PLAYING WHILE FEMALE: RE-READING IDENTITY FIXATIONS IN OVERWATCH
In early 2019, Overwatch professional player, “Ellie” quit playing just weeks after having been named to one of the teams seeded into the professional league. The harassment cited as a reason to leave was related especially to whether or not “Ellie” was truly “female”. Not much later, Ellie was revealed (and confirmed by Blizzard, the parent company of Overwatch) to be an account created by a male player. This paper sets out to map the controversy that ensued from a self-styled “social experiment” of playing while female.
This paper brings this current “revelation” into conversation with past, more fully embodied/manufactured identities to better understand why this case is particularly important to internet studies. To this end, we begin by briefly describing some earlier, more familiar cases of people revealed to be someone other than, in online spaces, they said they were. Then, we further outline the instance of Ellie: its uptake by mainstream media, prominent Youtubers and Twitch streamers, and its discussion on internet forums like Reddit and 4Chan. Paying particular attention to the ways these discussions frame the “trick” played in disguising Ellie’s ‘true’ identity (singular), we suggest that this kind of case has always been galvanized by an underlying conviction that the best gamers are always and only men, and one contribution internet scholarship can make here is to show how these discursive patterns are unhelpful in understanding contemporary identificatory politics and practices in online spaces.