Overwatch esports team Second Wind began the new year with the disappointing news that its sole female player, Ellie, would be stepping down from the team due to "unforeseen reactions." Ellie was, briefly, one of the few female players in Overwatch esports and was signed on the back of her ascension as one of the best online DPS players without a team.
Second Wind signed Ellie despite a lack of public information regarding the player, which had aroused suspicion in the online Overwatch community. Ellie attempted to verify her identity by then appearing on Overwatch streams for Second Wind. Unsatisfied with her appearances, some members of the Overwatch esports community suggested she was talking on the mic while letting someone else play for her.
The backlash over Ellie's signing reached a boiling point when the player began receiving threats to her safety, alongside attempts to doxx her and leak her personal information online. Second Wind announced that Ellie "opted" to step down from the team while also asking people to support her continued ventures in Overwatch on Twitter:
Unfortunately, due to some unforeseen reactions, Ellie has opted to step down from the team. We hope you continue to support her in her ventures in Overwatch as we will— Second Wind (@SecondWindGG) January 2, 2019
The "unforeseen reactions" that the team refers to are likely the many negative events that swirled around Ellie when she attempted to step into the public eye to prove herself to a community that had taken it upon itself to erase her accomplishment. The team's response to the situation has been widely criticized on the competitive Overwatch subreddit, which has lambasted the organization's decision to shift the blame entirely onto the community. While toxicity is a part of many esports communities, posters have argued that the organization has some responsibility to insulate and support its player from the negativity that surrounded her signing. It doesn't help that Justin Hughes, the owner of Second Wind, released a questionable statement regarding Ellie's status:
(2/2) 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.— Justin Hughes (@SwerteSiJustin) January 2, 2019
In particular, Hughes' notion that his team "wanted a player" is troubling because it implies that a good player doesn't bring this sort of reaction from the community, which is obviously outside of a player's control. It's worth wondering just how much support Second Wind offered Ellie during this situation, as it reads like the support from her team might not have been there when it mattered most.
It's unclear if Ellie's departure from the team is entirely because of the backlash she faced or if other factors were at play. What remains is an unsettling look into an esports community that did its best to drive out a female presence in its game. With so little female representation in competitive Overwatch leagues already, members of the community chose to run a smear campaign on Ellie rather than accept that she had earned her position as a talented, rising star. It's a sobering reminder that, even with a prospectively exciting 2019 for esports as a whole, there remains a lot of work to be done before the scene finally begins to mature.