We Need To Talk About Ellie (Or Esports, Gaming Culture and Bad Behaviour)
So. I had a piece lined up to be my first post of 2019, it was all about fashion and it was super fun, but something has happened in the world of gaming that I feel really needs to be talked about. Sorry everyone, the fun has to wait, because someone did a big old screw up in video games, especially in the ESports, Overwatch League.
Yeah, yeah, I know this is my usual thing, I normally stick to the weird essay things rather than topical but I have a lot of thoughts about what has happened and the ramifications that are likely to come about because of it. I will also say now that this story has only broken over the last few days (9/01/2019) and there is still some confusion over what is going on, so if things change or more in released I will update this piece accordingly.
Ok, so what went down?
For people who don’t know Overwatch is a massively multiplayer online game by Blizzard, where you play in teams against each other to win certain challenges or tasks (think capture the flag but with weapons and seriously OTT playing fields). You can simply play with your friends and have a laugh as a more “casual” gamer or you can go for the big leagues as professional player – yes, that’s a thing. Overwatch, and others, have a huge online gaming presences, with people from all over the world competing or watching their teams; these guys even have uniforms and sponsorship just like any other sport. ESports are easily one of the biggest industries in the world and Overwatch is right up there at the top of that. What is somewhat unfortunate, and not a dissimilar state of affairs to IRL sports, is that it is a very male dominated at the top, and this is where the Ellie thing starts.
For anyone who is not a white man in online gaming, the likelihood is that you will have been, or will be harassed at some point, if not constantly when you play. Unless you “disguise” yourself as a male player (which is something many people do) you will find yourself the subject of abuse, racism, sexism, sexual assault in the form of dick pics, requests for nudes, wanting sexual acts to be performed or similar. It’s really awful. If you’re a women, LGBTQ+ person, or a person of colour at of the field, this can be even worse. There are many, many, MANY stories of these things happening. Like so many. Shockingly many male players don’t believe that this is true, to the point where a male Overwatch League (OWL) player, known as Punisher, decided to do a “social experiment” and play as a girl, Ellie.
Ellie was soon taken on by a team, Second Wind, with little to no background checks on the player, and the women of the Overwatch community were thrilled to see another woman playing in competitively.
This is where it gets messy, or rather messier. Several people, or various reasons (one of which I’m sure is straight up sexism “how can a girl be so good at gaming blah blah”), started to suspect that Ellie was not who she said she was, but she was getting a lot of interest as a player, and many supported a woman sitting at the top. Punisher even went so far as to get girls to go on mic to “prove” that Ellie existed when questioned. As any one, other than clearly men, could tell you, the harassment got worse and worse, until Ellie quit the OWL and some one then doxxed the account to show that this was in fact a guy playing.
Now, I really am not going to get into the gritty details of the whole story, if you would like to read about the whole thing, Kotaku have done several really good pieces on this whole mess which you can read here and here. No, what I want to get into is the ramifications of this.
The most obvious thing that will come out of this will be basically more harassment. No woman playing OWL or any other ESports game will be able to play without the constant fear of being attacked, or even possibly having their information doxxed online. Ellie/Punisher wasn’t even in the Pro Leagues, but still got all this harassment, simply for being a good player. Will it be now that every woman who is good at gaming will be challenged over and over again about their gender? Sadly, I think that may be the case, since it is clearly something that frequently happens already, and that may lead to a point where many will feel so unsafe in their gaming space or may leave altogether. I really hope not, and I really hope that girl gamers do band together to help each other get through the maelstrom that has come out of this whole thing. There are so many women who already do not play online gaming because of the behaviour to male gamers and this is only going to make that worse.
It is also worrying that this is being seen as a “victory” for Gamergate supporters who claim that gaming is pandering to women and progressive ideas (see here), believing that gaming is an almost exclusively male hobby, and that women, LGBTQ+ people and people of colour are “ruining it”. These are the same people who when Blizzard announced that one of the major male characters of Overwatch was in fact gay, said that the company had ruined the game, and would never play as that character again, or in fact would stop playing the game (here ya go if you want to look into that, oh and here’s an actual article.). It’s all very mature.
The thing is, that while these men may seem childish, they are in fact very dangerous, threatening and attacking people online, again, doxxing info and images of people that they deemed should be punished and starting hate campaigns against developers, players or anyone who got in the crossfire. With it being proven that Ellie was not a girl, they seem to think that this means that no one from any type of group, other than their own of cis, predominantly white, men, are successful or good gamers. They are either frauds or cheats.
Women, LGBTQ+ people and people of colour are already on the back foot when it comes to gaming. They are severally unrepresented, especially as playable characters, often being relegated to sex object, love interest, quirky comic relief character or punching bag. It’s very much the tale that is told across all media at the moment. But much like with other mediums, gaming is starting (slowly) to change this and the backlash, again like in other mediums, has been harsh and in some cases dangerous. The actions of someone playing at being a woman just for the sake of proving a point that have been proven over and over again in so many ways, seems callus and offensive. I don’t know what Punisher’s intentions were (he could have, maybe, just listened to the stories of girl gamers experiences, the utter cockwomble) or what he hoped to achieve, but at the end of the day, what it has lead to is a massive step backwards for women in professional ESports, something that may linger for a lot longer than anyone, let alone Punisher himself, would have expected.
Thank you for reading! Today is also my two year anniversary of starting this blog and though I wish I had time to update more, all of you who read and follow and support me with keeping it running mean the world!
I will be posting all and everything that comes into my head on both of these, and chatting about life as a nonbinary person and a good amount of cosplay thrown in too. Oh and robots.
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If you want more please check out my last articles:
- Are We Sitting Comfortably? The Tradition of the Christmas Ghost Story
- The Crimes of Grindelwald (Or The Crimes of Big Budget Movies)
- Coatsink Interview: Is the Future a Virtual Reality?
- An Examination of Horror (Or Why Am I Fascinated by Something so Scary!)
- The Town of Light: A Different Look into Mental Health in Horror
- EGX: Gaming at its Very Best
- Cute and Casual (Don’t Judge a Nonbinary Person by Their Cover)
- The Doctor’s New Clothes
Written by Holly Rose Swinyard