The thirty second web page of an exhaustive PDF doc known as “Operation Purple Tape” is christened with the headline, “Discussing throwing ‘leads’ about Jeanue to an IGN journalist.” It was uploaded by the workforce behind the web site SaveTitanfall.com on August 6 because the definitive conclusion on one of many strangest tales in video video games. Who was killing Titanfall? Who’s Jeanue? Why hasn’t Respawn achieved something to cease it? I had been attempting to reply these questions for months. Now, it appeared that each one of my work had been capsized.
“Ought to throw him the unique leads about jean,” learn the screenshot of a Discord transcript, slightly below that brutal headline. I felt a twinge within the backside of my abdomen. The “him” right here apparently referred to me. Had I actually been hoodwinked this badly? Was I trusting the improper folks?
“Can be good on the very least to get the individuals who nonetheless assume that is his actual identification to close up kek,” reads the screenshot.
I closed my laptop computer, delirious, confused, and wounded. The story had been blown to smithereens, and if the report was to be believed, a number of sources had been taking me for a journey. All that was left was a slew of frustrating unknowables, however after spending my summer season within the unusual waters of Titanfall fandom, none of that was a shock.
Let’s wind the timeline again to the very starting. Titanfall 2 was launched in 2016 to glowing critiques. The sport by no means fairly crested the heights of different multiplayer shooters, however it established itself as one thing of an underground traditional; often endorsed by each FPS students, and a religious, fervent fanbase. However hopes that Respawn would proceed to domesticate the Titanfall franchise began to wane with the rebel success of Apex Legends in 2018, and right this moment, the sport receives restricted, skeletal help from the developer. That is typically a recipe for catastrophe — Staff Fortress 2 has been infamously overrun by bots as Valve has stepped away from active development — and sadly, the identical destiny got here for Titanfall.
So, in early 2021, reviews began to proliferate a couple of hacker, or a workforce of hackers, who had made it their mission to sabotage Titanfall 2. The sport’s small, devoted streaming group suffered from frequent DDOS assaults, often from the second they loaded right into a match. The alleged wrongdoer? A determine identified solely as “Jeanue.”
A lot is unknown about Jeanue, however there are some things that almost all everybody agreed upon. Jeanue had managed to safe unprecedented management over the Titanfall multiplayer equipment — using one thing the group refers to because the “Blacklist.” When Jeanue added your identify to the “Blacklist,” you’d be mechanically disconnected from any Titanfall 2 match you tried to hitch, rendering the sport successfully unplayable. Oftentimes Jeanue would seem within the Twitch chat of his targets, bragging about one other profitable hack with a smattering of terrible, poisonous language. The motivations had been ambiguous. Was Jeanue in search of web stardom? Did they get off on the ability? Did they carry some weird vendetta in opposition to Titanfall as a model? These are the questions that the group has continued to ask itself, hoping for a solution.
“I’ve had a bunch of conversations with this individual by way of Twitch messages. We ask like, ‘Why are you doing this?’ and so they say a bunch of racist and homophobic issues that I am not going to repeat,” says MoDen31, a Titanfall streamer who’s had repeated contact with Jeanue. “I do not know if it is infamy or notoriety. I genuinely surprise if they only hate the sport. It appears like I am speaking to somebody from the film Cut up. They’re simply very unusual conversations. None of it’s coherent.”
The hacking instruments that Jeanue used appear to have profound, mind-boggling attain, in a position to DDOS gamers with impunity. Streamers would try to bypass the Blacklist by switching accounts, or working their video games by way of a VPN, all to no avail. Mechanically talking, each assault appeared to unfold the identical means: Gamers would queue up for a Titanfall 2 match, the countdown on display screen would attain zero, and the combatants would burst by way of the spawn level. All of a sudden, the display screen would hitch up; titans and pilots alike could be caught in stasis. An error message would pop up studying, “ReadPacketEntries: Failed,” and the denizens of the match could be kicked again out to the foyer. No matter Jeanue was doing, they might manipulate the very material of Titanfall 2’s matchmaking infrastructure. That is why the indiscretions had been so disconcerting. This appeared to be greater than a routine breach.
