Russian CS:GO team Virtus.pro have responded to an announcement by ESL that Russian teams would be barred from Season 15 of the ESL Pro League, calling the decision “a prime example of ‘the cancel culture'”.
The ongoing invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces, which began on February 24, continues to have knock-on effects on the esports industry. Multiple tournament organizers, including Riot Games and BLAST Premier, have announced changes to their CIS tournament operations during the crisis, with some tournaments opting to bar Russian teams from participating altogether.
The most recent tournament operator to make this decision was ESL, who announced on March 2 that they would be barring all teams with affiliations with the Russian government from competing in the upcoming ESL Pro League. The only two teams to which these sanctions apply are Russian organizations Virtus.pro and Gambit.
While Gambit are yet to respond to the ban, Virtus.pro’s response came on March 4, when they claimed that there were “no rational reasons” that they should be barred from competing in tournaments, and that ESL’s decision was one made on “prejudice and pressure from the outside.”
ESL’s inquiry a “mere formality”
According to Virtus.pro, they provided a “full and comprehensive response” to ESL’s request for paperwork detailing their ownership group and whether or not their affiliates were subject to sanctions placed on Russian businesses and oligarchs.
However, they claim the request was a “mere formality”, and that despite supposedly proving they had “no affiliation” with sanctioned individuals or businesses, they were still banned from the event.
Russian state-run insurance company Sogaz has a controlling stake in Virtus.pro’s ownership group VK, and are one of the companies included on the European Union’s sanctions list imposed on Russia over the invasion of Ukraine. Despite this, Virtus.pro claim they are “not connected” to the Russian government in any way.
In ESL’s statement, both Gambit and Virtus.pro’s teams were offered the opportunity to compete under a “neutral name, without representing their country, organization, or team’s sponsors.”
Virtus.pro state that “unlike some tournament operators, we are not ready to invalidate someone else’s efforts”, and that if their current roster chooses to play at the ESL Pro League, the organization will “support their decision”.
“ESL refuses to communicate with the club management, preferring to speak directly to the players,” Virtus.pro said. “We are facing a prime example of the ‘cancel culture’.
“However, in this case, there are no ultimatums that are supposed to push us towards certain actions. That’s why we won’t respond to this aggression with aggression of our own by forbidding our players from playing in this tournament.”