I don’t play Hearthstone too much anymore (I’m too busy competing on the Fields of Justice), but I used to enjoy the game quite a bit. I got my start in the world of geekery playing Magic: The Gathering at the lunch table in junior high, so the prospect of a digital collectible card game without a huge back catalog that one would have to learn in order to be competitive was appealing to me. I especially liked watching the pros stream on Twitch.tv, talking about their decision-making and experimenting with new or silly decks.
This is why the story of MagicAmy, aka Hyerim Lee, is so disappointing to me.
MagicAmy is a South Korean Hearthstone pro who played for the team Tempo Storm. Recently, a former teammate of Lee’s started circulating a post on Reddit claiming that she isn’t who she says she is. Specifically, the post claims that, MagicAmy is not a single talented female Hearthstone player but rather that she is an amalgam of users (a female “face” and a male player working behind the scenes).
Of course, as I describe in my research, such a claim is like catnip to certain circles in the gaming community. The opportunity to both feel justified in harassing and investigating a female community member and to, they hoped, prove that a woman who claimed to be a top player was actually a Fake Geek Girl.
And so websites like The Daily Dot stared digging up information about MagicAmy’s Twitter account, Facebook profile, Skype account, etc. They found that several of these accounts route back to both Lee and her former boyfriend William Blaney.
This prompted Tempo Storm to do their own investigation, which turned up…. nothing. They issued a statement saying that
We believe that MagicAmy is one person and that Hyerim Lee is indeed who she claims to be. This is based on multiple eyewitness and firsthand testimonies claiming that they interacted with her individually without William Blaney, her ex-boyfriend seen in cached pictures sharing the same username. We went through great lengths to cross reference travel records, personal information, and testimonies of accounts from her recent past. The personal information she has given us, combined with her employment records with Lunarch Studios, relationships with players, and the fact that she has met people face-to-face is enough to confirm her identity.
Furthermore, Tempo Storm “offered to fully help MagicAmy in an attempt to clear her name.” But she declined, deciding to withdraw from the Hearthstone scene for the time being.
Of course, there are those who will take this as evidence of wrong doing on Lee’s part. However, in the wake of online debacles like #GamerGate, I want to advance a different hypothesis:
MagicAmy knew that she couldn’t win.
It is already scary enough just being a woman in the gaming scene right now. MagicAmy faced dozens of amateur internet sleuths going through her accounts. She was accused of “scamming” fellow Hearthstone players or of being a “pathological liar.” Rather than going and “proving herself,” exposing herself to even more scrutiny and possibly attracting even more negative attention, MagicAmy decided not to feed the trolls. And as Zoe Quinn could tell her, even proving that the things you are accused of doing didn’t happen doesn’t necessarily cause the trolls to dissipate (after all, Quinn is still lambasted for “sleeping with videogame reviewers for positive reviews” despite the fact that the review in question never existed).
And although I am happy for Lee for making the choice that is best for her right now, I am saddened by the fact that one more woman in the gaming scene has been, at least temporarily, driven out.
And that is the goal of the trolls: to make it uncomfortable for women to participate in gaming culture.
Update: The founder of Tempo Storm, Andrew “Reynad” Yanuk, recently came to a much fuller defense of MagicAmy on his own stream. Via PC Gamer:
At the time of the split Tempo Storm released a lengthy statement explaining the situation, and wishing Lee all the best. Now, the team’s founder Andrey ‘Reynad’ Yanuk, has offered a considerably more robust take. Speaking on his stream, the VOD of which you can watch above, he said: “Basically, I’ve never been so embarrassed—I’ve never actually been embarrassed to be a Hearthstone player before last week. All of you should be fucking ashamed of yourselves and it’s probably the biggest setback to getting women into e-sports that I can recall happening in the past year or two… You all make me fucking sick.”
Reynad is clearly upset throughout, particularly when it comes to the reaction to Tempo Storm’s findings. Here are his closing remarks in full: “So then, even after we release this report… we say there was no evidence found anywhere, what’s the community’s response? Basically she’s guilty until proven innocent, that’s their response. ‘Prove to us she’s not a man. You’ve never played in an offline tournament.’ Well, you know, she hasn’t played in an offline tournament. Maybe it’s because some Canadian guy has been playing for her all this time. Maybe it’s that she didn’t have $1500 to go play a card game in Sweden for one weekend. I think it was more that thing.”
Or maybe she doesn’t like crowds. Or maybe she’s had bad experiences as a young woman at a LAN party or at a convention before. Or maybe she didn’t feel like ingratiating herself to a community that had just put her through a bunch of crap simply for being female in a male-dominated space like gaming. At any rate, I’m very glad to see high-profile men in the pro e-sports scene getting fired up about this.