How the “Sky House” became an epicenter of abuse and exploitation in esports

Sky Williams was once YouTube’s most popular gaming comedian. But behind his rising star was a toxic home environment.

When Brandon Woodie met Sky Williams in August 2014, he was elated. While driving around Seattle, Woodie saw the famous YouTuber walking down the street and instantly recognized him. He asked for the car to pull over, hopped out, and introduced himself.

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Williams was in town for PAX Prime, the popular gaming convention, and the two became fast friends. Williams was quick to invite Woodie into his clique for the event and, by the end of the weekend, he told Woodie he should move to Los Angeles. Williams would give him a job and a place to live—at his own house.

“The fireworks were going off in my head,” Woodie, who was 19 at the time, said. “This is everything that I wanted since I was a kid. I wanted to do something in video games. This was my ticket, this was my golden ticket.”

Woodie knew very little about Williams’ house, except that it was home to a number of top Super Smash Bros. players. That alone was enough for him to jump at the opportunity. Like many others who’d move in with Williams, Woodie envisioned a gamer’s paradise. Some of the biggest personalities in esports—and especially competitive Super Smash Bros.—were all living under the same roof. It seemed like the type of environment that could propel the career of an ambitious young person forward.

Shortly after arriving, however, Woodie confronted a different reality.

The Sky House was hardly some glitzy mansion. Inside, roughly 20 people were crammed into four bedrooms and forced to share two bathrooms. The place was dirty and disorganized—and that was just on the surface. The home was held together by an abusive culture built on an exploitative and manipulative structure, with Williams at the top.

Williams offered tenants an array of opportunities that pressured them to remain in his orbit: cheap housing in LA, collaborative work within his content empire, and the ability to advance their careers. But the very factors that made the house so appealing to young industry hopefuls—low rent and easy access to other major industry figures—could also quickly make the house feel like a trap. Online, Williams spoke thoughtfully about sex, race, and culture in the gaming community. But in his own home, he helped breed and foster an environment that led to bullying, sexual abuse, and statutory rape amid a complex and often confusing social hierarchy.

The first Sky House was leased sometime in 2013, shortly after Williams’ career took off. An aspiring comic, Williams’ early YouTube videos featured skits with no topic off limits. His targets included everything from 9/11 to homophobia to virginity. It was a sense of anything-goes humor that he would carry through to the culture in his houses.

“I thought that everything is going to be fine and I really played it up ideally in my head. Like, ‘oh, I’m going to have my own room. I’m going to have my own space. I can finally live my life how I want to, be the person I want to be.'”

– Jacqueline “Jisu” Choe

Like many other gamers in the early 2010’s, Williams dove deep into League of Legends, a rough-around-the-edges game that was skyrocketing in popularity. Combining his passions for gaming and comedy, Williams made his League video debut in the game in February 2013. He instantly became a favorite on /r/LeagueofLegends, the most popular gaming forum on Reddit. His videos nearly always eclipsed 100,000 views, with some even reaching into the one- to two-million range. By that summer, he’d become the foremost League content creator. Riot Games even paid for him to attend what was otherwise an employee-only retreat to the Dominican Republic in August 2013. 

Before his fame, Williams was entrenched in a Northern Californian Smash and gaming community that had become especially close after one of their closest friends died in early 2011. As he grew financially successful in early 2013, he suggested that this group of friends relocate to Los Angeles. He’d pay for everything, and his friends with their own gaming and comedic aspirations could tag along.

The first iteration of the Sky House included a core set of five, including Williams and longtime friend Joseph “Deez” Areas. But as Williams’ career continued to flourish, he moved everyone into a new house in early 2014 and began to bring in people he hired as both residents and employees. The pull to feature in and collaborate on Williams’ videos and to rub shoulders with other creatives, encouraged some major figures in esports, and especially Smash, to move in. Williams looked forward to having some of the best Smash training partners living with him—it was a personal goal to get good at the game. 

The fourth Sky House, from approx. April 2016 to April 2017 | Photo via

“I was motivated by Smash,” Williams told Dot Esports.  “I was driven to not be free. I was driven to win a tournament. That and hang out with my friends. But like come on, let’s also be real. My friends were really good at Smash as well. Like they were winning tournaments like, you know what I mean? So it’s like I want to play with them and I wanted to get better and all that shit.”

For the house’s residents, including Melee legend Jason “Mew2King” Zimmerman and Chilean-born Smash rising star Gonzalo “ZeRo” Barrios, it was an opportunity to live cheaply and be in a hotspot for their esport. The Sky House’s high-profile residents made it the epicenter of pro Smash in California. Shortly after the release of Super Smash Bros. for Wii U in November 2014, Williams hosted one of the game’s first tournaments at the house. From that point on, if there was a big Smash tournament on the West Coast, chances were high that top players trained at the Sky House beforehand.

