What is doxxing, and why Overwatch Contenders player Ellie could’ve been a victim

Doxxing is a majorly illegal form of harassment.

Image via Blizzard Entertainment

North America’s first female Overwatch Contenders player, known as Ellie, has stepped down after community harassment of all kind on social media, her team Second Wind announced yesterday.

Some Overwatch players had questions about Ellie, coming to a point where they suspected she was lying about being a woman, or that there was a man playing for her while she was communicating in voice chat. The extreme situation came when a high-elo and now banned player known as “Haunt” suggested doxxing Ellie to find out who she really was.

What’s doxxing?

When someone like Haunt wants to bring an individual’s private information to the public, they suggest doxxing. Dictionary Merriam-Webster adds that this act is especially used “as a form of punishment or revenge.”

A person who’s a victim of doxxing usually has their real name revealed, but also their full home and work address, phone number, email, document identifications, and sometimes even information about their relatives. If Ellie was doxxed, that’s the kind of personal information that anyone on the internet would have access to.

It’s common to see doxxers, who are people specialized in finding such personal information, using this method as a way to blackmail their victims or to punish them for something.

The targets of doxxing are usually people who represent threat or change to the doxxer or the community they’re a part of. A famous gaming case was when feminist media critic Anita Sarkeesian was doxxed in 2013 after releasing her YouTube series about gender stereotypes in games called “Tropes vs Women in Video Games.”

Ellie receiving threats of doxxing is just the most extreme consequence of the Overwatch community’s suspicions of her real identity, at this point seemingly only caused because she’s identified as a woman.

Is doxxing legal?

Doxxing is an illegal act in the U.S. if it’s used to harass or intimidate someone to any extent, according to law firm Brickfield & Donahue. For these purposes, it’s irrelevant if the information is publicly available or not. When a person is doxxed for any other reason, if the doxxer used illegal methods of obtaining private information, it also becomes illegal.

In case Ellie is doxxed, she most likely can file a lawsuit against the person or people who did it, claiming it’s part of a community harassment.

Can game companies take action against doxxers?

Game companies like Blizzard mention targeted harassment in their End User License Agreements, which can include doxxing. Blizzard specifically says it “may suspend or revoke your license” to play their games online if you’re involved in harassment or violation of laws. In this case, players like Haunt could be banned from Overwatch just for suggesting doxxing.

Ellie hasn’t been doxxed by the time of writing, but threats were enough for her to step down and give up on playing Overwatch at a high competitive level. Blizzard has yet to comment on the situation.