EA made a move with massive implications for multiple esports scenes today, banning teams and players from Russia and Belarus from competing in both the Apex Legends Global Series and EA Sports FIFA 22 Global Series. The move comes in the midst of Russia’s continued invasion of Ukraine and follows the lead of many Western companies removing their services from the two countries.
Important in the wording of EA’s statement is the fact that both teams and players from Russia and Belarus will be banned. This means there is no path to competition currently for top players from the two eastern European countries. This is different from Riot’s approach to VALORANT and the VCT schedule, where Russian teams like Gambit have been permitted to play under a different name and neutral banner.
How this affects the FIFA scene seems fairly straightforward since one-vs-one and two-vs-two competitions will see spots filled that were once occupied by Russian and Belarusian competitors. As it stands, only one competitor who qualified for a top-16 in the FIFA 22 Global Series thus far would be affected by this ruling: Ufenok of FC Lokomotiv Moscow.
The ALGS, on the other hand, is a different story. The EMEA region is dominated by Russian competitors. Thirty-three of the 120 players in the Pro League, the top competition in professional Apex, hail from Russia, nearly double the second most popular nationality (the U.K. at 18). This means the format of the competition will most likely have to change entirely since 12 of the 40 teams in the Pro League are Russian. Groups will have to be shuffled and the competition will most likely be reduced from a round robin featuring four groups of 10 teams down to three groups.
The move also directly affects some players actively displaced by the war. Gambit, who boasts one of the world’s best Apex teams, is a Russian team with a Ukrainian player on the squad, Artur “Artyco” Tishchenko. Artyco hails from Kharkiv, one of the hardest-hit cities in Ukraine. Belarusian player Kirill “9impulse” Kostiv had recently moved to Kyiv to access better quality internet and was subsequently forced to flee the country when Russia invaded. But he’s unable to return to Belarus for fear of being drafted and either forced to participate in the war or be thrown into prison. He’s currently in Poland, according to his social media accounts.
There’s still no word on when ALGS competition will resume in EMEA and most Ukrainian players will most likely be unable to participate anytime soon due to the invasion. The competition was delayed worldwide for two weeks before resuming in all regions besides EMEA last weekend.
Many pro players from EMEA countries outside the conflict zone voiced their displeasure with the move following EA’s announcement.
Ultimately, the publisher’s punishment will fall hardest on the players who depend on the game and competitions for their income, and inadvertently affects players who are active refugees from the war as well. The intentions of the company might be aimed toward the greater good, but for the time being, many players who are not involved in the conflict, and even those who have been vocally opposed to the war, will remain in a holding pattern until the conflict ends or EA changes its blanket approach.
Update March 16 5:37pm CT: ALGS administrators have emailed all participants who registered for the tournament series as residents of Russia or Belarus, according to ALGS players. This email confirms those players are ineligible to play in ALGS if they reside in those countries. But the tournament will allow competitors to compete if they reside in a different country, outside of the two countries banned. Competitors that move must confirm they have moved outside Russia or Belarus by March 20.