About my time with Digital Chaos, and an important note on power dynamics.
I’m not sure where to start, so I’ll just go chronologically. My story is far less severe than what some women in the Dota scene have experienced, but I feel it's an important one to tell in that it shows the many faces at which abuse can manifest itself. I want to say that I’ve made my peace with all of this, and the only part that still stings is the friends I lost on the way. So on that note:
I first met Tom Hancock when I was dating Peter at TI5. He was the CEO of a company that was one of EG’s sponsors, and as such had taken us out to dinner. Tom was married at the time, and spent the better part of dinner talking shit about his wife. (red flag). He was nice to me, even asked if I liked wine. I didn’t want a glass at dinner so he bought me a bottle to take home, which seemed excessive but was a nice gesture. Peter and I discussed our reservations about his attitude towards his then wife, but Peter ultimately said he was otherwise fun to be around. I didn’t feel super comfortable around him, but I wasn’t about to upset one of my boyfriends biggest sponsors, and convinced myself I was overreacting.
About 7 months later I offered to help BTS put on their TI Hub event. I was not working at the time as I was just coming out of recovery from a surgery and a pretty gnarly break up and I felt it would be a good way to get my mind off of things and start fresh. This is where I was exposed to the situation regarding a caster who went by llama, which you can read her full story in my previous retweet. I’m deeply struggling with the realization that I contributed to this status quo of letting abusers belittle the experience of their victims. But that is not my story to tell, and I suggest you read it for yourself. This is where I met Tom again, who was nothing but nice to me. I was friends with his new girlfriend, she and I had played Dota together a bit and were friendly. He had divorced his wife, maybe I really was overreacting, or maybe he had changed. He made a handful of off-putting jokes, usually sexist in nature, but would just laugh it off. He was nice to me personally, and so I just told myself it was just his sense of humor and a part of who he was.
Of the endless things Blitz has taught me over the years, one of the things I hold dear is that people can always change. Saying “that's just who they are” is idiotic. If a person WANTS to change a toxic behavior, they can. Excusing peoples misconduct by just saying it's part of who they are is lazy and wrong. I let Tom make shitty jokes at other peoples’ expenses without contest, but dismissed them because its not like I was PERSONALLY being shitty. I realize now how this complacency allows people like Tom to think that their behavior is acceptable. I have since changed.
Because of the connections I made at the TI Hub, I was invited to work the summit event where I met Tom again. By the time TI rolled around we had made plans to hang out together. Tom was OVERLY generous with dinners and alcohol. Many of the nights of that TI he hosted parties and as a friend of theirs, I was invited. So at this point, Tom and I were close acquaintances.
After TI there was the mafia LAN, where Tom once again was a sponsor and I was invited to help out. Towards the end of the LAN Tom offered to manage the dota team he co-owned, Digital Chaos, for the following year since their previous manager had quit right before TI.
BIGGEST RED FLAG AND I WAS A FUCKING MORON. People don't just quit their jobs for no apparent reason.
I was absolutely thrilled at the opportunity. I had just dropped out of school due to financial complications and was deeply struggling with finding my own place in the dota scene after peter and I broke up. 'This was perfect' I thought, even as he talked absolute endless shit about their previous manager who I had considered a friend. It still genuinely haunts me to this day how I just stood by, shut my mouth, and dismissed it as just a shitty sense of humor. I’m not kidding, there is not many days that go by that I don't think back on this.
Things with Digital Chaos were rocky at first. I was severely under qualified for the position, and made some pretty big mistakes with management. I had ZERO training and little support from “upper management”, and struggled. (red flag, again). While I pride myself on my resiliency and my ability to learn things rather quickly, it should be a pretty big red flag to be offered a job that you are that drastically underqualified for. I dismissed it as Tom ‘seeing my potential’. During this time Tom had made COUNTLESS comments degrading me just like he had their previous manager, usually they wouldn’t get to me but the occasions where they did and I confronted him I was met with a “LUL IM JOKING STOP BEING SO SENSITIVE U CUCK.”
The team had a great showing at ESL in early 2017. We had back to back LANS, so instead of going home between ESL and Dota Pit Tom invited me to stay with him in London. My two friends from home flew out to meet us. He took us to clubs, paid for tables, and was per standard Tom incredibly generous with his money. Numerous times that trip he had made inappropriate comments about my and my friends appearances. From "Wow Aly didn't know you had such hot friends" and a "Your ass looks great in that dress", and many more. It made myself and them feel incredibly uncomfortable at first but its not like we could leave - he had paid for our hotel, for that club, for all our drinks - we laughed it off, oh “just silly tom saying silly things!” but this is where I started to realize the pattern of his behavior. It was almost always in these settings where he’s shown these grand gestures that he would get mouthy, and I started putting the pieces together.