“The problems they’ve exploited are deeply baked into the sport,” provides MoDen31. “It is not like a DDOS in Halo 2 the place you get some lag.”
I began to dig round this story within the spring, and secured an invite to a Discord channel populated solely by Titanfall content material creators who had been doggedly gathering proof concerning the hacks. The quantity of particulars that they had collected was awe-inspiring. There was a database that documented the entire sobriquets that Jeanue had used on Twitch, one other for his or her names on EA Origin. There was a touchdown web page known as “Newest Reviews,” the place the contingent shared screenshots of their Twitch logs every time Jeanue appeared in them. Grimmest of all was a piece devoted to official missives from Respawn, who hadn’t been in a position to root out the hacker working roughshod over what was as soon as their hottest sport. On April 5, 2021, Respawn tweeted that the corporate “is conscious of DDOS assaults afflicting” Titanfall 2, and that “help is on the way.” That assist did not manifest, and Jeanue stored up the assault.
It was on that server the place I first met a Polish Titanfall fan who performs beneath the identify p0358, or extra colloquially, “p0.” He appeared younger, possibly about 21 or 22, and he launched himself to me as a white-hat hacker — somebody who was working tirelessly to uncover the exact amalgam of exploits Jeanue was utilizing to disrupt the sport. All of that blood, sweat and tears made him a minor movie star inside the group. I’ve seen p0 consecrated in memes before, and he penned an in-depth Medium post about Titanfall server exploits that went briefly viral.
So, on June 15, p0 pulled me into a gaggle name alongside a handful of his comrades, the place he offered a wild origin story about Jeanue’s radicalization. Supposedly, claimed p0, Jeanue was energetic within the Titanfall scene for years and wasn’t excellent. This led to them experimenting with some minor cheat bots — velocity boosts, aim-assists, issues of that nature — however Jeanue nonetheless could not succeed within the deathmatches. “They had been getting owned by the great gamers regardless of dishonest, and that was fairly humorous to observe,” stated p0. “Then they slowly began to find extra vulnerabilities.”
Sure, that was the alleged modus operandi, the Jokerfication, of Jeanue — nothing greater than an intense dislike of the Titanfall franchise, which induced them to push deeper and deeper into murky exploits till they had been mighty sufficient to function a Blacklist beneath Respawn’s noses. One of many customers within the name dropped in a couple of movies from 2018 of a Titan zooming round a multiplayer map. This was allegedly Jeanue of their nascent type, properly earlier than that they had grown actually notorious.
I had my misgivings about all this. The concept somebody made it their life’s mission to grief Titanfall gamers solely as a result of they did not like their Okay/D ratio was troublesome to think about, and I had no motive to consider that the movies I used to be proven really featured Jeanue. (I imply, there are many folks on the market who can obtain a speedhack, proper?) Principally although, I used to be struck by how strident p0 was in his perception that he may repair the exploits instantly — if solely the powers that be at Respawn would hunt down his experience.
“Respawn is incompetent. They eliminated numerous the protections from the software program engine. Most of these items is very easy to repair and extremely simple to take advantage of,” he advised me. Later he added, “I made a Twitter reply to Respawn saying that I knew quite a bit about these things, and so they may contact me and I may assist. Many individuals gave likes and retweets. Somebody from Respawn reached out to me, I advised them that I knew the sport rather well, and so they left me on learn.” This angle can be current in his Medium treatise, which accommodates the headline, “How to fix Titanfall. A guide for Respawn.”
However there was a extra convincing piece of proof I obtained from p0’s camp – a dense, deeply reported file, all of which painted a plausible narrative about Jeanue’s identification. The data in that doc stays unconfirmed, so I cannot be revealing its specifics right here however, by way of some intensive web spelunking, the members of that group name had been left to consider that “Jeanue” was a person working by himself within the southern United States — avouched by a collection of uncanny matches in metadata.
