Image: Overwatch

Update - 10:30 PM, 1/04/19: Since the publication of this story, new signs have emerged that Ellie may not have been who people thought she was. Earlier today, Aspen, an Overwatch streamer for esports organization Cloud 9, claimed that top-500 player Punisher—her friend—was Ellie after all. “Ellie is not Ellie,” she said during a stream. “The whole situation was meant to be, in a way, a social experiment. Ellie is actually Punisher, and he told me yesterday, so there you go.”

Since then, Ellie’s ex-team, Second Wind, has confirmed that Ellie was an impostor and that “the Ellie account was used for purposes we do not support.” 

Rumors have circulated, but as of right now, there’s still no clear answer to who Ellie actually is. Kotaku has reached out again to all of the relevant parties and will continue to follow this story as new information emerges.

Original story: Toward the end of last month, Second Wind—a team competing in Overwatch League’s official minor league, Contenders—made a new roster addition that few fans had heard of before. Their new player simply went by the handle “Ellie,” with her first name and last name never announced and still unknown. This set off a chain reaction of conspiracy theories about her legitimacy, culminating in Ellie leaving the team yesterday.

Second Wind, a high-ranked team heading into the Overwatch Contenders season two playoffs, announced that Ellie had joined Second Wind on December 22, at which point the gossip mills on Twitter, Reddit, and YouTube spun to life with a fury. “Who is Ellie?” many fans asked, with some pointing to her relatively low account level and sudden appearance on Overwatch’s ranked ladder as being grounds for suspicion. Some speculated that she was a longtime player who’d switched over to a smurf account in order to maintain privacy, an idea that dovetailed with her apparent decision to not give out her legal name. In contrast, every other player on a Contenders roster has their full name listed alongside their gaming handle on the official Overwatch Contenders website.

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Some fans believed the mystery about Ellie’s name called her entire identity into question, including her gender. Ellie is one of very few women in Blizzard’s Overwatch Contenders league, and some fans speculated that she could be any number of notable male players impersonating a woman. In answer to these rumors, Ellie played Overwatch on stream and even brought on one player she was suspected of being, a top-500 player named Punisher, to prove that they were different people.

This seemed to only fan the flames of speculation. A handful of other Overwatch pros even got involved, with Atlanta Reign player Daniel “Dafran” Francesca speculating during a stream that “someone is playing on this account, and Ellie is talking right beside them.” Ellie, meanwhile, tweeted out screenshots of what appear to be Discord chat logs of a high-ranked (and banned) Overwatch player named Haunt arguing in favor of doxxing her, “just to figure shit out.”

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In the wake of all this, Ellie stepped down from Second Wind yesterday, offering a simple “sorry” on Twitter. Kotaku reached out to both Second Wind and Ellie for further details, but as of publishing, they have yet to reply. Last night, a message from Second Wind’s Twitter account chalked up her departure as being due to “unforeseen reactions.” Shortly after, Second Wind owner Justin Hughes clarified the situation, saying that Ellie was feeling tremendous pressure from multiple directions.

“When we brought her onto the team, people acted like we had brought on a symbol of empowerment,” Hughes wrote. “I get that people meant well, but on one side, we had people questioning her legitimacy, issuing threats, etc. while on the other hand, we had people acting like they had found their Messiah. Between needing a player to live up to huge expectations and having to question their own safety, it seems that the OW community isn’t ready to just view a player as just a player. We wanted a player, but it seemed like the public wanted something else.”

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.”

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Ellie’s departure from the team has garnered a wide range of responses from the Overwatch esports community. One Overwatch League player, Luís “Greyy” Perestrelo of Paris Eternal, reacted by tweeting “xd” a playful emoticon that implied he was making light of the situation, but he later apologized. Other responses were more celebratory and continued to perpetuate conspiracy theories about Ellie’s identity.

Some players have offered messages of sympathy and anger on Ellie’s behalf. Pros like Gladiator Legions player Daniel “Gods” Graeser and Guangzhou Charge player Charlie “Nero” Zwarg reacted with sadness. Washington Justice assistant general manager Kate Mitchell had particularly strong words.

“It’s absolutely unacceptable for members of this community to bully, harass or doxx players for their gender,” she said on Twitter. “It shows why there’s so few women in this sport. We have to do better, not just for the women and girls playing this game now, but for those growing up watching us.”