Ellie: Esports Identity Confusion


The esports industry is commonly referred to as the “Wild West” due to its unstable nature at the moment, though many entities, like the Overwatch League try to bring some stability to the industry. However, the events that transpired over the last month in regards to an Overwatch player named ‘Ellie’ have certainly proved that it's still the wild west. In sum, Second Wind, a team that competes in the Overwatch Contenders League (feeder league to the Overwatch League) tried to bring a fake player onto their roster. Here’s how it went down:

  1. Second Wind had an opening as of December 16th, 2018

  2. An account with the tag ‘Ellie’ climbs the leaderboard and becomes a Rank 4 account with a 70%+ win rate on Hanzo and Doomfist (well-known Overwatch players)

  3. Second Wind proceeds to announce the arrival of ‘Ellie’ onto their team roster on December 21st, 2018

  4. Second Wind announces the departure of Ellie from their team roster on January 2nd, 2019 citing “unforeseen reactions”

  5. It is revealed that ‘Ellie’ was actually a well-known Overwatch player ‘Punisher’ and ‘Ellie’ was simply a fake account

  6. Blizzard releases a statement on January 5th confirming the controversy that “‘Ellie’ was a fabricated identity and is a smurf account”

(*If you would like to learn more about the controversy, read this Reddit thread, watch this video and read this statement from Second Wind.)

This situation created an extreme uproar in the Overwatch community for a number of different reasons. First, ‘Punisher’ claimed the stunt was to “prove a point” -- cue the confusion and anger. Then, the deeply ingrained issue of sexism in esports was revealed once again as ‘Ellie’ was not only harassed, but there was also a whole camp of people that didn’t believe she could be female because of her skill level. While these are two huge issues in the world of professional esports, the issue we will dive into today was the uproar over how Second Wind could have publicly announced the signing of a player who they had not confirmed the identity of, and how the vetting process for players is fundamentally flawed.

Imagine, for one second, that the Vancouver Canucks publicly announce that they are signing a player - Dwayne Bretzky. The fans look him up and his stats are incredible, he has beaten a couple of well-known players, everyone is amped up. Then there are a few skeptics that say, ‘wait a second, how have we never heard of this Bretzky guy before? Where did he come from?’. Those fans begin the doxxing process and they come to the conclusion that Bretzky is fake, he’s actually another player using the alias Dwayne Bretzky. The Canucks then have to backtrack on their announcement, their brand is damaged, the NHL has to step in and comment on the situation, it’s a mess. All of this would never happen in the NHL. But why?

This would not happen because prominent traditional sports leagues like the NHL, NFL, MLS, NBA etc. have clear and established infrastructure wherein processes like athlete scouting, contract negotiations and signing are ingrained in the industry. The esports industry, while it has been around for more than 20 years, is still in its nascent stage. It has just started to be tapped into and be recognized as ‘legit’. While I believe it is advanced in a number of different facets (technology integration, fan engagement, brand integration), the industry is lacking in back-office infrastructure. The industry has advanced at such a rapid pace that stakeholders have been flying by the seat of their pants and scrambling to keep up and have let their back-office infrastructure fall behind the advancements of all other areas in the industry. Thus, rudimentary issues like athlete non-payment, contractual breaches without repercussions and athlete exploitation have become commonplace.

As the industry continues to mature, these issues need to be solved for the industry to be taken seriously and ‘grow-up’. With secure digital systems, like the Smart Athlete Manager (SAM) the esports industry can bring the same level of technology integration and digital expertise to their back-office processes that they present in their front office.

SAM delivers a more efficient, real-time contract management system and brings sophistication and structure to athlete administration within the esports industry. SAM requires athletes to upload their identity documents and associated gamer tag as a way to prevent anonymity and identity confusion.

The SAM platform allows users to effortlessly complete basic aspects of signing an athlete, like confirming identity and validating police, medical and immigration checks with the click of a button. The platform solves the aforementioned rudimentary issues of athlete non-payment, tracks contract obligations provides transparency to athletes and automates payment. Read more about STG’s SAM platform here.

It is time for the esports industry to mature and focus on its back-office infrastructure in order to eliminate juvenile and unacceptable mistakes, like signing a fake person to a professional esports team.