What happened at the Sky Williams houses, from those who lived there

On July 7, dressed in a black T-shirt, glasses, and his traditional scruffy facial hair, Sky Williams streamed on Twitch in front of tens of thousands of people to explain “his truth.” The content creator with more than 800,000 YouTube subscribers appeared flustered and shaken up as he spent nearly two hours reading statements and going off on tangents about his career and the allegations against him from gamers who lived in the multiple houses he ran from 2013 to 2020.

Sky_mp3

The stream, and a follow-up 90-minute video released August 1, were in response to a litany of allegations from former housemates and members of the gaming community who accuse Williams of creating a toxic living environment where occupants were raped or assaulted, stealing thousands of dollars from friends, and denying responsibility for his actions while leading the “Sky” or “Smash” houses.

The houses became havens for those who wanted to pursue their creative passions in California but couldn’t necessarily afford the high cost of living. There were artists, professional gamers, and friends of Williams who all lived together cleaning, partying, and communicating under the scrutiny of their purportedly fearful leader. Parties full of influencers and Super Smash Bros. icons were common, and those who lived inside would often stream tournaments or events.

On the outside, it seemed like a fun place to be. For those who lived there, it was an eye-opening experience they’ll never forget.

“It’s all or nothing with me,” Williams says on stream. “That’s not good with a setting like this one, but that’s on me … It sounds toxic but we had fun with it. there were nights where my emotions got the better of me, but there weren’t a lot of nights like that.”

Over multiple interviews with Digital Trends, Williams and those that knew him paint a picture of what it was like living in these houses and dealing with constant, ever-evolving drama and toxicity fueled by Super Smash Bros. and unbridled ambition.

Oxnard/Mentone

Maurice Christopher Howard first met Williams in 2010 at SAE Expression College in Emeryville, California, while playing Super Smash Bros. Brawl on campus. After seeing each other at tournaments for the Nintendo brawler, the pair were introduced by their mutual friend, Henry, and soon began hanging out multiple times a week.

“Sky was the most energetic person there, and I just knew who he was,” Howard said.

At the time, Williams was just a small-scale YouTuber, posting sketches and rants to his tiny audience. It wasn’t until 2013 when Williams’ channel would blow up, creating content for the growing but popular MOBA League of Legends. Williams would poke fun at himself and became known for his impish on-camera identity, along with a disdain for unpopular champion Fiora.

“5 Reasons Why Your Jungler Hates You,” Williams’ first viral hit, has pulled in 2.6 million views since it was posted in March 2013.

While his channel was on an upward swing, Williams decided he wanted to live with and make content with his closest friends in California.

“Sky was the most energetic person there and I just knew who he was.”

Williams, Howard, Anthony “Zex” West, Richie “Aros4Sora,” and Joe “Deez” Areas were the original five members of the first “Sky House” — dubbed Oxnard by those who lived there. (Digital Trends has only a gamer tag, and no last name, for Richie.)

Deez already knew Williams and Howard’s mutual friend, Henry, who by this time had passed away, and was ready for a fresh start.

“[Williams] had randomly texted me one night asking if I wanted to move down with him to Southern California, and, without a thought[I] replied with a ‘sure why not lol.’ An hour later. I got a response from him saying, ‘then it’s settled,’” Areas told Digital Trends. “We decided to collectively join Sky in moving to SoCal to ‘reap the benefits of my success,’ as Sky sold us to get us to uproot ourselves.”

When the group arrived, the five found themselves sleeping on the floor of a garage, which Williams had secured from a couple who were fans of his. The couple ran a PC-building company and wanted him to stream on their hardware to promote their brand before the arrangement fell apart after six weeks, and the group needed to find somewhere else to stay.

“Originally, we were supposed to stay a week until we found a new place, but that didn’t happen and we ended up staying there for over a month,” Areas said.

The group then picked up an additional two people before moving into the next apartment in Culver City, dubbed Mentone. The apartment itself was fairly small and Williams continuously took new opportunities to move into bigger locations with the amount of money he was earning.

