BLAST and ESL reinstate Virtus.pro after year-long ban over war in Ukraine
Virtus.pro have announced that their esports teams have been reinstated in all ESL and BLAST competitions.
The decision comes six months after Dexerto reported that both companies were reviewing the leadership changes in the Russian organization following the announcement of Armenian businessman Aram Karamanukyan as the new CEO of Virtus.pro and an investor in the company.
In March 2022, Virtus.pro were banned by a number of esports tournament organizers as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Virtus.pro’s parent company, ESforce, was bought in 2018 by Mail.Ru Group Limited, now known as VK. The Russian technology giants have ties to Russian state-run insurer Sogaz, a company placed on several sanctions lists because of the war.
While ESL banned only the Virtus.pro brand and allowed the organization’s CS:GO team to compete under a neutral name, BLAST went one step further, outright banning Russian teams from its BLAST Premier circuit.
Such restrictions were not in place for the qualifiers for the BLAST.tv Paris Major, in which Russian teams were allowed to compete. (Virtus.pro’s squad did not have to participate in the qualifier as it was invited to the EU RMR after winning the IEM Rio Major). And while Cloud9’s Russian team was allowed to participate in the East European qualifiers for the BLAST Premier Spring Europe Showdown, questions remained about Virtus.pro’s ban and whether their team would have to continue to play under the name ‘Outsiders’ in the RMR, the LAN qualifier for the Paris Major.
The decision from BLAST and ESL could be tied to the recent confirmation of the sale of Virtus.pro by VK. The company’s 2022 annual report shows that Virtus.pro was sold in Q4 in a deal worth 174 million rubles (approximately $2.8 million).
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This happened at the same time as Mr. Karamanukyan took charge of Virtus.pro as CEO. Before the end of the year, however, he was replaced by Nikolai Petrossian, a former CEO of Esforce.
“We welcome the decision of BLAST and ESL to return Virtus.pro to their tournament as a result of their in-depth reviews that confirmed the club has met the requirements for reintegration,” Mr. Petrossian said in a statement.
Virtus.pro’s CS:GO team will finish out the ongoing ESL Pro League Season as ‘Outsiders’, the Russian organization added. The team will take on NAVI later today in the second round of the tournament’s playoffs.
Next month, the team will travel to Copenhagen for the EU RMR. The squad will be looking to defend the title it won in Rio de Janeiro as Outsiders in a victory that Virtus.pro celebrated as their own, much to ESL’s surprise and confusion.
Questioned by Dexerto if ESL will recognize Virtus.pro as the winner of the Brazilian Major, an ESL representative said: “The IEM Rio CS:GO Major, as well as ESL Challenger Rotterdam, was won by Outsiders, and we congratulate the players on their achievements.”