I resented myself for even taking this job, for ever believing that tom was a good person. I even thought I was crazy for a second - since he was so generous was I just overreacting? I had endless conversations with my close friends to try and justify things and it always came to the same conclusion - he was a SHITTY person who sometimes did good things. I wanted to leave, so many times, but I would be going home to NO job. Its not like I had family I could live with while I sorted things out, I had bills that needed to be paid. I bit my tongue and just went along with it.This is where people don't understand the role of power dynamics in harassment. People ask why women endure abuse and say nothing, and this is why. I was stuck.
Later that week my friend told me Tom had grabbed her ass in one of the clubs, so thats where I drew my line. Final flag, Tom was dead to me - this was enough, but I COULDN’T JUST LEAVE. I would abandon the team, I would have no way to pay my bills, I would be absolutely fucked if I lost this job. I decided the best way to deal with this was to just ride it out. It was good experience. It would look good on my resume. I could handle the comments, I would just be careful to not put myself in a situation where it could go beyond that and I just wouldn’t bring my friends around him.
Due to our win at ESL, Tom took the team and some friends to Las Vegas on an all expense paid trip, including a reservation at a day-time pool club which our party was given a private pool. I no longer drank more than a single drink in front of Tom, so I know for certain I was in no way being explicit and remember this very clearly. Tom had commented on my ass, saying it looked good in a bathing suit. I just laughed and turned away. He then slapped my ass, to which I turned around and slapped him in the face. I told him that that wasn’t okay, and he said to me “If you’re going to act like that then you can leave”. So I went to the bathroom to compose myself and just started sobbing. I wasn’t even mad at Tom, I was so pissed at myself. I felt so dumb for ever getting myself into this position. Now I was going to have to go back there, grab all my shit, and leave. I had enough money to buy my plane ticket home, and was just going to abandon all my shit at the team house. I thought about what I did to deserve this, what I did that made Tom think this was okay, and I was just floored by all the red flags I chose to ignore because here was this generous rich man showing me a world I could have only ever dreamed of with opportunities that would change my life forever. When I came back to grab my shit, visibly upset, Tom asked where I was going and offered me a shot like nothing had even happened. Did he just forget he told me to leave? Was he that drunk that he wouldn’t remember? I sunk into the out, and politely declined the shot but said I’d do a cheers with my drink (which I said was alcohol, but was just water). That night we went to another club, and I pointedly did not drink so that he couldn’t hold anything over my head. Later that night I spoke to our team captain, Will (Blitz), about what happened.
For many reasons I will always consider Will one of the most influential people in my life, and I think very fondly of him because of it. I thought of him as a brother, and I had grown to love our friendship and the thought of leaving this team broke my heart. I didn’t even tell him I was planning on leaving the team, but after I told him about Tom he was livid. There were already issues going on with Tom not paying the players, but the fact that Will took this as the final straw means the world to me. He spoke with the other players who made a unanimous decision to leave DC. He stood up for me, when his own career was on the line. Instead of just losing a manager he worked diligently to find our team a new sponsor, all while paying for team expenses out of his own pocket. I found out today that he personally messaged Tom afterwards, calling him out on it, and was met with Tom’s same “lul stop being so sensitive u cuck” response.
This is when the team became independent for Epicenter. Luckily I had met an NVIDIA rep at the ESL LAN who offered to sponsor our boot camp to make ends meet before we found a new org. Even after we left, I never told Tom one of the reasons we left was how he treated me. I played the middle man, making sure our players were properly paid. I still feel dirty to this day for being so friendly, even thanking him for the opportunities, but I knew that this job was the strongest thing on my resume and sure as shit wasn’t about to compromise that recommendation WHICH IS ANOTHER HUGE REASON why power dynamics has such an influence in harassment. In fact, its why I never publicly spoke about this, but ya girl got enough of a name in academia now that digital chaos will never be on my resume ever again, and Tom Hancock can go fuck himself.
The real pisser in this is that I told all of this to one of my closest friends, who had also had a way more intense harassment experience from Tom in vegas. He offered her a job, and she reached out to me. I was not under any form of NDA so I told her about the players not being paid, and of course about the endless harassment I endured, and she ignored me. I tried so hard to help her only to be disregarded and left to think I over reacted. This is where I lost it, because I felt so betrayed that NOBODY thought to warn me of Tom’s behavior and here I was sticking my head out for her only to have it thrown in my face. We are no longer friends.
While the harassment I experienced is mostly verbal and relatively tame, the important message here is the pattern of behavior of both Tom and myself. What makes sexual harassment so deeply hurtful is that its often so normalized that women (including me) have blamed themselves for it. It is not okay. It is not your fault.
Women, speak up to other women, and LISTEN TO OTHER WOMEN.
And for everyone, it is not enough to not sexually harass people. We need to be ANTI sexual harassment, and that means taking active stances against it. This means listening to women about their experiences, and calling out people when it's happening. No more making excuses, saying “its just their sense of humor” if you can't find ways to be funny without degrading women you’re not very clever.
Thank you for listening.