Community harassment has forced a female gamer to leave her Overwatch team less than two weeks after signing.
On December 21, 2018, a user known as Ellie signed on as a new player for the Second Wind Overwatch team.
But by the following day, she had posted screenshots of discussions within the Overwatch community threatening to dox her. Doxxing is when sensitive information like full name, phone number, and/or address are released publicly online. Over the following two weeks, everything from suspicions about her identity to accusations of account "boosting" (paying to increase rank) led to harassment and threats to her safety.
By January 2, 2019, it was announced that Ellie had left the team.
Team owner Justin Hughes also took to Twitter to voice his thoughts on the matter, highlighting the double-edged sword many female gamers experience along with success: the combination of pressures due to being a "representative" for their gender and the constant hate they receive online within the community.
"Between needing a player to live up to huge expectations and having to question their own safety, it seems that the OW community isn't ready to just view a player as just a player," said Hughes.
While obviously expectations and threats are very different problems, they're both issues female gamers experience more intensely than their male counterparts.
Many members of the gaming community tweeted their support for Ellie and expressed concerns over the harassment within the Overwatch community.
This only serves as another reminder that online harassment is still a major issue the gaming community has yet to find a way to adequately address.
UPDATE 1/05/2019: The saga of Ellie has continued to develop, with Kotaku reporting that Ellie was in fact not who they said they were after all. Second Wind, the team that signed Ellie, released a statement on the incident.
"When we originally contacted Ellie, there was nothing that would spark suspicion," the team said. "They seemed to be very genuine and willing to work with us on calls and within private messages. Due to the fact that we do not have any physical contact with our players, we wanted to verify their identity but also wanted to respect their privacy as well. We genuinely had no idea of what was to come, and at the time we underestimated how important it would be to set an example as the first team to take on a female player for Contenders."
The team reached out to Blizzard to work on verifying Ellie's identity as tensions and suspicions rose. Then Ellie began receiving threats.
"In a bid to respect Ellie’s request for privacy, we contacted Blizzard about not having their name published on the Contenders website," the statement continued. "As a team, we admit we handled this poorly. More could have been done to support our players, but we had found ourselves unprepared for the attention Ellie got upon their onboarding; we had full faith in them."
A few days ago, Ellie stepped down from the team. Then Second Wind received information back from Blizzard.
"As of today, 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," they said.
As if all of this drama weren't enough, in the meantime the Overwatch community themselves began looking into the true identity of Ellie. According to a streamer named Aspen, Ellie is, in fact, another player named Punisher. Stay with us here.
In their stream, Aspen said that Punisher himself revealed this, saying it was all an "experiment."
“Ellie is not Ellie. The whole situation was meant to be, in a way, a social experiment," said Aspen. "Ellie is actually Punisher, and he told me yesterday, so there you go.”
Yes, this whole mess is... a mess. According to Aspen, the "experiment" revealed the difficulties facing female players in the Overwatch community. Which, yes, technically that's true. Ellie might've been fake, but the threats and doxxing were real and something female gamers do face. But now female gamers will face a whole new slew of problems -- like the question whether they're even real at all.
While Ellie turned out to be a fake, the issues of harassment are all too real. Hopefully that fact isn't lost in the mess.