Armed with a reputation and placement, I attempted to name the suspect on his telephone quite a lot of instances to no avail. If I may simply get him to speak, I believed, possibly we may lastly arrive at some closure for this very, very unusual saga. With no assist from the alleged hacker, I went to the hackee – I reached out to EA straight, and the corporate handed alongside a listing of inquiries to Respawn that I hoped would make clear precisely what was occurring with Titanfall. These solutions by no means materialized, and I discovered myself shortly working out of leads.
That brings us as much as August, the place I used to be laying in mattress, studying Operation Purple Tape, which contended that p0358 and his accomplices had been far more concerned within the Titanfall sabotage than they had been letting on. The truth is, the doc claimed that his camp was deceptive everybody, and I too had been caught of their snare.
Operation Purple Tape
The narrative offered in Operation Purple Tape is immense and arcane; if you need an in-depth abstract of the findings, I recommend watching Upper Echelon Gamers’ coverage on YouTube, who has been chasing down this story from the beginning. However I will sum up its thesis one of the best I can. On July 4, Apex Legends — Respawn’s new marquee shooter — was hacked. Gamers could not get right into a match, and had been as an alternative greeted by a message that included a hyperlink to the URL, “SaveTitanfall.com,” a web site that advocates for higher custodial administration round its namesake sport. It gave the impression to be an odd little bit of wildcat activism.
The homeowners of SaveTitanfall denied accountability for the breach, as did a Discord administrator named RedShield, who operates a preferred Titanfall-centric server known as the TF Remnant Fleet alongside p0. Given Apex Legends’ recognition, the hack induced an uproar, and all of a sudden the debilitated state of outdated, forgotten Titanfall 2 was worldwide information throughout the gaming press.
Nonetheless with me? Nice. Operation Purple Tape appeared to blow the lid off these denials. It contained screenshots that appear to indicate that RedShield was mendacity about his involvement. He, and a small cabal of hackers, had been apparently making ready the Apex Legends safety breach for months. Here is the cash quote within the doc, from February 6: “Maybe we do not maintain Titanfall 2/Apex ransom, as an alternative we do it as a publicity stunt,” wrote RedShield. “We lockdown the servers for 48 hours to boost consciousness of the difficulty.”
On July 3, a day earlier than the assault, one among RedShield’s alleged associates wrote, “Are you prepared for operation SaveTitanfall.com?”
That is vital as a result of inside the Operation Purple Tape archive, there’s proof that an affiliate of RedShield launched a DDOS assault in opposition to a Titanfall 2 streamer in a means that appears according to Jeanue’s method of working. We would spent months attempting to establish a hacker who appeared to wield outsized energy over Respawn servers. Perhaps the decision was coming from inside the home?
RedShield was interviewed about these assaults by all kinds of publications — including IGN — and he used the platform he obtained from the controversy to petition EA handy over the original Titanfall’s source code so it could be cultivated by the community’s own hand. Why? Effectively, the report claims that RedShield, together with p0 and others, have been making an attempt to revive an entire different sport – the cancelled, little-known free-to-play Titanfall On-line – for their very own means. This introduced me again to my first dialog with p0, the place he talked about that he had an upcoming challenge involving Titanfall On-line that was “secret for now.”
The narrative offered by Purple Tape metastasized across the gaming press. Had we lastly answered the Jeanue thriller? Might we lay all the things on the ft of a gaggle of hackers launching a fabulously profitable false flag marketing campaign to… drive gamers into an historical model of Titanfall 1? There was no true smoking gun within the recordsdata, however the circumstances had been actually conspicuous and could not be ignored. What was I to make of that Jeanue file, which originated from these similar implicated characters? I stored studying one screenshot aloud, the one I discussed on the high of the story about “throwing leads about jean” to an IGN journalist: “Can be good on the very least to get the individuals who nonetheless assume that is his actual identification to close up kek.”
Somebody owed me a proof and, fortunately, p0 picked up on the primary ring.
