The 32nd page of an exhaustive PDF document called "Operation Red Tape'' is christened with the headline, "Discussing throwing 'leads' about Jeanue to an IGN journalist." It was uploaded by the team behind the website SaveTitanfall.com on August 6 as the definitive conclusion on one of the strangest stories in video games. Who was killing Titanfall? Who is Jeanue? Why hasn't Respawn done anything to stop it? I had been trying to answer those questions for months. Now, it appeared that all of my work had been capsized.
"Should throw him the original leads about jean," read the screenshot of a Discord transcript, just below that brutal headline. I felt a twinge in the bottom of my stomach. The "him" here apparently referred to me. Had I really been hoodwinked this badly? Was I trusting the wrong people?
"Would be nice at the very least to get the people who still think that's his real identity to shut up kek," reads the screenshot.
I closed my laptop, delirious, confused, and wounded. The story had been blown to smithereens, and if the report was to be believed, multiple sources were taking me for a ride. All that was left was a slew of exasperating unknowables, but after spending my summer in the strange waters of Titanfall fandom, none of that was a surprise.
Let's wind the timeline back to the very beginning. Titanfall 2 was released in 2016 to glowing reviews. The game never quite crested the heights of other multiplayer shooters, but it established itself as something of an underground classic; frequently endorsed by both FPS scholars, and a devout, fervent fanbase. But hopes that Respawn would continue to cultivate the Titanfall franchise started to wane with the insurgent success of Apex Legends in 2018, and today, the game receives limited, skeletal support from the developer. This is often a recipe for disaster — Team Fortress 2 has been infamously overrun by bots as Valve has stepped away from active development — and unfortunately, the same fate came for Titanfall.
So, in early 2021, reports started to proliferate about a hacker, or a team of hackers, who had made it their mission to sabotage Titanfall 2. The game's small, dedicated streaming community suffered from frequent DDOS attacks, usually from the moment they loaded into a match. The alleged culprit? A figure known only as "Jeanue."
Much is unknown about Jeanue, but there are a few things that most everyone agreed upon. Jeanue had managed to secure unprecedented control over the Titanfall multiplayer apparatus — utilizing something the community refers to as the "Blacklist." When Jeanue added your name to the "Blacklist," you would be automatically disconnected from any Titanfall 2 match you attempted to join, rendering the game effectively unplayable. Oftentimes Jeanue would appear in the Twitch chat of his targets, bragging about another successful hack with a smattering of awful, toxic language. The motivations were ambiguous. Was Jeanue looking for internet stardom? Did they get off on the power? Did they carry some bizarre vendetta against Titanfall as a brand? These are the questions that the community has continued to ask itself, hoping for an answer.
"I've had a bunch of conversations with this person through Twitch messages. We ask like, 'Why are you doing this?' and they say a bunch of racist and homophobic things that I'm not going to repeat," says MoDen31, a Titanfall streamer who's had repeated contact with Jeanue. "I don't know if it's infamy or notoriety. I genuinely wonder if they just hate the game. It feels like I'm talking to someone from the movie Split. They're just very strange conversations. None of it is coherent."
The hacking tools that Jeanue used seem to have profound, mind-boggling reach, able to DDOS players with impunity. Streamers would attempt to circumvent the Blacklist by switching accounts, or running their games through a VPN, all to no avail. Mechanically speaking, every attack seemed to unfold the same way: Players would queue up for a Titanfall 2 match, the countdown on screen would reach zero, and the combatants would burst through the spawn point. Suddenly, the screen would hitch up; titans and pilots alike would be stuck in stasis. An error message would pop up reading, "ReadPacketEntries: Failed," and the denizens of the match would be kicked back out to the lobby. Whatever Jeanue was doing, they could manipulate the very fabric of Titanfall 2's matchmaking infrastructure. That's why the indiscretions were so disconcerting. This seemed to be more than a routine breach.
"The issues they've exploited are deeply baked into the game," adds MoDen31. "It's not like a DDOS in Halo 2 where you get some lag."
I started to dig around this story in the spring, and secured an invitation to a Discord channel populated exclusively by Titanfall content creators who were doggedly gathering evidence about the hacks. The amount of details they had collected was awe-inspiring. There was a database that documented all of the sobriquets that Jeanue had used on Twitch, another for their names on EA Origin. There was a landing page called "Latest Reports," where the contingent shared screenshots of their Twitch logs whenever Jeanue appeared in them. Grimmest of all was a section dedicated to official missives from Respawn, who hadn't been able to root out the hacker running roughshod over what was once their most popular game. On April 5, 2021, Respawn tweeted that the company "is aware of DDOS attacks afflicting" Titanfall 2, and that "help is on the way." That help failed to manifest, and Jeanue kept up the assault.
