BLAST indefinitely bans Russian-based teams

Russian-based teams will not be allowed to play in BLAST-run tournaments for the foreseeable future.

BLAST Premier has said in an official statement that “Russian-based teams” will not be invited to their events for the foreseeable future in the midst of the Ukrainian-Russian conflict. According to HLTV.org this will not affect Natus Vincere as they’re a Ukrainian-based organization. This will also not affect individual players such as Ilya "M0nesy" Osipov on G2.

Gambit and Virtus.pro, the second and sixth best teams in the world respectively, are the most well-known organizations that will be affected by this development. These teams are not partnered with BLAST and would have had to qualify or have been directly invited to their events. Concerns regarding ownership behind these two organizations might have prompted BLAST to make this statement.

Gambit are owned by Russia's largest mobile telecoms network, MTS. MTS' effective beneficial owner is Vladimir Yevtushenkov via holding company AFK Sistema. Both Yevtushenkov and Sistema have been under consideration for sanctions from the US State Department in the past, however Yevtushenkov is considered close to President Putin, having been listed an Oligarch under the "Putin List" in 2018. They've not yet been sanctioned in this current wave.

Virtus.pro are owned by ESFORCE, who are wholly owned by VK, formerly Mail.ru Group. VK controlling ownership MegaFon Technology, a business partnership between Insurance company Sogaz, Oil company Gazprom and Defence company Rostec. All three have been the target of sanctions from the USA and EU in recent months. Today, Virtus.pro released a statement containing allegations that the GAMERS Galaxy: Dota 2 International Series Dubai 2022 event organizations are forcing the organization to release a public statement about the war or face disqualification. In that statement, the organization referred to the War as the "situation in Ukraine" and "situation in CIS". Further, the organization claimed they do not "support any war there is or ever was: in Ukraine, Syria, Afghanistan, Yugoslavia or any other."

Along with announcing the ban on Russian-based teams, the company has also cancelled its CIS qualifier for the BLAST Premier Spring Showdown 2022 which will affect organizations not based in Russia such as Entropiq. It’s currently unknown to the public whether the ban will affect the Czechian organization, as they are a completely Russian squad. Dust2.us reached out to Dmitriy "hooch" Bogdanov, Entropiq's coach for a comment, but did not receive one. Dust2.us also reached out to BLAST for clarification on this, as well as other issues but as of this time have not received a response. Other teams such as K23 are in a similar situation, whereby they are a Kazakhstani organization based in Russia with a majority Russian team.

Two hours after BLAST’s statement, NAVI announced they have broken off cooperation with ESFORCE holdings. They referred to the company as inhumane in its statements about the Ukrainian-Russian conflict and have also broken ties with RuHub, Epic Esports Events, Cybersport.ru and Virtus.pro.

With the controversial new ruling, it’s uncertain whether other tournament organizers will follow suit and if this will have any impact on future events such as Pro League and the Major. The Belgian Government has called upon the European Union to stop issuing visas to all Russian citizens, including students, workers, and tourists in response to Moscow's attack on Ukraine. Sammy Mahdi, Belgian Junior Minister for Aslyum and Migration said, "At the moment, Russians are not welcome here, a general visa ban for Russians should not be a taboo". With the upcoming CS:GO Major scheduled to be played in Antwerp, Belgium this May, it remains to be seen how it will affect the CIS region and teams with Russian players.

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