Williams was making “20 to 30 grand a month” off of streaming on Twitch and YouTube ad revenue, creating contents upwards of “10 hours a day,” Areas said.

“Sky liked to comment about how much money he had or was making from streams at the end of them,” Areas said. “Couple hundred here, close to a thousand one night. He was doing quite well for himself.”

“Sky liked to comment about how much money he had or was making from streams.”

When that lease expired after a year, Williams looked for a larger place to “avoid drama” and to “have more space to shoot videos,” Areas said.

They found the Armacost house.

Armacost

The Armacost house in Santa Monica had two bathrooms and five bedrooms — but, at one point, there were 24 people living in it. According to Williams’ August 1 video, rent for the apartment was $5,400 a month.

One of the tenants of four of the “Sky” houses, ffSade who asked not to have her name shared for privacy reasons — described the squalor in a Google Doc statement.

She told DT that Armacost “had a faulty pipe system, which led to easy clogging and literal feces spewing from the shower drains.”

But the problems went further than maintenance issues.

The rooms each held multiple pairs of bunk beds to cram so many people into the small space. Little to no rent was paid by those crashing at the house, and Williams covered a majority of the expenses himself, including meals and travel.

The overall structure to these houses was hierarchical, with those closest to Williams receiving preferential treatment and better rooms. Still, even with that clout, everyone was a potential target of Williams’ constantly fluctuating attitude and mood, ffSade said.

“I was concerned when some drama happened, especially if it involved my friends … and I felt that I became a lot less discontent as time went on,” ffSade said.

The Armacost house was also where the infamous “Sky Rules” were imposed. According to ffSade’s Google Doc statement, there were only two rules in the house: You couldn’t wake Williams up and you couldn’t bring guests over without telling him first (Williams said that he couldn’t “be happy with very little sleep” so it became a priority).

The home held an eclectic collection of commentators, artists, players, and nobodies, with people breaking off into niches and cliques with nicknames like the “999 Crew” and “Smash Crew.” Outside of the core group of William’s friends, top members of the Super Smash Bros. 4 community like Gonzalo “Zero” Barrios, McCain “MacD” LaVelle and D’Ron “D1” Maingrette all lived in the house.

These three Super Smash Bros. pros have since been accused of sexual assault or misconduct. All of them have disappeared from social media.

The first major allegation came from Smash community member Capps on Reddit in 2016, who accused LaVelle of sexually assaulting and inappropriately touching a resident of the house, Brandon Woodie

The post wasn’t taken seriously at the time and was deleted from the Smash Bros. subreddit, causing it to fall into obscurity. However, LaVelle apologized for his actions on Twitter recently, writing that he would get “touchy & flirty, especially when drinking,” and that he would be taking time off from Twitter and the gaming community.

Woodie tells Digital Trends that he’s “glad his story has resurfaced” … but this isn’t the last we will see of cases like [his].

“Sky and the Smash Community has some deep reflection to do about who it sees as VIPs,” Woodie said.

Jacqueline “Jisu” Choe was a 15-year-old runaway who was brought in to live in the house by her 25-year-old alleged abuser in the summer of 2014. In multiple tweets, she says she “was essentially trafficked out of my home to live in California,” with the promise of working on a video game together. She says she was sexually abused throughout her time in the home.

While she was in the house, Choe says her abuser “slowly took over every facet of (her) life” and kept her from getting close to other members of the house.

In an email interview, Choe says that because she “mostly kept to myself, it was hard for people to reach out to me, but even when I did come out, they didn’t seem to care. It always seemed like everyone had their own issues at that place, and had no time or conscience to think of someone else.”

Choe says her abuser “slowly took over every facet of (her) life.”

She also publicly alleged that Barrios opened up animated porn on a public computer screen and tried to get Choe to look at it, knowing it made her uncomfortable.