While traveling back to Los Angeles just a few days after PAX ended, Woodie says Williams showed him a picture of pro Melee player McCain “MacD” LaVelle. During their PAX weekend together, Woodie had come out to Williams, who is openly gay. And now, Woodie said, Williams suggested that Woodie and MacD could be a good romantic pair. (Williams denies that this happened.)

MacD and Woodie met in person soon after at the Sky House. At first, Woodie said, they “were being flirtatious.” But then “things got out of hand really quickly.” 

“I started to get really uncomfortable,” Woodie said. “I’d show him stuff on my phone, pictures of my friends and family, things I had been doing at home. We’d be sitting next to each other and he’d get really close. He wasn’t paying attention to what I was showing him. He was paying attention to me and getting sexually rampant about things.” 

The situation escalated quickly. 

“I was walking down the hallway to go to my room and he came up behind me and pinned me against the wall,” Woodie said. “I [tried] to play it off because it’s awkward, it’s weird. I had never been put into a situation like that before. I don’t know if it was sexually charged or it was just a bit or if it’s just a joke I needed to play along with. I was awkwardly laughing and saying, ‘let go now.’” 

MacD did let go at first, Woodie said, but still followed behind “really closely” as Woodie walked to his room.

“I was like, ‘McCain, you need to leave,’” Woodie said. “He kept getting closer to me, like getting in my face, like he was going to kiss me. I kept backing up until I was pinned up against the bunk bed. My wrists were pinned onto my top bunk and I’m trying to lean back away from him. I told him that if he didn’t stop, I was going to scream for Sky.”

Eventually Williams did intervene. MacD apologized, but Woodie said MacD’s inappropriate behavior continued. And despite this harassment, Williams let MacD move into the house several weeks later. Several other instances of abuse occurred over the next year in front of other housemates and often when MacD was drunk, Woodie said. Williams did not take action.

MacD | Photo by Thomas Tischio

After Woodie left the house and moved back to Seattle in May 2015, he messaged Williams about his experiences. Williams told Woodie to put it all behind him and to not report it to the police, because, Williams said, nothing would come from it.

Woodie’s case was far from isolated. The Sky House worked on a referral system. If a resident wanted to move someone else in, a friend or collaborator, they’d speak with Williams.

One of those who moved in around the same time as Woodie was Jacqueline “Jisu” Choe. A 15-year-old runaway, Jisu was a talented young artist who’d been invited to the house by 25-year-old Melee player Jesse “Vidjo” Werner. 

Just like Woodie, Jisu thought the house was going to be someplace special. “I thought that it was going to be a lot more put together,” Jisu said. “I really thought that these people, they’re like adults, right? So I thought that everything is going to be fine and I really played it up ideally in my head. Like, ‘oh, I’m going to have my own room. I’m going to have my own space. I can finally live my life how I want to, be the person I want to be.’”

Vidjo told Williams the two would be working on a game together and told everyone else Jisu was just a friend who was in a bad family situation. But privately, Vidjo had been grooming Jisu online, she said. And now, the man who was 10 years her senior was bringing her to live with him. (Jisu said her lawyers have advised her not to identify the name of her alleged abuser. Williams identified Vidjo multiple times in his interview with Dot Esports and in a Twitch livestream in July 2020, however.)

In a blog post she published in January 2018, as part of the MeToo movement, Jisu laid out the exploitative relationship in full detail. She was trapped, isolated from her family with Vidjo in charge of her life and well-being. Because Jisu was a minor, Vidjo was able to take complete legal control of her burgeoning art business. It was his name on all the business’s papers. 

Meanwhile, the abuse was non-stop. “I was constantly sexually abused in extremely fucked up ways,” she wrote in another post. “I was raped at 15, he’s 10 years older. If you want the truth of it, I was constantly being used for sexual favors.” He told her not to tell anyone, and she feared she’d be reprimanded or lose her career if she did not obey. In one instance, Jisu said she was raped in a closet and then photographed in sexually explicit positions—photos that Vidjo later used in attempts to blackmail and manipulate her.

There was no safe space in the house to escape, either. She became the focus of explicit jokes, much the same as Woodie. She said it started after she declined to provide free artwork for Williams.

“Sky would literally go around calling me ‘jail bait’ or like ‘underage pussy’ and he would say this repeatedly multiple times,” Jisu said, alleging that Williams was fully aware of the abusive relationship when he’d make these comments. Williams denied specifically using those words, but admitted that several housemates made jokes about her situation and that other roommates hit on her.

“I think just because nothing was ever taken seriously,” Jisu said. “Everybody just made light of it and they would even… I don’t want to use the word ‘everybody’ cause that’s insinuating that like everyone was in on these jokes where it’s more like Sky was propagating this kind of culture and we were all kind of just there trying to figure out our own situations.”

