Kador Group




Ukraine Russia Sports

‘The Full-Scale Invasion Has Made Ukrainian Esports Unique’: Interview With Legendary Cyber Commentator

Ukrainian cyber legend Oleksiy Maletsky takes Kyiv Post “behind the scenes” of this gaming industry and how the full-scale invasion changed Ukrainian cyber sports.

Nov. 14, 2023

To many casual observers, eSports is thought of as merely a sports video game competition, but delving deeper into the topic, a whole new world opens with its own rules, events and outstanding figures. Ukraine has been a formidable “recognized player” in the world of eSports from its very beginning with a rivalry with Russia that has grown since Moscow’s full-scale invasion.

In an interview for the Kyiv Post, the famous legend of Ukrainian cyberspace – Oleksiy Maletsky, known as the “Ear,” takes us “behind the scenes” of the eSports industry.

Maletsky, a professional eSports player for ten years and current commentator on Couter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO), talked about the formation of Ukrainian eSports culture and changes in the international cyber arena since February 2022.

What place do you think Ukraine occupies in the international cyber arena?

Ukraine could take the title of “Forge of Talents” for eSports. Although there is no Ukraine has always occupied top places. Our country is well-known in the world from the point of view of esports.

Starting from the very popularization of eSports, in the 2000s Ukraine was already known for its teams, performers, and tournament results.

Especially after 2005-2007, we started to have world champions and recognizable teams.

Subsequently, in 2010-2020, studio lighting began to develop. This applies not only to the spread of the culture of commenting on tournaments but also to the appearance of productions and operators who organize these competitions.

What changes occurred after the full-scale invasion?

Until February 24, 2022, almost all Ukrainian eSports were focused on the Russian market. Well-known Ukrainian influencers, including me, worked in Russian.

In 2020, the WePlay studio, where I work, held the Bukovel Miner Po Dota (a major regional tournament) for the first time in the heart of the Carpathians – Bukovel.

The Ukrainian identity was interpreted through a Dota game with a parallel Ukrainian-language broadcast. This was the Ukrainian footprint, which WePlay displayed precisely through a computer game. However, the number of views was very small.

Now, of course, the full-scale invasion has made Ukrainian eSports unique. This wasn’t enough before. Of course, these are not such large numbers in terms of views. But Ukrainian eSports has finally separated itself from everything related to Russia.

How many Russians remain in the International eSports arena and do they have any influence?

Unfortunately, eSports is probably one of the few industries where the Russian Federation has any influence.

For example, at the annual international tournament, nine Russian betting companies that are partners of Dota teams are represented. At the same time, these are European teams, that is, there are two Russian teams there. But in total, out of the 16 participating teams, nine bookmakers are Russian.

However, they do not affect anything, although they participate. This is the shame of all eSports.

But you need to understand how eSports works. For example, now there is a big shift in focus toward Saudi Arabia, which is simply trying to buy all eSports.

They have acquired the largest tournament operator, they host tournaments and make large prize pools. So, they attract eSports players from the whole world. And for them there is no difference – Ukrainian team or Russian team.

Is it possible to achieve any kind of restriction on Russians' rights to play at all?

Because this is a relatively young industry, only about 20 years old, there are no bodies that would regulate and monitor compliance with the rules, and so on. Even if they create some kind of federation, it couldn't do anything useful for the players.

Just a few years ago, eSports was finally recognized as a sport. but where were they before that?

To become an eSports player, you don’t need to go to the gym and look for coaches. You can reach a high level by practicing independently at home and making acquaintances. This eSports world exists independently of regulators.

Unfortunately, sometimes it seems that no one, except Ukrainians, cares that we are being killed.

In fact, there are cases when Ukrainians are still playing with Russians on the same team. Such players are called “mankruts” — people without national self-identity. They have always and everywhere existed.

The problem is that if a Russian is seen as a normal person, foreigners look at them and see just another player.

If all the Ukrainian media came to the tournament operators and refused to play, because of the presence of the Russian team, then perhaps the situation would change.

By the way, think of this: If a football does not belong to anyone, then you could take the ball and bring two teams to the stadium, pay them money and they will play.

CS:GO and Dota are games owned by a private company. The developer studio, the Valve, is a US company. About 40 percent of Dota and CS:GO players are from Russia, and they make a very large amount of traffic and money. Only the owner of the game can prohibit Russians from playing. That is, they may not support Russia, but don’t want to prohibit them from playing and paying.

In the winter, there was a scandal surrounding your interview with Maria Inverno Gunina [manager of the Ukrainian club HellRaisers]. After some time, you deleted the interview due to some public pressure and the discovery of the fact that back in 2014 Gunina publicly rejoiced at the occupation of Crimea.

What exactly was the interview about? But are there any good Russians that are worthy of attention?

Here we must understand that historically Ukrainian and Russian eSports are very connected. This story goes back to the 2000s when Russians and Ukrainians played on the same teams, that’s when we were all friends.

My circle of old acquaintances also includes Maria. She has lived in Kyiv for many years, and we have many common friends. Now she is the manager of a Ukrainian club and lives in Serbia.

Maria has a clear consistent position and calls a spade a spade, including statements that Crimea and Donbas belong to Ukraine, and Ukrainians themselves have the right to self-determination.

When we released the interview, I learned from the comments about her old tweets, where she spoke positively about the occupation of Crimea.

I explained my position and decided to remove the material from my channel. If I had known about it at the time, I would have asked about it during the conversation.

After that, she apologized and explained that she did not know what was driving her then. She wrote to me personally and publicly. Now I think that it was necessary not to delete the video, but to make an update explaining the situation from my side and hers.

In my opinion, it would be good to cover a media person who is a native of Russia and broadcasts the Ukrainian position. Since there are not many of them and not all of them openly express their position.

In the game networks, there is sometimes information that some military personnel use “shooters” [a genre of video games where the basis is shooting at targets] for training. Do you think this can be effective?

First, this applies to the UAV operator. I have already seen several stories in which the military directly said that it helps to develop reaction and dexterity of finger movements.

People who play can navigate and make a critical decision in one to two seconds. Therefore, a certain part of the game can be transferred to military affairs.

A certain number of media military personnel have subscribed to me on X [formerly Twitter]. This shows that they are following CS:GO.

In an interview, I heard the opinion that Ukrainians will always have an advantage in this aspect. Because a hypothetical Ivan from Saratov does not have access to a computer due to lack of money.

In contrast to Russians, 70 percent of Ukrainians have a computer and computer games. On average, our people are more technologically advanced than in England.

How does eSports join in aiding Ukraine’s Armed Forces (AFU) and do foreign teams take part in these events?

There have been great initiatives from our best organizations. Even together with United24, a charity match was held, which was joined by foreign eSports players that gave support to the AFU.

There are some studios that hold matches with the military and raise funds. Some broadcasts raise funds to support the Ukrainian military.

Our company also constantly launches fundraisers for the needs of the military, as well as holding auctions, for example, raising funds for drones. This is a very common practice.

Can you say about yourself that you are a legend?


Although I can say that I’m a famous person and I’m sometimes told that I’m a legend, it’s difficult for me to say that about myself.

I love my job, I’m very fond of eSports and give my all to it. So, I am an outstanding person in this one field.

But the most important thing is that inside each of us – based on what kind of person you are, what values you have – it seems to me that each of us can be a legend.