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Virtus.pro released a statement on Friday in response to ESL barring teams with “apparent ties” to the Russian government from competing in the ESL Pro League Season 15 Counter-Strike: Global Offensive tournament on Wednesday. In ESL’s statement, the organization said it would allow Russian players the option to participate in the event under a different name, without club jerseys, in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Virtus.pro responded by claiming that ESL inquired into their legal and financial ownership along with country of registration, partnership deals and whether their affiliates are subjected to sanctions. Virtus.pro alleged that this was a “formality” and that ESL disqualified them for “no rational reasons … apart from prejudice and pressure from the outside.”

“ESL publicly announced that the reason for our disqualification was alleged connection to the government and companies that are now connected to sanctions,” the Virtus.pro statement reads. “However, there was quite different wording in private texting: even though we are not connected to the government, WE MAKE AN IMPRESSION of it being true. We can’t tolerate this kind of behavior. There are no rational reasons to suspend us from playing in tournaments, apart from prejudice and pressure from the outside.”

According to a breakdown on Dust2.us of Virtus.pro’s ownership group, ESforce Holding, the holding company is wholly owned by VK, which has a controlling ownership by MagaFon Technology — a business partnership between Sogaz, Gazprom and Rostec. All of those three partnership companies have been the target of sanctions by the United States and the European Union.

Virtus.pro also announced an investment of over $100 million from USM Holdings, a company owned by Russian oligarch Alisher Usmanov in 2015. Usmanov has been the subject of sanctions by the United Kingdom.

In their statement, Virtus.pro went on to say that they will not exempt their players from playing in the ESL event, and that they will “support their decision.”

“We are facing a prime example of ‘the cancel culture.’ However in this case, there are no ultimatums that are supposed to push us towards certain actions. That’s why we won’t respond to this aggression with aggression of our own by forbidding our players to play in this tournament,” the statement reads.

The Russian team has two players of Russian nationality on their active roster, as well as two from Kazakhstan and one from Latvia.

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