The “Ellie” Effect is a Massive Setback for Female Gamers

January 10, 2019

Maybe it’s a symptom of older age, but I find myself increasingly pinching my eyes in a combination of disbelief and frustration at just how often the gaming community likes to point a gun at its own head.

I am an avid fan of Overwatch, and I absolutely adore what the Overwatch League is doing to bring gaming to the world stage in an incredibly engaging, lively and accessible manner. It still has a long way to go (I’m sorry, but can we stop with the macho poses for team shots?), and it really does need to remember that the world doesn’t operate only on US time, but overall it is doing a whole lot of things right — or at least it's trying to.

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What I especially enjoy is that, in theory, absolutely anyone with a copy of Overwatch can end up on the world stage (well, at least, if you play on PC —  which is another thing that needs addressing, frankly).  You can be picked out of the top 500 in your locale by an Overwatch Contender team, work hard there and before you know it, you’re in the big leagues. It’s both as simple and hard as that. I’ve got time for that.

And so, that’s exactly what happened with ‘Second Wind’s new signing ‘Ellie’. An exciting time for any new player, but also a brilliant chance for a female player to hit the spotlight — there is still a huge gender disparity on the professional stage, with only two female members; coach ‘Avalla’ of Washington Justice and ‘Geguri’ of Shanghai Dragons. But just as was the same when ‘Gregori’ was announced, ‘Ellie’ was almost immediately harassed, threatened with doxxing (where personal and private information is publically displayed with malicious intent) and subject to a huge level of scrutiny regarding her identity.

Fair to say that Overwatch’s latest addition to the roster, Ashe, would be unimpressed.

It took only a few days for ‘Ellie’ to announce she was stepping down, citing unexpected pressures as the reason. That’s a polite way of saying ‘the torrent of abuse and breaches of privacy were too much to bear’. For that alone, we should as a community hang our heads in collective shame.

But it didn’t end there.

Less than a day after ‘Ellie’’s announcement, Twitch streamer Becca ‘Aspen’ Rukavina stated live that ‘Ellie’ was, in fact, a ‘smurf’ account by known (male) player ‘Punisher’ and that it was a social experiment that had gotten out of hand. She further stated that she was informed as such directly from ‘Punisher’. This particular player is a known troller and griefer, and has also more than once been called out for inappropriate and down-right creepy behaviour during games. The whole thing is an unmitigated fluffernutter.

The hype is real.

Unfortunately, on the other hand you also have an Overwatch team who did not properly vet and verify a player they wished to sign. Second Wind released a statement saying that Blizzard had officially informed them that ‘Ellie’ was not who she appeared to be. They further stated that in their desperation to fill their player roster before the deadline for submissions closed, they leapt on an opportunity to get a high-ranking player. They further state that while they admit they handled the whole situation poorly, they also did not expect the torrent of negative backlash from her signing.

And that’s the problem in a nutshell; Second Wind acted with the best of intentions, and the gaming community screamed at them because the player had a female name.

There is no getting around it — this whole incident sets back women in eSports. Due to this single instance, the sort of cretins who believe that their active harassment and violation of privacy to ‘investigate’ female gamers will feel validated in their continuing actions. They will do it again, and they’ll cite this whole mess as justification. ‘Ellie’ is not the first to be absolutely hammered online due to gender. No male player has ever gone through such a vicious campaign to dredge up details of their identity, status or experience. I want to emphasise that again: it does not happen.

Overwatch’s character roster is a celebration of diversity

Worse still, ‘Punisher’ seems to be getting almost no backlash for this. There are threads aplenty regarding Second Wind’s handling of it all, and almost all news articles’ comments sections are awash with people stating that they eagerly await Social Justice Warriors to begin virtue signalling (seriously, that term has to die, especially in this instance) — but there is essentially nothing about the mess that ‘Punisher’ has created and just how much damage he has done. That, more than anything in my mind, is the real measure of the community’s attitude towards female gamers.

Overwatch as a story and brand is all about inclusivity — its characters are all from rich and diverse backgrounds and there is a strong sense of equality in its lore. Its public and professional-facing player base should reflect that and all be welcomed with open arms. The fact that so early into 2019 we have been reminded that the very opposite is true should give us pause to wonder exactly why so many people in the gaming community have such a problem with female gamers, and just what on earth we need to do to correct it.

(Image source: Blizzard)

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Daniel Garrod

You can usually find me scrabbling in the low Golds of Competitive Overwatch (the fact that I'm a Roadhog main this season is a coincidence), or shouting to any poor soul within earshot how amazing Dungeons & Dragons is (it is).