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The Esports Iron Curtain: How the war in Ukraine has changed esports permanently

The ripple effects of Russia's invasion of Ukraine are being felt across esports — a regression for an industry touted as global.

  • Posted on 16th Jun, 2022 16:04 PM
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The ripple effects of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine are being felt across esports. This is a regression for an industry touted as global, and it will be a long time before things return to any semblance of normality.

Another CS:GO Major is in the books, and despite the odds, the event has only one glaring asterisk next to it, one beyond anyone’s control and one that was mitigated as much as it could be. Even with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, this event managed to see every team that qualified attend with their full line-ups, even though this seemed a pipe dream in the months leading up to it.

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Whatever your opinion about that, it is inarguably a regression for an industry touted as being truly global and for everyone that for the first time in our young history, a war is starting to profoundly shape our future. This isn’t just going to affect CS:GO, a niche within a niche, but will be felt across our industry as a whole, and collectively we will be a hostage to the whims of the governments and the corporations that make decisions we all have to abide by.

It begs the question why were we in such a rush to do anything at all instead of waiting to see how things played out. The first sanctions from esports organizations came down on March 1 and were wildly inconsistent at best. Almost all of those decisions are superseded by policies being enacted by entities we need to have partnerships with if we want to function. In short, esports can’t go “back to normal” until the world does.

If you need to think about where we are right now you only need to look at what has happened to NAVI in the aftermath of the conflict. The bulk of two academy team rosters was cut, their CEO is making esports decisions while simultaneously being deployed in a militia and their flagship team is barely holding together. Two of their Russian players have agreed to relocate, but they have lost their in-game leader due to pro-Putin comments made by that player’s wife. The top-tier talent that they would like to acquire in his stead is likely tied to contracts that would require them to make a financial contribution to the Russian oligarchs that no one is supposed to be financing anymore so their replacement isn’t likely to be the best available.

At the heart of it all is their talismanic player, Aleksandr ‘s1mple’ Kostyliev, who, likely as a result of the emotional burnout due to the conflict and watching the team he personally approved fall apart, has repeatedly intimated he will need a break to recover. That break could entail anything from a well-deserved holiday to early retirement, to a less complicated streaming career, or to an opportunity in Valorant.

It only took four months for CS:GO to be turned upside down into something unrecognizable by forces we couldn’t control. The events that started in February will resonate long beyond their end and increasingly, our global game is coming with caveats to what the word “global” actually means.

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