating. I wonder why not one single games journalist could find this example, despite CS:GO being one of the most popular and most viewed esports. Of course, I don’t wonder at all. Most modern journalists have made a promise to themselves and a pact with each other that if you have to eschew certain facts to serve a greater good this is fine. And of course, if you want to serve that cause not only do I have no problem with it, I fully support it. You just cannot do it and be a journalist. If you don’t want to check your ideological baggage at the door and pursue objective truth and balanced reporting you have no place being here. You can fight the good fight in dozens of other ways without having to completely betray the founding principles of journalism. And given how much the average games journalist loathes their audience and constantly complains about their job, I’d suggest they’d probably be happier out there being an activist, free from the ethical constraints journalism has to apply in order to function.
The fact this was about narrative and not objective reporting becomes even more clear when you look at publications like PCGamesN. Falsely citing a “wave of doxing threats” (there was one, which we’ll talk about shortly) they still tried to intimate that this was an issue about gender ending their piece with a bizarre non-sequitur “Currently, the only female player in the Overwatch League is Kim ‘Geguri’ Se-Yeon, who was signed to Shanghai Dragons last year.”
The thing is, they themselves covered this happening to a male player in CS:GO when they wrote about the situation surrounding Shuaib ‘D0cC’ Ahmad. That report not only references the Robin Kool example, but it also has a quote from a FACEIT staff member saying that what happened to this MALE player was “one of the “worst” witch-hunts he has seen in 12 years of working in the industry.” How does researching reporting from your own website elude you?
Oh and if you’re in any doubt how endemic the idea of proving your legitimacy is to Counter-Strike, you only need look at the punishments meted out by ESEA for not turning up to LAN events you were committed to doing so. The penalties are extreme not only because you let down your teammates and potentially ruin the whole competition but also because there’s an assumption you are hiding something, like maybe the fact you cheat. Here’s a 100 year ban being handed out to a male player who ducked out of competition. Happy ending to that story for the feminists by the way, the banned player’s spot was given to a female pro. Guess you missed that one my journo compatriots.
You will also notice that each report spoke of supposed widespread harassment from the Overwatch community. Not one journalist has been able to show any quantifiable evidence of this in any of their reports, despite being able to hyperlink to examples of every other incident they reference. The reason for this isn’t surprising—they are lying. The Discord logs from one player, the notoriously unstable “Haunt,” who seemingly had a vendetta after having the indignity of being friendzoned by a catfish, seems to be the only piece of substantiating evidence for these claims. When you consider not only is he banned from playing the game on any account, suspended from Twitter and is thought of as a laughing stock by every single Overwatch pro, it’s hard to see his antics as representative of the community.
What I was able to find from looking at Twitter—a method that seems to have temporarily eluded my fellow journalistic professionals—was overwhelming support for the fictitious woman. See for yourself by looking at the replies on this Twitter thread on the day after Ellie left Second Wind, 3rd – 4th January. The positive comments vastly outweigh the negative. Once the deception was exposed, then yes, funnily enough the comments take on a very different tone. It’s almost as if people don’t like being lied to, be it by real men or imaginary women.
None of this has led to any admissions or apologies from any journalist who chose to bolster their woke credentials at the expense of the facts. Quite the opposite actually. Treating you all as if you are stupid, they have now shifted to explaining that even though they were wrong, the whole time they actually were trying to explain an important lesson to you misogynistic buffoons. It’s not important that Ellie wasn’t real, that it was plain to see she wasn’t real and that they reported that she was. What IS important is that the treatment of this illusory phantom proves once and for all that women are treated terribly, even though no women were harmed in the making of this hoax. Of course, we learned in 2014 that it’s just not possible for games journalists to be wrong.
Jay Castello’s piece over at Rockpapershotgun best exemplifies this baffling pivot, “Those who immediately disbelieved Ellie often claimed that it had nothing to do with gender, and yet these same kinds of accusations always seems to come up for top female players,” she wrote, deliberately ignoring very prominent examples that I’ve listed of it happening to men.
The logic that seems to have eluded the writer here is that the male players involved in this stupid prank did demonstrate something many have suspected to be true; that organizations, especially in Overwatch, would literally risk their credibility to hire a competent female player.
