Russian esports team booted from Dota 2 qualifier after player draws Z on the minimap

Ivan "Pure" Moskalenko
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Russian Dota 2 player Ivan "Pure" Moskalenko and the rest of the roster have been 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 in-game map.

A Yahoo report says the incident took place during a pause in a semi-final match between, which played as "Outsiders" in order to evade an ESL ban on Russian-based esports teams, and Mind Games. The Z was clearly visible on the map but only for a couple of seconds—Moskalenko's teammates, perhaps anticipating trouble, quickly scribbled over it.

The letter is significant because of its use by Russian forces invading Ukraine. Z doesn't exist in the Russian alphabet so what it actually means in that context isn't clear: Some have theorized that it stands for "zapad," an Anglicized version of "запад"—meaning "west"—or it could be just makeshift insignia aimed at helping poorly-trained soldiers differentiate between Russian and Ukrainian units.

Whatever its initial purpose, Z has since been adopted by civilians in Russia and other countries as a symbol expressing support for the invasion of Ukraine. Russian gymnast Ivan Kuliak, for instance, recently taped a Z to 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 competition for his actions.

Kuliak stood by his World Cup actions, telling RT (via The Guardian) that he was expressing his position. Moskalenko, however, denied any political intention 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. "When we realized what exactly my drawing turned out to be, we tried to cover it up. I didn't mean to offend anyone, it all happened by accident."

Tournament organizer Beyond the Summit was not convinced, however, and opted to disqualify the entire team from the event.

Moskalenko's problems grew worse the next day. Despite his explanation, terminated Moskalenko's contract. He had only joined the team in November 2021.

"The severity of the punishment is shocking," the team wrote. "Valve has a certain history of imposing disciplinary measures, but disqualifying the whole team from a DPC tournament based on a drawing on a minimap by [a] single player sets up a whole new precedent.

"Any actions have consequences, whether intentional or not. has been consistently opposing any cases of inciting hatred in esports. The club terminates [its] contract with Ivan 'Pure' Moskalenko for his diminishing actions that led to disqualification from the tournament and caused a great deal of harm to our relationship with the worldwide esports society."

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In April, Blizzard removed the Z monogram from Zarya's Arctic and Siberian Front skins. The company didn't comment on the reasons for the removal, but the assumption is that the symbol was cut from the character—a Russian soldier, prior to joining Overwatch—in order to avoid the possibility of similar connections with the invasion of Ukraine.  

I've reached out to ESL for comment and will update if I receive a reply.

Andy Chalk

Andy has been gaming on PCs from the very beginning, starting as a youngster with text adventures and primitive action games on a cassette-based TRS80. From there he graduated to the glory days of Sierra Online adventures and Microprose sims, ran a local BBS, learned how to build PCs, and developed a longstanding love of RPGs, immersive sims, and shooters. He began writing videogame news in 2007 for The Escapist and somehow managed to avoid getting fired until 2014, when he joined the storied ranks of PC Gamer. He covers all aspects of the industry, from new game announcements and patch notes to legal disputes, Twitch beefs, esports, and Henry Cavill. Lots of Henry Cavill.