His voice was wavering from the second he began speaking. I nearly felt unhealthy for him. Right here was a gifted hacker who was all the time so cocksure about his skills — who was overtly selling himself for a job at Respawn — now firmly on the defensive. From the second we first encountered one another, I all the time suspected p0 was doubtless just a few child who’d bitten off far more than he may chew. Now, that actuality appeared completely clear.
“The SaveTitanfall workforce betrayed us. They stabbed us in our again. They’re saying that I am Jeanue, that I attacked Titanfall. It is false,” says p0, digging his heels in from the second we related on a Discord name. “And it hurts that they did this as a result of I’ve achieved essentially the most to repair the sport. All they did was whine on social media. I used to be reverse engineering this sport looking for options.”
He defended himself on all fronts. That “jean” talked about within the screenshot? That is not in reference to Jeanue, says p0, that is a couple of “Jean Onion” who was apparently energetic on some Titanfall Fb group. The picture that appears to indicate a streamer getting knocked offline by a RedShield affiliate? That was most likely a check to determine how Jeanue makes use of their exploits — nothing malicious, you will need to know thy enemy.
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I wasn’t positive what to consider. It appeared fairly doubtless that RedShield, and fairly probably p0, had been concerned within the Apex Legends hack (although he categorically denies it), however I wasn’t satisfied that they had been those tormenting Titanfall 2 streamers for months. Jeanue possessed a single-mindedness that could not be simply replicated, and I frankly did not belief a handful of formidable youngsters to assemble a misdirection campaign that was so disciplined and strong. I mulled over the information, extra confused than ever. Naturally, like clockwork, one other twist within the narrative surfaced a couple of days later, because the veracity of Operation Purple Tape was thrown into query.
Not even per week after the doc was posted on SaveTitanfall.com, Upper Echelon Gamers obtained Discord transcripts that seem to indicate one of many perpetrators of the Apex Legends hack, named Dogecore, in collaborative communication with an creator of the doc, named Wanty. Within the transcript, Dogecore seems to ask Wanty if he’d like him to alter the message left on the Apex servers by the hackers to one thing extra particular. These messages had been despatched on July 4, the identical day because the breach, and a month earlier than Purple Tape was made public.
“Pointing to SaveTitanfall is an effective factor although,” replies Wanty, once more referring to the calling card left by those that broke into Apex Legends. “We get all the eye in a single place.”
This disclosure completely disrupted the narrative. If the voices behind Purple Tape, a doc which goals to put the tumult within the Titanfall group on the ft of a handful of duplicitous hackers, are additionally in energetic partnership with those self same hackers then, properly… then no person is aware of what to consider anymore. Perhaps p0 is correct. Perhaps he did get railroaded.
Regardless of the case, the servers went quiet for a couple of weeks in any case of this uproar. Titanfall 2 was miraculously playable once more. The Blacklist was down; Jeanue was nowhere to be seen. All the things was again to regular. For one shining second, it actually didn’t matter who was behind the assaults, as a result of all of that laid up to now. However after all it couldn’t final.
As of press time, gamers are once more reporting sporadic DDOS assaults, though “Jeanue” — no matter that identify really means — hasn’t proven up in any Twitch channels to brag. After the entire twists and turns, the double-crossings and triple-crossings, we’re by some means again at sq. one. It is actually anticlimactic. All anybody needs is to play Titanfall 2 in peace. Why cannot it’s that easy?
Sadly, that is the inevitability when online game communities are left to their very own units, with out energetic administration, help, or curation from a caring group of builders. The servers shortly deteriorate into this weird wild west, filled with very totally different sorts of black hats and white hats, and the place solely the hackers wield true energy. In one other timeline, the place Titanfall 2 remained a high precedence for EA and Respawn, all of those unhealthy actors would’ve doubtless been ousted from the bounce. However sadly that’s not the online game business we have now. The servers of historical multiplayer servers wither and decay with every passing yr, offering cowl for a nation of grifters, scammers, and malcontents. Everybody else is caught within the crossfire.
Luke Winkie is a contributing author to IGN. Observe him on Twitter at @luke_winkie.