2021 was without any doubt the year of CIS in Counter-Strike. Gambit’s rise to power at the start of the year was followed up by an insane run from NAVI, where the Ukrainian/Russian roster won all major titles from the summer until December including the PGL Stockholm Major.
Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS): Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Ukraine.
NAVI, Gambit, and Virtus.pro all made the playoffs at the IEM Katowice 2022. But then war broke out in Ukraine, which left all three teams in a difficult situation. Oleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev’s speech before the Quarter-Finals revealed all the tough emotions that he and the rest of the players at NAVI were dealing with.
Unsurprisingly all three teams got dealt a 2-0 defeat and left Katowice with uncertainty about the future.
- All my teammates flew to Russia soon after the game. Otherwise, they would risk not coming back at all, Virtus.pro’s Mareks "YEKINDAR" Gaļinskis explained to the Latvian outlet sportacentrs.com. In the same interview, the Latvian star also talked about his thoughts on the future.
- If there are any regulations or restrictions regarding my teammates from Russia coming to tournaments, visas, and the organizers' own rules, then it is very likely that there will be some changes. Well, most probably there will be. But for now, I just have to wait and see how things develop, the future is uncertain.
BLAST was the first Tournament Organizer to announce its stand towards Russian-based Organizations.
A decision that would exclude Gambit and Virtus.pro from the upcoming BLAST tournaments, while Ukrainian-based NAVI would still be invited.
Elisa Esports was the next to suspend all Russian teams from their tournaments.
What will happen next?
The International reaction to the invasion of Ukraine has sparked a series of boycotts, exclusions, and sanctions against the Russian state and its people.
Interestingly, one of the first to speak out on the issue was Belgium, the home of the next CS:GO Major in Antwerpen in May.
- Russia's reckless attack forces us to be careful with Russians wishing to come to Belgium," junior minister for asylum and migration, Sammy Mahdi, said in a statement to Reuters.
- At the moment, Russians are not welcome here, a general visa ban for Russians should not be a taboo," he said, adding that it should affect both short- and long-term stays.
This would make it impossible for Gambit, Virtus.pro, Entropiq, and NAVI to participate with their current lineups, while G2 would have to replace Ilya "m0NESY" Osipov from its roster.
The question remains if there will be any Russian teams playing in the near future at all? In Football, we have seen opponents decline to play against the Russian National team, while the IOC has issued a statement with a recommendation to ban all Russian (and Beleraussian) athletes from events. With esports moving more and more in the direction of traditional sports, it is unlikely that there will be another approach, even though the spirit of the game and the message from Oleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev was to not create a further diversion.
We all need to stay humans first, - s1mple
The reality is, that as long Russia is invading or ultimately has put Ukraine under annexation, there will be huge pressure from the rest of the world to sanction Russia in every way possible. And despite being a game on the computer, CS:GO is part of the real world as well with all the implications and responsibilities, that go along with it. It is hard to see any future for the current NAVI lineup in 2022, and almost impossible to believe, that we will see Gambit or Virtus.pro on the big stage anytime soon.
A sad situation for the many talented Russian CS:GO players, but obviously nothing compared to the atrocities that millions of Ukrainians are experiencing these days. Next week will give the first answers when Entropiq's four Russian players are scheduled to play in Group A at ESL Pro League Season 15 on LAN in Germany.
One thing is for sure. Nothing will be the same again.