When the legendary Ukrainian Counter-Strike: Global Offensive team Natus Vincere claimed their 13th gold trophy of the year back in BLAST Premier: World Final 2021, it seemed that the organization and CIS esports scene as a whole – after all, the other finalists were the Russian team Gambit Esports – were on top of the world.
But very few would predict the shattering that would occur next. On the fateful day of February 24, esports was not on anyone’s mind – it was just collateral damage buried below a pile of rubble.
As sanctions hit the country-aggressor, Russian esports clubs and players found themselves between a rock and a hard place. While some are undoubtedly forced to walk on eggshells in a trigger-happy regime that made it clear that it will not tolerate thoughtcrimes, some even support the invasion by their home country.
With the tournament organizers unwilling to risk platforming aggressive and chauvinist views, Russian esports clubs found themselves uninvited to most events across the entire scene. One of the giants of the esports ecosystem, Riot Games, was quick on the trigger – as the Russian region’s local competition, LCL Spring 2022, got dropped faster than a hot potato. Soon, other organizers across different disciplines followed suit.
— NAVI Live 🔴 (@natusvincerelv) April 8, 2022
This disappointing result may also be the last for the incredible Natus Vincere lineup that dominated CS:GO throughout the entirety of 2021.
Which brings us to the news of HLTV renouncing any ties with Russian-based CS:GO teams. The biggest offenders here are Virtus.pro – as the owners of the esports tag, ESForce Holding, are in turn owned by Alisher Usmanov, a Russian oligarch with direct ties to the president of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin. Combined with Virtus.pro’s unwillingness – or inability – to condemn the actions of their home country, this made Virtus.pro the first to go.
According to HLTV.org, Virtus.pro has never existed. Its players are referred to simply as “Outsiders” now, as they reside on the 9th spot on the leaderboard.
Another team to get hit with a similar treatment is Gambit Esports. Formerly a top-3 team on the HLTV leaderboard, the roster is now referred to as… “Players.”
There’s still a chance we’ll experience Jame time again. It’s possible, but it depends on what the Russian players’ next move will be. Even though the Russian organizations were disqualified and thrown out, the tournament operator PGL extended an invitation to the players on the condition they’ll perform under a neutral tag.
The invitation extends to both the RMR event and PGL Major Antwerp that will take place on April 21-24.
However, the Russian tags aren’t the only ones to face difficulties in the esports world. The organization recognized by many as one of the most impactful internationally, the Ukrainian giant Natus Vincere faces a rift on a scale never seen before. After all, three of its players – electronic, BoombI4, and Perfecto – are Russian.
A former player and analyst of NaVi turned professional caster (in Ukrainian), Arseniy Serhiiovych “ceh9″ Trynozhenko, shared his thoughts on the issue, concluding that ESL Pro League Season 15 will most likely be the team’s last bitter dance.
“I believe that massive changes are ahead for NAVI. You know why. They can only save the current lineup if they all leave Russia. And, as far as I know, they aren’t planning to. So, it seems that this series [ESL Pro League Season 15 – editor’s note] will be the final one for the team.
Perfecto is most likely going to leave [Russia]. He even has the paperwork ready to live in Ukraine. As far as I remember, he lived in Ukraine even before he joined NAVI. He lived in Kyiv, and he trained in Kyiv. He’s no stranger to Kyiv at all.
But BoombI4 and electronic – that I don’t know. Electronic is from Kazan [a city in southwest Russia – editor’s note]; he has family there. Even if he were to leave, his family’s like an anchor. It’s not a good look. If one goes, it’s best if all do – and that’s easier said than done.”
Former captain of Natus Vincere’s Counter-Strike squad, Danylo “Zeus” Teslenko, also shared his thoughts on the issue. His main line is clear: the players’ attitudes towards the war are a turning point.
“NAVI are stuck between a rock and a hard place. If the boys want to keep representing the NAVI tag, they should demonstrate their anti-Putin views. Even if carefully, between the lines. But if the things keep looking the way they do now, it’s not going to be the NAVI I used to build.
And Russians? They’re stinky rats, they’ve got no balls, so I recorded a video to let them know I despise them [regarding the video Zeus posted on his Instagram where he addressed Russian pros of other clubs. – editor’s note].”