It was on that server where I first met a Polish Titanfall fan who plays under the name p0358, or more colloquially, "p0." He seemed young, maybe about 21 or 22, and he introduced himself to me as a white-hat hacker — someone who was working tirelessly to uncover the precise amalgam of exploits Jeanue was using to disrupt the game. All of that blood, sweat and tears made him a minor celebrity within the community. 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 group call alongside a handful of his comrades, where he presented a wild origin story about Jeanue's radicalization. Supposedly, claimed p0, Jeanue was active in the Titanfall scene for years and wasn't very good. This led to them experimenting with some minor cheat bots — speed boosts, aim-assists, things of that nature — but Jeanue still couldn't succeed in the deathmatches. "They were getting owned by the good players despite cheating, and that was pretty funny to watch," said p0. "Then they slowly started to discover more vulnerabilities."
Yes, that was the alleged modus operandi, the Jokerfication, of Jeanue — nothing more than an intense dislike of the Titanfall franchise, which caused them to push deeper and deeper into murky exploits until they were mighty enough to operate a Blacklist under Respawn's noses. One of the users in the call dropped in a few videos from 2018 of a Titan zooming around a multiplayer map. This was allegedly Jeanue in their nascent form, well before they had grown truly infamous.
I had my misgivings about all this. The idea that someone made it their life's mission to grief Titanfall players solely because they didn't like their K/D ratio was difficult to imagine, and I had no reason to believe that the videos I was shown actually featured Jeanue. (I mean, there are plenty of people out there who can download a speedhack, right?) Mostly though, I was struck by how strident p0 was in his belief that he could fix the exploits in an instant — if only the powers that be at Respawn would seek out his expertise.
"Respawn is incompetent. They removed a lot of the protections from the software engine. Most of this stuff is really easy to fix and incredibly easy to exploit," he told me. Later he added, "I made a Twitter reply to Respawn saying that I knew a lot about this stuff, and they could contact me and I could help. Many people gave likes and retweets. Someone from Respawn reached out to me, I told them that I knew the game really well, and they left me on read." This attitude is also present in his Medium treatise, which contains the headline, "How to fix Titanfall. A guide for Respawn."
But there was a more convincing piece of evidence I received from p0's camp – a dense, deeply reported dossier, all of which painted a believable narrative about Jeanue's identity. The information in that document remains unconfirmed, so I will not be revealing its specifics here but, through some intensive internet spelunking, the members of that group call were left to believe that "Jeanue" was a man operating by himself in the southern United States — avouched by a series of uncanny matches in metadata.
Armed with a name and location, I tried to call the suspect on his phone a number of times to no avail. If I could just get him to talk, I thought, maybe we could finally arrive at some closure for this very, very strange saga. With no help from the alleged hacker, I went to the hackee – I reached out to EA directly, and the company passed along a list of questions to Respawn that I hoped would clarify exactly what was going on with Titanfall. Those answers never materialized, and I found myself quickly running out of leads.
That brings us up to August, where I was laying in bed, reading Operation Red Tape, which contended that p0358 and his accomplices were much more involved in the Titanfall sabotage than they were letting on. In fact, the document claimed that his camp was misleading everyone, and I too had been caught in their snare.
Operation Red Tape
The narrative presented in Operation Red Tape is immense and arcane; if you want an in-depth summary of the findings, I recommend watching Upper Echelon Gamers' coverage on YouTube, who has been chasing down this story from the start. But I'll sum up its thesis the best I can. On July 4, Apex Legends — Respawn's new marquee shooter — was hacked. Players couldn't get into a match, and were instead greeted by a message that included a link to the URL, "SaveTitanfall.com," a website that advocates for better custodial management around its namesake game. It appeared to be an odd bit of wildcat activism.
The owners of SaveTitanfall denied responsibility for the breach, as did a Discord administrator named RedShield, who operates a popular Titanfall-centric server called the TF Remnant Fleet alongside p0. Given Apex Legends' popularity, the hack caused an uproar, and suddenly the debilitated state of old, forgotten Titanfall 2 was international news across the gaming press.
Still with me? Great. Operation Red Tape appeared to blow the lid off those denials. It contained screenshots that seem to show that RedShield was lying about his involvement. He, and a small cabal of hackers, were apparently preparing the Apex Legends security breach for months. Here's the money quote in the document, from February 6: "Perhaps we don't hold Titanfall 2/Apex ransom, instead we do it as a publicity stunt," wrote RedShield. "We lockdown the servers for 48 hours to raise awareness of the issue."
On July 3, a day before the attack, one of RedShield's alleged associates wrote, "Are you ready for operation SaveTitanfall.com?"
This is important because within the Operation Red Tape archive, there is evidence that an associate of RedShield launched a DDOS attack against a Titanfall 2 streamer in a way that looks consistent with Jeanue's manner of working. We'd spent months trying to identify a hacker who seemed to wield outsized power over Respawn servers. Maybe the call was coming from inside the house?
