ESL announce restrictions on Russian-based organizations
ESL have announced restrictions on organizations with links to the Russian government under alleged or confirmed EU sanctions from being represented in ESL Pro League Season 15. This sees ESL follow in the footsteps of fellow tournament organizer BLAST, who announced similar measures yesterday. In addition to the previously announced restrictions, ESL will also be temporarily halting all ESL competitions in the CIS region for the time being, with the events being rescheduled for some time in the future.
Much like BLAST's decision yesterday, Gambit and Virtus.pro will be the main organizations targeted by the move. 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.
However, players from both of these organizations are able to compete in ESL Pro League 15, which is slated to run from March 9th-April 10th, provided they compete under a neutral name, without representing their country, organizations or teams' sponsors on their apparel. It remains to be seen if Gambit or Virtus.pro, the latter of which already released a statement criticizing the public and private backlash for not making a comment in regards to the Ukrainian-Russian War, will allow their players to participate under such circumstances.
Should Gambit and Virtus.pro prevent their players from participating under the new restrictions outlined by ESL, it is exactly unclear what teams will be called upon to replace them in Groups B and C. According to the ESL replacement rules, the next team in line from the Conference Stage will receive an invitation to the group stage. If the two organizations have not come to a decision with less than a week before Groups B and C play, it is possible for ESL to choose the best teams from the ESL World Ranking that can guarantee their full participation. Dust2.us has reached out to ESL for further comment in regards to this situation and has not yet heard back at the time of publication.
Gambit and Virtus.pro, the second and sixth best teams in the world respectively, will leave significant gaps in both Group B and C, where the North American representatives of FURIA, Liquid, and Party Astronauts have been sorted. It would be a boost to the qualification chances for each of the North American-based teams if these Russian-tied organizations are no longer able to participate and replaced by weaker competition.
ESL will also be making an undisclosed donation to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) whilst providing paid-leave for employees who are affected by the conflict or those who wish to participate in humanitarian relief.