In Williams’ world, if you didn’t work for him, prop up his ego, or be able to offer him professional opportunities, you’d be considered lesser, several housemates said. On the flipside, favorites of the house were usually exempt from the belittling jokes or comments. 

“If you were best friends with Sky, he would treat you the best, you’d get the most accommodations,” Jisu said. “The most social excuses. Because of that I think everyone wanted to be friends with him, which fed into a lot of other problems. 

“Sky had a lot of really good childhood friends there. After that it’d be like his close friends that he has business connections with. If he has a direct interest in working with somebody to make YouTube content or do streaming stuff with them, he’d treat them very well and you’d get a lot of accommodations.”

In one instance, Williams drove a group, including both Woodie and MacD, out for Korean barbecue. During the car ride, Williams said, “[they] should just have sex already. They should just fuck.” The car burst out in laughter, Woodie said.

The third Sky House, from approx. April 2015 to April 2016 | Photo via Zillow

At Williams’ second house, Jisu shared a room with Vidjo, Mew2King, and famous Smash commentator D’Ron “D1” Maingrette. On numerous occasions, Jisu said, ZeRo would show her pornography and other sexually explicit images and videos or advertisements for sex workers on Craigslist. Then he’d laugh at her disgust. (Williams said he wasn’t aware of this at the time.)

The pattern of dismissiveness persisted even as more allegations trickled out. Williams only reacted to a complaint of inappropriate sexual behavior in one instance, when Stevie Nelli followed Jisu to her bed and put his hand on her arm. She told Nelli to stop, which he did, and the following day, she told Williams what happened. Shortly thereafter, he summoned Woodie and Nelli into his bathroom, where he waited for them wrapped in a towel after showering, according to Woodie. He offered both Woodie and Nelli money to go back home. Woodie declined, but Nelli took the $500 and a flight back to Indiana. Williams denies this specific event happened. But he did acknowledge that he made the offer to send them home. Williams said he decided to kick Nelli out after another woman had alleged that he had assaulted her at a convention.

Williams claimed he had suspicions of the sexual nature of the relationship between Jisu and Vidjo and that he expressed his concerns to Jisu, who was dismissive of his concerns (she denies this). He also claims he called California Child Protective Services but gave up on it, fearing his assumptions might be wrong and CPS could force Jisu to move back home into a bad family situation. 

When Woodie first told his story to writer Linnea “SmashCapps” Capps in March 2016, Williams and MacD went on defense. They published statements on Twitter at exactly the same time (Williams said this was not coordinated). Both tried to lay the blame on Woodie, saying he was the one who started things with MacD. Williams even suggested Woodie only came forward after Williams had rejected him. The rest of the house, which included more than 15 people, stayed silent. Many didn’t believe Woodie at the time, in part because of Williams’ vehement defense of MacD. 

In a January interview with Dot Esports, Williams continued to deflect some of the blame on Woodie. He said he had no reason to believe that Woodie was uncomfortable after he and MacD continued to spend time together. Williams alleged that Woodie “misremembered” much of his experience in the house because “it was all just a lot.” He also accused Woodie of acting inappropriately towards him and other guests, including giving Williams back massages wearing nothing but his underwear. (Woodie said that he never massaged Williams as described.)

For victims in the Sky House, there was often nowhere to go—and no one to believe them. Williams’ behavior often splintered the house into factions, leaving certain residents feeling like outsiders. It was important to retain Williams’ favor, whether that be working for him or maintaining a close friendship. He often referred to his employees as “workers,” or “slaves,” several housemates said. 

Racist and misogynistic comments were also commonly used among housemates. Williams would frequently call his close friend, artist Melissa “ffSade” Yabumoto, who is Asian, “Chopsticks”; or Leah, Areas’s girlfriend, a “bitch” or a “cunt,” Areas said. (ffSade, for her part, wasn’t bothered by the terms. “I wasn’t offended by what they called me. It was a just for fun thing, I guess,” she said. “It’s just how the house worked.”)

Williams’ house rules were also confusing. He told residents that if a guest wanted to visit, he needed to approve them first. In one instance after an unapproved guest visited the home, Williams threatened to break something valuable belonging to each resident unless he received $350 in cash immediately. In another instance, when someone entered his room without permission, he lashed out in a group message with his housemates and said he’d spend $1,750 reserved for rent and bills to buy himself lavish items.

Williams needed that money, too. Even at the peak of his career, when he was making tens of thousands of dollars a month from YouTube and Twitch content, Williams’ lifestyle exceeded his means.