RedShield was interviewed about these attacks by a wide variety of publications — including IGN — and he used the platform he received from the controversy to petition EA to hand over the original Titanfall's source code so it could be cultivated by the community's own hand. Why? Well, the report claims that RedShield, along with p0 and others, have been attempting to revive a whole other game – the cancelled, little-known free-to-play Titanfall Online – for their own means. This brought me back to my first conversation with p0, where he mentioned that he had an upcoming project involving Titanfall Online that was "secret for now."
The narrative presented by Red Tape metastasized across the gaming press. Had we finally answered the Jeanue mystery? Could we lay everything at the feet of a group of hackers launching a fabulously successful false flag campaign to… drive players into an ancient version of Titanfall 1? There was no true smoking gun in the files, but the circumstances were certainly conspicuous and couldn't be ignored. What was I to make of that Jeanue dossier, which originated from these same implicated characters? I kept reading one screenshot aloud, the one I mentioned at the top of the story about "throwing leads about jean" to an IGN journalist: "Would be nice at the very least to get the people who still think that's his real identity to shut up kek."
Someone owed me an explanation and, luckily, p0 picked up on the first ring.
His voice was wavering from the second he started talking. I almost felt bad for him. Here was a talented hacker who was always so cocksure about his abilities — who was openly promoting himself for a job at Respawn — now firmly on the defensive. From the moment we first encountered each other, I always suspected p0 was likely just some kid who'd bitten off way more than he could chew. Now, that reality seemed perfectly clear.
"The SaveTitanfall team betrayed us. They stabbed us in our back. They're saying that I'm Jeanue, that I attacked Titanfall. It's false," says p0, digging his heels in from the second we connected on a Discord call. "And it hurts that they did this because I've done the most to fix the game. All they did was whine on social media. I was reverse engineering this game trying to find solutions."
He defended himself on all fronts. That "jean" mentioned in the screenshot? That's not in reference to Jeanue, says p0, that's about a "Jean Onion" who was apparently active on some Titanfall Facebook group. The image that seems to show a streamer getting knocked offline by a RedShield associate? That was probably a test to figure out how Jeanue uses their exploits — nothing malicious, you must know thy enemy.
I wasn't sure what to believe. It seemed pretty likely that RedShield, and quite possibly p0, were involved in the Apex Legends hack (though he categorically denies it), but I wasn't convinced that they were the ones tormenting Titanfall 2 streamers for months. Jeanue possessed a single-mindedness that couldn't be easily replicated, and I frankly didn't trust a handful of ambitious kids to construct a misdirection crusade that was so disciplined and robust. I mulled over the facts, more confused than ever. Naturally, like clockwork, another twist in the narrative surfaced a few days later, as the veracity of Operation Red Tape was thrown into question.
Not even a week after the document was posted on SaveTitanfall.com, Upper Echelon Gamers obtained Discord transcripts that appear to show one of the perpetrators of the Apex Legends hack, named Dogecore, in collaborative communication with an author of the document, named Wanty. In the transcript, Dogecore appears to ask Wanty if he'd like him to change the message left on the Apex servers by the hackers to something more specific. These messages were sent on July 4, the same day as the breach, and a month before Red Tape was made public.
"Pointing to SaveTitanfall is a good thing though," replies Wanty, again referring to the calling card left by those who broke into Apex Legends. "We get all the attention in one place."
This disclosure totally disrupted the narrative. If the voices behind Red Tape, a document which aims to lay the tumult in the Titanfall community at the feet of a handful of duplicitous hackers, are also in active partnership with those same hackers then, well… then nobody knows what to believe anymore. Maybe p0 is right. Maybe he did get railroaded.
Whatever the case, the servers went quiet for a few weeks after all of this uproar. Titanfall 2 was miraculously playable again. The Blacklist was down; Jeanue was nowhere to be seen. Everything was back to normal. For one shining moment, it really didn’t matter who was behind the attacks, because all of that laid in the past. But of course it couldn’t last.
As of press time, players are again reporting sporadic DDOS attacks, although "Jeanue" — whatever that name actually means — hasn't shown up in any Twitch channels to gloat. After all of the twists and turns, the double-crossings and triple-crossings, we are somehow back at square one. It's honestly anticlimactic. All anyone wants is to play Titanfall 2 in peace. Why can't it be that simple?
Unfortunately, this is the inevitability when video game communities are left to their own devices, without active management, support, or curation from a caring group of developers. The servers quickly deteriorate into this bizarre wild west, full of very different kinds of black hats and white hats, and where only the hackers wield true power. In another timeline, where Titanfall 2 remained a top priority for EA and Respawn, all of these bad actors would've likely been ousted from the jump. But unfortunately that is not the video game industry we have. The servers of ancient multiplayer servers wither and rot with each passing year, providing cover for a nation of grifters, scammers, and malcontents. Everyone else is caught in the crossfire.
Luke Winkie is a contributing writer to IGN. Follow him on Twitter at @luke_winkie.