The thirty second web page of an exhaustive PDF doc known as “Operation Crimson 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 accomplished something to cease it? I had been making an attempt 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, just under 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 unsuitable folks?
“Can be good on the very least to get the individuals who nonetheless suppose that is his actual id 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 trip. 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 opinions. The sport by no means fairly crested the heights of different multiplayer shooters, nevertheless it established itself as one thing of an underground traditional; regularly 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 immediately, the sport receives restricted, skeletal help from the developer. That is usually a recipe for catastrophe — Group Fortress 2 has been infamously overrun by bots as Valve has stepped away from energetic improvement — and sadly, the identical destiny got here for Titanfall.
So, in early 2021, stories 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, normally from the second they loaded right into a match. The alleged perpetrator? 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 robotically disconnected from any Titanfall 2 match you tried to affix, 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 searching for web stardom? Did they get off on the facility? 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 particular person via 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 marvel if they simply hate the sport. It looks like I am speaking to somebody from the film Break 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, capable of DDOS gamers with impunity. Streamers would try to bypass the Blacklist by switching accounts, or operating their video games via a VPN, all to no avail. Mechanically talking, each assault appeared to unfold the identical method: Gamers would queue up for a Titanfall 2 match, the countdown on display screen would attain zero, and the combatants would burst via the spawn level. Immediately, the display screen would hitch up; titans and pilots alike can be caught in stasis. An error message would pop up studying, “ReadPacketEntries: Failed,” and the denizens of the match can be kicked again out to the foyer. No matter Jeanue was doing, they may 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 completely by Titanfall content material creators who had been doggedly gathering proof in regards to the hacks. The quantity of particulars they’d 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 Studies,” the place the contingent shared screenshots of their Twitch logs every time Jeanue appeared in them. Grimmest of all was a bit devoted to official missives from Respawn, who hadn’t been capable of root out the hacker operating 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 saved up the assault.
It was on that server the place I first met a Polish Titanfall fan who performs underneath 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 celeb inside the group. I’ve seen p0 consecrated in memes earlier than, and he penned an in-depth Medium publish about Titanfall server exploits that went briefly viral.
So, on June 15, p0 pulled me into a bunch name alongside a handful of his comrades, the place he introduced a wild origin story about Jeanue’s radicalization. Supposedly, claimed p0, Jeanue was energetic within the Titanfall scene for years and wasn’t superb. This led to them experimenting with some minor cheat bots — pace boosts, aim-assists, issues of that nature — however Jeanue nonetheless could not succeed within the deathmatches. “They had been getting owned by the nice gamers regardless of dishonest, and that was fairly humorous to look at,” mentioned 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 brought on them to push deeper and deeper into murky exploits till they had been mighty sufficient to function a Blacklist underneath Respawn’s noses. One of many customers within the name dropped in a number of movies from 2018 of a Titan zooming round a multiplayer map. This was allegedly Jeanue of their nascent kind, nicely earlier than they’d 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 Ok/D ratio was troublesome to think about, and I had no motive to imagine that the movies I used to be proven truly 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 a number of the protections from the software program engine. Most of these things is very easy to repair and extremely simple to take advantage of,” he instructed me. Later he added, “I made a Twitter reply to Respawn saying that I knew so much 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 instructed 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 comprises the headline, “Methods to repair Titanfall. A information 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 id. The knowledge in that doc stays unconfirmed, so I cannot be revealing its specifics right here however, via some intensive web spelunking, the members of that group name had been left to imagine 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 site, I attempted to name the suspect on his telephone plenty of occasions 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 instantly, 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 operating out of leads.
That brings us as much as August, the place I used to be laying in mattress, studying Operation Crimson Tape, which contended that p0358 and his accomplices had been rather more concerned within the Titanfall sabotage than they had been letting on. In truth, the doc claimed that his camp was deceptive everybody, and I too had been caught of their snare.
Operation Crimson Tape
The narrative introduced in Operation Crimson Tape is immense and arcane; if you’d like an in-depth abstract of the findings, I like to recommend watching Higher Echelon Players’ protection on YouTube, who has been chasing down this story from the beginning. However I am going to sum up its thesis the most effective 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 a substitute greeted by a message that included a hyperlink to the URL, “SaveTitanfall.com,” an internet 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 house owners 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’ reputation, the hack brought on an uproar, and out of the blue the debilitated state of previous, forgotten Titanfall 2 was worldwide information throughout the gaming press.
Nonetheless with me? Nice. Operation Crimson 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 getting 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 a substitute 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 Crimson Tape archive, there may be proof that an affiliate of RedShield launched a DDOS assault in opposition to a Titanfall 2 streamer in a method that appears per Jeanue’s method of working. We might spent months making an attempt to establish a hacker who appeared to wield outsized energy over Respawn servers. Possibly the decision was coming from inside the home?
RedShield was interviewed about these assaults by all kinds of publications — together with IGN — and he used the platform he obtained from the controversy to petition EA handy over the unique Titanfall’s supply code so it may very well be cultivated by the group’s personal hand. Why? Effectively, the report claims that RedShield, together with p0 and others, have been making an attempt to revive a complete 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 introduced by Crimson Tape metastasized throughout the gaming press. Had we lastly answered the Jeanue thriller? May we lay all the pieces on the toes of a bunch of hackers launching a fabulously profitable false flag marketing campaign to… drive gamers into an historic model of Titanfall 1? There was no true smoking gun within the information, 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 saved 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 suppose that is his actual id 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 dangerous for him. Right here was a proficient hacker who was at all times 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 at all times suspected p0 was possible 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 accomplished 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 in all probability a take a look at to determine how Jeanue makes use of their exploits — nothing malicious, you have to know thy enemy.
I wasn’t certain what to imagine. It appeared fairly possible 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 bold youngsters to assemble a misdirection campaign that was so disciplined and sturdy. I mulled over the info, extra confused than ever. Naturally, like clockwork, one other twist within the narrative surfaced a number of days later, because the veracity of Operation Crimson Tape was thrown into query.
Not even every week after the doc was posted on SaveTitanfall.com, Higher Echelon Players 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 Crimson 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 Crimson Tape, a doc which goals to put the tumult within the Titanfall group on the toes of a handful of duplicitous hackers, are additionally in energetic partnership with those self same hackers then, nicely… then no person is aware of what to imagine anymore. Possibly p0 is correct. Possibly he did get railroaded.
Regardless of the case, the servers went quiet for a number of weeks in spite of everything of this uproar. Titanfall 2 was miraculously playable once more. The Blacklist was down; Jeanue was nowhere to be seen. The whole lot 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 in fact it couldn’t final.
As of press time, gamers are once more reporting sporadic DDOS assaults, though “Jeanue” — no matter that identify truly 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 in some way again at sq. one. It is actually anticlimactic. All anybody desires is to play Titanfall 2 in peace. Why cannot or not 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, stuffed 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 dangerous actors would’ve possible been ousted from the soar. However sadly that’s not the online game business we’ve. The servers of historic 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. Comply with him on Twitter at @luke_winkie.