This has taken me tremendous deliberation but I'm sorry @zerowondering

You were showing me explicit Craigslist ads of sex workers and hentai on the big screen and constantly harassing me at the sky house when I was 15 https://t.co/UFKkFnXeEM

— Jisu ???? (@JisuArtist) July 3, 2020

Though Barrios, considered to be among the best Smash players ever, denied Choe’s allegation, his response drew further allegations from two underage fans, who said Barrios sent sexually suggestive messages to them and solicited pornographic photos from them when he was 19 and they were underage.

Barrios initially deflected those allegations as well, but ultimately admitted they were accurate. He has since been dropped by his e-sports team and banned from Twitch.

Choe’s recent tweets and the outpouring of community support has helped her get some “closure,” allowing her to “move forward with no regrets, being the person I want to be.”

Those who lived at Armacost at the time and spoke to Digital Trends for this story claim they had no idea what Choe was dealing with while living in their home.

“When I heard about [Jisu], I just didn’t want to get into it,” Maurice Howard said. “I never went out of my way to get to know them — all I knew was she did art shit and [her alleged abuser] made games. About the time they spent together, it’s kind of off-putting for their age, but I just didn’t know because I didn’t get involved with it.”

“It pains me to say that I wasn’t aware,” Areas said. “Looking back at it all, I should have known better. I didn’t know her age, never really questioned it since she was so isolated from us.”

According to Williams, he was in disbelief that someone “would bring a 15-year-old to live in his home, even though she looked really young.” He claims that he attempted to befriend her, only for her alleged abuser to convince Choe that any talk would be a “distraction from the game.”

“Looking back at it all, I should have known better. I didn’t know her age, never really questioned it since she was so isolated from us.”

Eventually, Maingrette realized she was being groomed and the pair moved out of the home a week later.

“I was trying to make the best choice, but I ended up not making one, and that’s my biggest regret,” Williams said.

As to how two dozen people moved into the apartment, Williams said it happened gradually over the course of the year the group lived there. He claimed “people would come over and just ask if they could live there,” and he would oblige because he “needs very little personal space.” The bunk beds evolved out of a need, with more being purchased and installed as people moved in.

5970/Norco

When the lease for Armacost was up at the end of 2015, Williams decided he wanted to rent an even larger place for the people who now lived under his tutelage. The house known as 5970 (also referred to as Weschester) was a major upgrade: A three-floor mansion that cost $7,900 a month in rent. It had a pool, a hot tub, and a rooftop view of airplanes taking off from LAX.

Williams had his own room, while the garage and loft areas held a half dozen people each.

“It was an eye-opener, it felt like a ‘we made it’ moment,” Areas recalled.

By this point in Williams’ career, the content creator wasn’t making as much money as he once was. He slowed down his production of YouTube videos, wasn’t streaming as often, and stopped going to gaming conventions. He was no longer in the League of Legends community spotlight and announced he would be retiring from making content for the game altogether in 2016.

Still, Williams continued to pay for the majority of rent and often took people out to restaurants, sometimes multiple times a day. He claimed he felt a “responsibility” to those he housed and didn’t want “to kick them out and ruin their lives.”

“I would look at the money I used to make and I thought that I would bring it back,” Williams told Digital Trends. ‘People would believe in me and gave me money, they’d have a surplus of money and they would give it to me, and I would think that this month, that’s it.”

When the lease for 5970 was up in 2016, the group moved to the new Norco house until 2017. Norco itself was fairly drama-free and uninteresting, according to those that lived there. From there, the last “Sky House” was leased in Hacienda Heights.

Hacienda Heights

From 2017 through January 2020, Williams rented out a three-floor mansion with multiple jacuzzis, balconies, stone water slides, and a pool. The rent, utilities, and electric bills for the home amounted to around $14,000 a month. In his video, he claims that he paid 90 percent of that amount. Friends and top players would fly in from all over the country to get coached in Super Smash Bros by the pro players still living in the house.

“Guests were shown the positives of what being at the house meant, without having to deal with the repercussions as a tenant in the house,” Areas said. “Training, eating, talk shop on Smash, get smoked out, party and drink, a literal vacation for them.”

