It was never any secret that male geeks are happy to tear down the joy of girl geeks. From chastising them in the comments section of Youtube, to being objectified in comic book stores, geek culture has taken steps to make it known that it is a boys club. However, it has never been more obvious in the recent case of Ellie, a girl who was invited to join the professional eSports team Second Wind.
Second Wind plays in the Overwatch Contenders tournament series. There, teams of players from all over the world come together to try to make it to the professional Overwatch League. It is comparable to a minor-league baseball or hockey teams made up of athletes who dream to make it to the big leagues.
Ellie was marketed as an up and coming athlete, who rose through the ranks in a blindingly short amount of time. Just before her signing to Second Wind in December, she was one of the top 10 players in her position. Second Wind stated that at that point, they reached out to Blizzard, the company that manages the Overwatch League, for assistance in verifying Ellie’s identity.
Almost immediately after the release, Ellie started receiving harassment from other Overwatch players, including threats to dox her – otherwise known as releasing personal information such as her real name, address, or phone number.
Others simply thought that Ellie wasn’t what she seemed, and were suspicious of her sudden rise to fame. They accused her of being just the voice behind a male player.
On January 2, as a result of the threats and suspicion, Ellie left Second Wind. Initially, this was met with anger, especially among the female eSports fans, who had hoped for a female firebrand to bring more diversity to the landscape. But the plot thickens, and the information that would follow has taken the eSports world by storm.
After her departure, Blizzard came back to Second Wind with the news that Ellie was not who they claimed to be, and instead was a male player with a female acquaintance acting as the voice and character of Ellie.
The actual player behind Ellie, a player known as Punisher, had been found propositioning several women to play the part of “Ellie.” He was using this character as a puppet for a social experiment to reveal misogyny in competitive video games.
To put it bluntly, this misogyny never needed to be revealed, it was always in the open.
In May 2018, the first female player in the professional Overwatch League took the stage. Kim Se-young is from South Korea and plays for the Shanghai Dragons in the Overwatch league. In her rise to fame, she has been accused of using software to make her more accurate, and for being the voice behind a male player – something she has had to disprove by using a dedicated camera that records her hands when she streams.
Rumors that Se-young put to rest with her camera, have been resurfaced by simply the existence of Ellie.
Leading concerns are that the actions of Punisher and his accomplices will reset the clock on women in eSports. They suggest that this is a validation on the fears of male players who believe that women cannot be as good as men. Contrary to popular belief, there is no biological advantage that men have over women in clicking a mouse and pressing the letter “W” on a keyboard. In fact, half of all video game players, are women.
What men do have is a powerful hegemony over the videogame world that prevents women from succeeding, before they even start. Men own video game spaces, and often act as gatekeepers when women attempt to enter those spaces.
But what is more frightening is the simple act of Punisher himself, thinking that something as rare as the existence of a woman in eSports, is something that someone could consider worth turning into a social experiment. The acts of Punisher show his perspective on women’s success in this arena as something that can be sacrificed for a joke or his own curiosity. It shows a disrespect for the contributions women have made in eSports.
That disrespect is not just acknowledged by gamer girls – but by women everywhere. As women stand up for themselves in all sports, we must make it known that this conduct is not to be tolerated. There are strong female voices in video games, and they must speak out and let everyone know, from Hollywood, to Halo, Time’s Up.