He would, for instance, frequently pick up the tab at lavish Korean barbecue dinners with roommates and friends. At the second Sky House, in Santa Monica, California, Williams took responsibility for the majority of rent. At any given point no matter which house, 20 people, give or take, lived in the residence, but only a few were officially on the lease. Those who paid rent only contributed $200 to $400 a month—a measly sum compared to the cost of renting a large house in expensive Southern California. Williams said rent ranged from $4,300 to $8,100.  Those homes were valued at more than $1 million each in 2021, according to property records.

“The mental abuse I perpetuated in order to gain control of the house or the rules I had set, it’s completely unacceptable and abhorrent.”

– Sky Williams

Meanwhile, Williams stopped posting on his YouTube channel for months at a time, significantly cutting into his revenue. In April 2018, he announced he’d be taking a leave of absence. He posted one video that May but then went offline and didn’t return until November 2018, when he uploaded a video outlining his battle with depression.

Williams took loans from friends before his leave of absence, but that increased once he took a break from creating content, he said. He asked one housemate, Jun Kristofferson, who received a hefty sum from a settlement from a car accident, for $13,000. Popular League personality Nick “LS” De Cesare lent Williams $10,750. Housemate Spencer Samuelson lent him $55,000 over the course of two years, Samuelson said. 

Christopher “MonteCristo” Mykles, one of esports’ most popular sportscasters, lent $1,000 in July 2019 after Williams said he’d get his life back on track and begin making content. Before the loan Williams contacted MonteCristo in a panic, saying he risked being evicted and that he had “freeloaders” living off of him. He needed “as much money as you can spare,” he told him in a direct message and then proceeded to ask for $5,000. After conferring with his wife, MonteCristo agreed they could risk to lose $1,000. 

As of August, Williams owed $250,000, according to a video released on his YouTube channel. Over the past seven months, he has paid back about $30,000, though primarily the smaller loans. He paid Mykles back in August 2020 and paid a small percentage of what he owed LS. Samuelson told Dot Esports he hasn’t received a cent of the $55,000 he loaned Williams.

With his YouTube account dormant, Williams continued to participate in public discourse on Twitter and Facebook but did not create content. The Sky House downsized, with far fewer roommates and a less expensive rent bill. It seemed like everything would continue as normal for Williams, until gaming finally had its MeToo moment.

Last June, victims across the gaming community began to speak out about how they had been sexually abused by some of the most powerful people in the industry. In Smash, in particular, allegations of sexual harassment, assault and peadophilia bubbled up in mass. 

Many of the abusers and their victims, not surprisingly, were caught up in the orbit of Sky House. MacD was accused of sexually assaulting two different minors at Smash events. A woman alleged that ZeRo sent her sexually explicit messages from 2014 to 2015, when she was 14 years old. D1 was accused of raping a woman during the Smash the Record 2016 tournament in Kissimmee, Florida, in November 2016. And several women said Smash pro Matthew “Xzax” Liberatore made unwelcome sexual advances towards them (he later admitted to this).

While the specific abusive actions in many of these allegations took place outside of Williams’ home, others did not—including, of course, the abuse suffered by Woodie and Jisu. And on one occasion, in July 2018, Smash commentator Richard “Keitaro” King Jr., then 30, admitted to serving a 16-year-old girl alcohol and then raping her in Williams’ pool.

Williams’ response in July was nowhere near as fast and ferocious as it had been the first time allegations surfaced. He hosted a Twitch stream to address some of the allegations, then followed it up with a series of tweets. Then he went dark. Several weeks later, in August, he released a near 90-minute video diving into each statement. He apologized for how he treated victims, specifically highlighting how he handled Woodie’s situation in 2016. He said his understanding of grooming—adults manipulating minors over time as part of a plan to sexually abuse them—had changed in the years since what happened with Jisu.

“Obviously now that I’m much older, I look at it a lot differently,” he said. “Trauma and abuse comes in many forms and me trying to use a universal compass to navigate the waters of trauma and abuse is unacceptable and not okay at all. I’m not innocent. The mental abuse I perpetuated in order to gain control of the house or the rules I had set, it’s completely unacceptable and abhorrent. I have no business being in a house like that, let alone being the leaseholder.”

Williams said he’d continue to make content so he could pay back his massive debt. But he hasn’t uploaded any videos to YouTube since that statement in August and has only streamed on Twitch, garnering at most roughly 3,000 concurrent viewers a stream. Most of the alleged abusers have gone silent, deleting or sunsetting their social media accounts.

More than two years since the first allegations of abuse trickled out, no criminal action has been filed against anyone in the Sky House.

“At the end of the day,” Williams said in that last video. “The Sky House was a nightmare and we all know it.”

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Jacob Wolf
Chief Reporter & Investigative Lead for Dot Esports. A lifelong gamer, Jacob worked at ESPN for four and half years as a staff writer in its esports section. In 2018, the Esports Awards named Jacob its Journalist of the Year.