The Hacienda Heights house had less people, fluctuating from around 10 to 15, but controversy still ensued. The “Sky Rules” remained, with erratic enforcement, and the luxury lifestyle didn’t preclude sanitary issues.

A group message Williams sent his technical tenants of the final Sky House was revealed in ffSade’s Google Doc. Since Williams was not told about a guest that came over, he said he would require $350 from everyone or he would be “breaking something of value” of theirs.

“While Sky was mad this would happen, but once he started to calm down, we would start to hang out, and all that shit he was mad about just vanished,” Howard said. “He was quick to anger and would say some pretty outrageous things, never did any of them.”

Maurice recalled another punishment from Williams where he would “grab a bag of Cheetos and rub cheese dust all over everyone’s computer.”

He would require $350 from everyone or he would be “breaking something of value” of theirs.

This sort of environment where everyone was at the whim of William’s mood created a “toxic” culture, according to those interviewed for this story and public statements. According to a Twitter post by AmphyPop, who lived in the Hacienda Heights Sky House in 2017 with their fiancé, Williams promised them a room, but the couple had to live in the garage with four other people in “105-degree weather.”

Everyone interviewed, including Williams, confirmed that these messages are accurate, though nothing was ever broken.

“After I said that, I never had that problem again,” Williams said. “I didn’t have enough of a way to garner enough respect … I think it was childish and immature, but I don’t regret it.”

Guests also reported seeing “maggots” and “fruit flies” while visiting.

Meanwhile, Williams would borrow money from those around him, saying that he needed it to help pay the rent and that he would eventually pay it back. That money gifted to him might have been used for rent, dinner, or to pay back other lenders, according to those interviewed for this story. He now claims he owes around $250,000 to various people and around $120,000 to the IRS.

The final Sky House chapter ended on January 31, 2020, on William’s 30th birthday. He had just had to deal with an unexpected extra $30,000 in electricity bills and the power being cut off for two weeks. The lease was up, and instead of moving to a new house, the group dispersed and Williams moved to a new place in Chino, California

“When the power came back, I realized nobody is even playing Smash, and I don’t like most of you. We don’t even have anything in common, and we don’t do much together,” Williams remembered. “I’m 30 and my presence online is lower than it’s ever been and I have so many people I have to pay back.”

With the houses behind him, Williams vowed to pay back every dollar he owes.

“I never intended to run away from it and I never wanted to hurt people, but I did, and that’s on me, he said to Digital Trends. “Whether or not I’m canceled, whether or not I ever get a chance to redeem myself, the fact is that I still owe that money to those people.”

Still, those in his life are skeptical they will ever see the money again.

“I trusted him and believed that he would pay me back, but I already told myself that if he doesn’t, it’s no skin off my nose,” said Howard, who lent him $1,200 in mid-2019. “For the things that he’s done for me and I’ll take that loss.”

“Whether or not I’m canceled, whether or not I ever get a chance to redeem myself, the fact is that I still owe that money to those people.”

Others have been less open to the idea of loss, like an acquaintance known only as Samuelson, who has known Williams since 2008. He tweeted that he lent Williams $55,000 for his father’s cancer surgery in 2017 and Williams allegedly later said that his dad had purchased “cosmetic surgery for his penis.” Williams maintains that he was duped by his father and that the pair no longer have a relationship.

Sky owes me 55,000 dollars

Read: https://t.co/aDMcghZIxs

— Samuelson (@iamaSamuelson) July 8, 2020

The legacy of the “Sky Houses” are complicated and messy. Even those involved don’t know how to reconcile their time under those California ceilings. Williams admits with hindsight that he was never fit for a leadership role.

“I could talk about intentions or what I knew or I didn’t know, but people got hurt and that’s under my roof,” Williams said. “That’s the most important thing and nothing else really matters, so I assume responsibility for all the pain that has happened, and I just have to eat it.”

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