A professional female Overwatch player at the center of a recent harassment controversy has been proven to be a duo of imposters masquerading as a single player as part of a ‘social experiment’.
On December 21st of last year, professional Overwatch team Second Wind announced on their Twitter account that they had added a new female player to their roster:
We’re happy to announce @ellie_ow will be the newest addition to our roster for this season of Contenders!
— Second Wind (@SecondWindGG) December 22, 2018
Following this announcement, many players began to ask questions regarding Ellie’s identity. Threads , such as ‘Who is Ellie’, ‘The Ellie Conspiracy Visualized’, and ‘The Ellie Incident’ began to appear on the OverwatchTMZ subreddit on Reddit attempting to discover more information about Ellie’s Overwatch career and her mysterious identity. Dedicated Overwatch players also grew suspicious of Ellie, such as Professional Atlanta Reign Overwatch player Dafran who speculated that while Ellie was speaking on the mic, the account was being played by someone else, or the now-banned Top 500 player Haunt who called for Ellie to be doxxed (an action which is almost universally condemned as unacceptable and dangerous) “just to figure shit out.”
For many, it seemed strange that any player, regardless of gender, could hold a low account level, suddenly appear on Overwatch’s ranked ladder, and then almost immediately sign to a professional team. Others also pointed to the fact that no VODs (Video-on-Demand recordings of matches from a given player’s perspective) or photographs of Ellie existed as points of suspicion. With players asking for answers and clarification regarding the new mystery player, confusion and speculation ran rampant.
In the midst of the mystery surrounding her identity, Ellie posted a one-word tweet reading ‘sorry’. This tweet preceded an announcement from Second Wind stating that Ellie had chosen to leave the team:
Unfortunately, due to some unforeseen reactions, Ellie has opted to step down from the team. We hope you continue to support her in her ventures in Overwatch as we will
— Second Wind (@SecondWindGG) January 2, 2019
This announcement was followed by a statement regarding Ellie’s departure by Second Wind owner Justin Hughes:
(2/2) their Messiah. 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. We wanted a player, but it seemed like the public wanted something else.
— Justin Hughes (@SwerteSiJustin) January 2, 2019
Soon, multiple news outlets, such as Kotaku, Game Informer, and IGN began reporting that a female player had been harassed out of the professional e-sports team. In fact, in the wake of Ellie’s departure, at least 38 different news outlets ran stories condemning the ‘toxicity’ of the Overwatch fanbase for harassing Ellie with questions and confusion regarding for clarification and authentication, which appeared to the respective reporters as harassment based on gender.
However, despite the staunch defense of Ellie and condemnation of players who were suspicious of her credentials, players were soon met with a shocking revelation:
“Ellie” was never a real person. She was a fabrication between a high-ranking Overwatch player and an as of yet unknown woman.
The first admission that Ellie was not real came from Cloud9 streamer Aspen, aka Becca Rukavina, who revealed on stream that Ellie was in fact, a Top-500 player by the name of Punisher:
Ellie is not Ellie. The whole situation was meant to be, in a way, like a social experiment. Ellie is actually Punisher and he told me yesterday. […] Ellie is Punisher. He did this as a social experiment thing, and he did not expect it to get out of hand.
Further evidence that Punisher was playing on the Ellie account, such as screenshots showing off his own performance as Ellie, Punisher personally claiming that Ellie is a smurf account (a term which refers to accounts used by experienced players to pose as unskilled or uninformed players), and a discussion of how other players were suspicious of Ellie’s participation in game chat, was shown during a livestream conversation between popular Overwatch streamer Redshell and another player known as Castui:
Castui also provided evidence to respected eSports and Overwatch League community figure Rod ‘Slasher’ Breslau that the Ellie account was at times used by Punisher to grief top Overwatch and Overwatch League players (in video games, the term ‘griefing’ refers to intentional harassment of other players by utilizing aspects of the game structure or physics in unintended ways to cause distress for other players) .
I have received screenshots of Punisher in a private message conversation with a woman Overwatch player ‘Catsui’, who was not aware of this incident until recently. Punisher, seen in a Battlenet conversation under Ellie, uses his ‘egirl smurf’ to grief OWL and other top players. pic.twitter.com/K1Tb2PFVLL
— Rod Breslau (@Slasher) January 5, 2019
It is currently unknown what the goal of Punisher’s social experiment was. Some speculate that it was done to provide evidence that women face rampant misogyny and harassment in Overwatch. Others claim that it was done to prove that it is shockingly easy for a woman to be promoted and signed to a professional team by virtue of their gender alone, as Punisher himself had not been signed to a team despite possessing the literal same skill level leading to Ellie’s signing.
Following the shocking revelation, Second Wind posted a statement to their Twitter account explaining that Ellie was signed because Second Wind did not vet her due to ‘desperation’, along with an apology to the Overwatch community:
When we originally onboarded Ellie, we had just recently lost players for various reasons and we desperately needed to find a substitute. As a team, we have always had faith in the leaderboard when it comes to scouting for players, and in our search for a new player we found Ellie as rank 4 in the North American servers. Our team members had played with them in the competitive ladder several times and saw them to be very skilled with a deep hero pool. Due to our need to fill a main position as well, a closing in deadline for roster submissions, and our team having experience with the player, we extended an offer to play on Second Wind as a substitute. When we originally contacted Ellie, there was nothing that would spark suspicion. 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.
As soon as Ellie was announced, many questions came up regarding the legitimacy of the player. We reached out to Blizzard early on to help verify their identity and calm the suspicions about our newest player, doing the best we could for the time being. During this time, we worked with Ellie to improve their public presence by prepping them for interviews, streams, and encouraging an environment where they could play with other team members publicly. This unfortunately fell through due to Ellie opting out for “personal reasons” we did not want to press them for. Ellie began receiving doxxing and personal threats due to their anonymity. In a bid to respect Ellie’s request for privacy, we contacted Blizzard about not having their name published on the Contenders website. 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. Due to our desperation to fill a roster, we unfortunately overlooked crucial information that should have been paid more attention to. We did not properly allocate enough time to communicate with the public as a means to support our players, and as a result caused more questioning that could have been avoided.
Ellie decided to step down on their own, and shortly afterwards we announced their departure from the team. 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. 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.
As of writing, neither Punisher nor the unknown woman who provided Ellie’s ‘voice’ have made statements regarding these events.