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ESL Pro League bans organisations “with apparent ties to Russian government”

In response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, major esports organiser ESL has announced individuals or organisations “with apparent ties to the Russian government” will be barred from competing in its Pro League events, and that it will be pausing all competitions scheduled to run in the Commonwealth of Independent States region until a later time.

“We are all shocked and saddened by the Russian invasion into Ukraine and hope for a swift and peaceful resolution”, the ESL wrote in a statement shared on its website. “After monitoring the situation, we are now putting an initial set of actions in place.”. These actions include “support [for] the people suffering from the current tragedy with donations to UNHCR, paid time off for employees to volunteer for humanitarian relief and paid time off for affected colleagues.”

The company also announced it had made the decision to prevent all organisations “with apparent ties to the Russian government, including individuals or organisations under alleged or confirmed EU sanctions related to the conflict” from competing in its Pro League. It says it believes two entities – Virtus.pro and Gambit – will be impacted by the new ruling.

However, ESL said it also recognised individual players “are not complicit with this situation, and we do not think it is in the spirit of esports to impose sanctions” on them. As such, it will be allowing Virtus.pro and Gambit players the opportunity to compete in its events, but only “under a neutral name, without representing their country, organisation or their teams’ sponsors on their clothing or otherwise.”

It added it will be pausing all competitions scheduled to be held in the Commonwealth of Independent States region – which includes Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Ukraine – and that these events “can be played at a later point in time.”

“We will monitor and evaluate future competitions,” its statement concluded, “and make further decisions as the situation evolves.”

ESL’s decision comes just days after leading Ukranian esports team Navi announced it was cutting ties with Russian esports conglomerate ESForce for denying “the horror that is now happening” in its country, and follows an open message from Ukraine’s deputy prime minister earlier today, calling on video game companies and esports organisations to leave the Russian market and do “everything possible to protect Ukraine, Europe and finally the entire democratic world from bloody authoritarian aggression”.

Since the Russian invasion began six days ago, companies across the games industry have responded with large donations to humanitarian organisations, and support for staff based in Ukraine. Earlier this week, the PC and console release of The Chinese Room’s Little Orpheus was delayed due to the game’s Russian themes and content, and Apple has paused product sales in Russia. EA has also confirmed it will remove the Russian national football team and all Russian clubs from FIFA 22. So far, however, no major publisher has said it will pull an upcoming blockbuster game release.

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