The reasons are sadly probably cynical, more about marketing than promoting equality. Yet what we saw here doesn’t seem to prove evidence of systemic sexism in the professional circuit. The players when playing as male were considered just another face in the crowd. The same ability suddenly being applied to a woman led to not only a contract, but Second Wind actually ignoring direct warnings that this was a hoax to secure her signature. Maybe everyone playing casually is an asshole to girls. I don’t know. The evidence here suggests that not only will women will get plenty of opportunities to compete professionally but organizations will make as many accommodations as possible to enable that, even if there’s a risk of them looking like amateurs. Odd isn’t it that this very obvious point was absent from this write-up or any others.
I don’t have anything against Castello. In fact, I’d like to offer her some praise. The opening paragraphs of this opinion piece are more accurate than any of the so-called reporting from the shit I listed prior to her work. Unfortunately, she seems happy to wear her bias on her sleeve and contribute to the divisive rhetoric currently taking place the gaming landscape. “Who’s gonna tell these gamer bros that RPS literally commissioned me to write a weekly overwatch league column for the new season” she tweeted with glee. Probably no-one honestly, because who the fuck reads Rockpapershotgun anymore, especially for esports coverage? But I would say this, some of those people you’re dismissing as “gamer bros” are actually the solution to what you consider a problem. You don’t win people over by dismissively applying labels to them. In fact, isn’t that what you’re railing against?
Caveat time before the hit pieces come in calling me a bigot: Let me unequivocally state if you’re a guy and you immediately rage at the sound of a woman’s voice when playing online games, wholeheartedly fuck you. Your weird incel tendencies make all guys look bad and I’d happily stick you on an island far away from the rest of us till you work out your Oedipal issues before I ever thought about not having girls in my games. And sure, maybe a few other prominent male voices could do with echoing that sentiment. There’s our common ground. Lying to people and pushing victim mentality isn’t doing anything except turning a rift into a chasm and I grimly suspect that is actually what a lot of these writers want because it’s good for business. Do you really want to solve these problems? If they weren’t there, what would you write about? Really makes you think.
We can save the end of this article for the biggest embarrassment of all, Kotaku’s Nathan Grayson and his twisting labyrinth of excuses for his factually inaccurate reporting. If this doesn’t convince you there is something rotten at the core of the games press then nothing will. First, he blames the fact that nobody replied to his request for comment, a not entirely uncommon occurrence in the field. Why this would excuse you immediately jumping to the conclusion, in the absence of comment, that this person must be real, I don’t know. But then he explains he was on deadline and that’s why. I know of no single editor in the world, even the worst ones, who want their writers to publish factual errors to arbitrarily assigned deadlines. Each false report erodes credibility, or it should at least, and can even open you up to litigation. You simply run what you have. You don’t fill in the gaps to make the article read like the one you hoped to write when first assigned to the story.
He then follows that up saying it was a “happening,” so he was compelled to write the false version he did. Ellie, who didn’t exist, never even got as far as officially registering to compete in the league. This is true for a number of reasons, the largest of which is that she doesn’t exist, which admittedly is a barrier to entry in esports as a general rule and one I hope we can all tackle together in 2019.
Then he claims it’s not his fault because it’s historical revisionism to state that anyone believed Ellie was a hoax before Aspen’s comments and Breslau’s investigation.
More lies of course.
This was a player with no digital footprint, not even a full name, no player history on the account, who was just a voice that spoke observably out of sync with the gameplay she was supposedly engaged in. It had even been leaked on Reddit it was a hoax, a random social media account having done more investigative work than a single games journalist could manage until the endemic esports writers decided to. A simple search on the platform would have revealed this. How is it “whiplash inducing historical revisionism” when weeks before this was public?
Evidence is hard to verify. Timelines are hard to verify. This is the bread and butter of the job. If your answer to it being hard is to instead file lies that you couldn’t possibly have verified, you need to be handed a fucking pink-slip.
Finally, and perhaps most concerning of all, he then states that because screenshots and chat logs are “hard to verify” he had to go with a completely false version that couldn’t have been verified at all because it was all bullshit. Yes, stories are hard to verify. Evidence is hard to verify. Timelines are hard to verify. This is the bread and butter of the job. If your answer to it being hard is to instead file lies that you couldn’t possibly have verified, you need to be handed a fucking pink-slip.
Despite what they are trying to spoon feed you, the takeaways from the Ellie situation should be this:
- Organizations want female players, even ones with implausible backstories.
- The second tier of Overwatch Esports remains embarrassingly amateur.
- The games press will happily publish lies as long as the story serves what they perceive to be a greater good.
Point three is the one I hope we remember. I see a lot of talk from these writers who bungled this story from start to end saying about how we all must “do better” in light of their reporting. How about taking that sentiment and applying it a little closer to home?