The Overwatch league — and the esports community as a whole, really — is enduring a particularly bizarre scandal.
First of all, we’ll let you know there is a lot to unpack in this story, which The Washington Post’s Noah Smith detailed in a lengthy piece published Sunday. You can click here to read the full report, which contains a fascinating (and disturbing) look into the prevalence of sexism, gender bias and online bullying in the esports community.
But we’re just going to deal with the scandal at the heart of Smith’s story.
In December, an Overwatch League minor league team called Second Wind signed a highly touted female prospect nicknamed “Ellie,” who was one of the top ranked “Overwatch” players in North America. For a variety of reasons — including sexism-fueled skepticism over a female being so good at a video game — “Ellie” endured immense scrutiny and online bullying after signing with Second Wind.
Many gamers just wanted to spew hatred, while others legitimately questioned her identity, fairly citing a lack of competitive gaming background.
All the while, “Ellie” shared screenshots of threats from online attackers. Then, roughly two weeks after signing, “Ellie” abruptly left Second Wind, who said the decision was due to “some unforeseen reactions.”
Well, as it turns out, “Ellie” reportedly was a male along, a fraud using a fake account to pose as a female.
“We found that ‘Ellie’ was a fabricated identity … created by a veteran player to obfuscate their identity,” an Overwatch League spokesperson said, via the Post. Furthermore, the player, whose actual online alias allegedly is “Punisher,” enlisted multiple females to speak for him during online chats.
So, why would someone do this?
According to Twitch streamer Becca “Aspen” Rukavina, it was all part of a social experiment. Watch her explain in the clip below:
Rukavina did not return the Post’s requests for comment. Blizzard Entertainment, the makers of “Overwatch” have confirmed that “Ellie” indeed is a male, but have not confirmed the true identity of the gamer.
Among many things, this scandal is an example of what esports faces in its path toward sports mainstream acceptance. With so much mystery and abusive behavior, how could casual fans ever accept and embrace esports as it does leagues like the NBA and the NHL?
Then again, the NFL isn’t exactly a bastion of transparency and morality, so maybe esports and the Overwatch League have nothing to worry about.
Thumbnail photo via Twitter/@overwatchleague