Russian esports team kicked out of Dota 2 qualifiers after player draws Z on minimap

Russian Dota 2 player Ivan “Pure” Moskalenko and the rest of the Virtus.pro roster were disqualified from a qualifying tournament for the upcoming ESL One Stockholm Major after Moskalenko appeared to express support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine by drawing a large letter Z on the game map.

ONE Yahoo report says the incident occurred during a break in a semifinal match between Virtus.pro, who played as “Outsiders” to avoid an ESL ban on esports teams based in Russia, and Mind Games. OZ was clearly visible on the map, but only for a few seconds—Moskalenko’s teammates, perhaps anticipating trouble, quickly scribbled it over.

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The letter is significant because of its use by Russian forces invading Ukraine. Z does not exist in the Russian alphabet, so what it actually means in this context is unclear: some have theorized that it means “zapad”, an Anglicized version of “запад” – meaning “west” – or it could just be makeshift insignia meant to aid soldiers. poorly trained to differentiate between Russian and Ukrainian units.

Whatever its initial purpose, Z has been ever since adopted by civilians in Russia and other countries as a symbol of support for the invasion of Ukraine. russian gymnast Ivan Kuliak, for example, recently embossed a Z on his uniform during a medal ceremony at a World Cup event in March; he faces the possible loss of his bronze medal and a one-year suspension from his stock competition.

Kuliak maintained his actions at the World Cup, telling RT (via The Guardian) which expressed its position. Moskalenko, however, denied any political intent behind the Dota 2 scribble.

“There was a long pause in the game. The guys and I were talking and drawing on the minimap,” he said on Twitter. “Once we realized what exactly my drawing was, we tried to cover it up. I didn’t mean to offend anyone, it all happened by accident.”

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Tournament organizer Beyond the Summit was unconvinced, however, and chose to disqualify the entire Virtus.pro team from the event.

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Moskalenko’s problems worsened the next day. Despite his explanation, Virtus.pro terminated Moskalenko’s contract. he had just joined the team in November 2021.

“The severity of the punishment is shocking,” the team wrote. “Valve has a certain track record of imposing disciplinary action, but disqualifying an entire team from a DPC tournament based on a drawing on a minimap by [a] a single player sets a new precedent.

“Any action has consequences, whether intended or not. Virtus.pro has consistently opposed any case of hate speech in esports. The club ends [its] contract with Ivan ‘Pure’ Moskalenko for his diminishing actions that led to disqualification from the tournament and caused a lot of damage to our relationship with the world esports society.”

(Image credit: Virtus.pro)

In April, Blizzard removed the monogram Z of Zarya’s Arctic and Siberian Front skins. The company has not commented on the reasons for the removal, but the assumption is that the symbol was cut from the character – a Russian soldier, before joining Overwatch – to avoid the possibility of similar connections with the invasion of Ukraine.

I’ve contacted ESL for comment and will update if I get a response.

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