Last week, the Overwatch community found itself embroiled in a controversy surrounding both the apparent resignation of a professional female Overwatch player, Ellie, due to rampant harassment and the subsequent revelation that the player in question never really existed at all. Kotaku, a video game news outlet site, was among the first to break the story in an article titled “Overwatch Pro Quits After Harassment Over Whether She Was Really Playing” written by Kotaku reporter Nathan Grayson. While the piece did report on the bizarre Ellie situation, it also featured a strong editorial condemning the general Overwatch community for being sexist and toxic:

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. On Twitter, Hughes replied that “we do what we can for our players, but when it comes down to it, there are only so many things we can do when safety of a player comes into question.”

In the wake of the revelation that Ellie never really existed, many began to ridicule and criticize Grayson for not only running a story that was false, but also for using the story to demonize an entire community. Respected eSports and Overwatch League community figure Rod ‘Slasher’ Breslau was among the first to criticize Kotaku and Grayson for their reckless reporting:

In response to mounting criticism, Grayson posted a lengthy explanation (which can be read in full here) regarding the writing of the article to his personal Twitter account:

Grayson first points to an alleged deadline and his inability to contact any of the involved parties as a reason for the article’s publication:

Though, as independent video game journalist Brad Glasgow points out:

If Grayson truly had a deadline, it was a shockingly short one: Ellie’s resignation from Second Wind was announced on January 2nd, 2019, and barely 24-hours later Grayson’s article was published on Kotaku. It is suspect that a news outlet would give a reporter less than 24 hours to research, investigate, write, and publish an article concerning a story with so many mysterious elements. Furthermore, by his own admission, Grayson ran the story with its intended narrative despite being unable to reach any of the parties involved directly for comment due to the alleged deadline.

These actions display an egregious and worrying lack of journalism ethics. The Society of Professional Journalists include the following guidelines in their Code of Ethics:

Journalists should:

– Take responsibility for the accuracy of their work. Verify information before releasing it. Use original sources whenever possible.

– Remember that neither speed nor format excuses inaccuracy.

– Diligently seek subjects of news coverage to allow them to respond to criticism or allegations of wrongdoing.

Grayson then continues, explaining that he only wrote on what could be proven given the evidence he had available:

These assertions prompted a response from the Director of Talent and Programming at ESP Gaming, Richard Lewis, who provided Grayson with evidence that Ellie had been outed as fraudulent two-weeks prior:

(Note: While the original reddit thread linked by Lewis has since been purged of comments due to the controversial nature of the topic, an unredacted version can be read using Removeddit.)

Near the end of his statement, Grayson admits that he ran the editorialized Ellie story because of the subject’s gender and his own perception of competitive gaming:

Grayson also avoids taking responsibility for running the erroneous article, instead framing the article’s publication as a form of activism:

However, many readers and fans were ultimately unhappy with Grayson’s statement, and were quick to criticize what they felt was a dishonest and disingenuous non-apology:

What do you make of Grayson’s thread? Do you think he was quick to jump the gun in order to push a narrative about women in gaming? Do you think he made the right call in trying to get his story out as soon as possible?