ESL has announced that organizations with “apparent ties” to the Russian government will not be allowed to be represented in the upcoming season of the ESL Pro League in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The tournament organizer has currently identified two Russian-based organizations with Kremlin ties, Gambit and Virtus.pro – both of whom were due to be represented in ESL Pro League 15.
Gambit are owned by Russia’s largest telecom company, MTS, whose largest shareholder, the AFK Sistema PAO conglomerate, is headed by Vladimir Yevtushenkov. Mr. Yevtushenkov’s name appeared in 2018 on the ‘Putin list’ as one of the 210 political figures and oligarchs with close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Virtus.pro are owned by the ESforce Holding company, which was acquired in 2018 by Mail.Ru Group Limited, now known as VK. Since December 2021, state-run insurer Sogaz has a controlling stake in VK, with the company being included on the European Union’s February 28 sanctions list imposed on Russia over the invasion of Ukraine.
According to ESL, the players from both organizations will still be allowed to compete in the tournament as long as they do so under a neutral name and without representing their country, organization, or sponsors.
“We recognize that players are not complicit with this situation, and we do not think it is in the spirit of esports to impose sanctions on individual players,” ESL said.
ESL has taken a somewhat softer stance than BLAST, which announced on March 1 an outright ban of Russian-based teams for the foreseeable future. On March 2, Finnish tournament organizer also decided to suspend all “Russian-owned organizations” from its tournaments.
Virtus.pro and Gambit have not yet stated whether they plan to comply with ESL’s new regulations. Virtus.pro have been placed in ESL Pro League’s Group B, which kicks off on March 16, while Gambit are in Group C, which begins a week later. The tournament will take place in Germany, with $823,000 on the line.