When Russian tanks and troops were massed on the Ukrainian border at the start of 2022, the world economy started to worry. While problems in agriculture and energy were on everyone’s minds, few were thinking about how Russia’s subsequent invasion would affect gaming and esports.
There has been a profound impact on the burgeoning technology sectors of both Russia and Ukraine that are still being felt. The effects are rippling out in a range of ways, so we’re going to cover:
- How international studios have responded to the Ukrainian invasion;
- The impact on the world of esports;
- What the future holds for Ukrainian and Russian gaming.
How has the war in Ukraine affected gaming?
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has affected many elements of the gaming industry. While the halt on sales to Russian gamers might not have a significant impact on profits, there have been notable changes to esports and monetization options.
How gaming studios responded to the war in Ukraine
Ukraine has a large developer population and plenty of gaming studios that have been directly affected by the Russian aggression toward their country. For example, Kyiv-based GSC Game World’s Stalker 2: Heart of Chornobyl was due to be released in 2022 but is now being listed as a 2023 release by Xbox.
What happened in esports after the Russian invasion
In one of the biggest upsets in the esports world, Russian- and Belorussian-based teams were suspended from EA tournaments. This meant that competitors from these nations couldn’t take part in the Apex Legends Global Series 2022 or the EA Sports FIFA Global Series 2022.
How esports teams have dealt with the invasion
Probably the biggest and most successful esports team from the region is NAVI, or Natus Vincere. Most of the players and support team play out of Ukraine, and as the war began, everyone in the business was involved in the war effort in some way.
A Russian leader was removed from the team in April, sparking as-yet unfounded rumors that the team could be breaking up. It would be a huge blow for gaming if that were to happen.
Other major tournaments that chose to ban teams from the aggressor countries have included:
- Blast Premier
- Elisa Esports
- Rainbow Six Siege
- ESL Pro League
While some leagues have allowed competitors from these nations to take part under neutral terms like the Olympics allowed Russian athletes to do.
The war’s effect on global gaming sales
By March 2022, there had been a slew of announcements from some of the biggest gaming studios reacting to the war. Some of the most notable studios to suspend sales and business in Russia and Belarus include:
- Activision Blizzard.
Even the launch of the much-anticipated Gran Turismo 7 was pulled from Russia. The decision to not sell it on the Russian version of the PlayStation store seemed to come just the day before launch and was then followed by a wider country boycott by its developer, Sony.
How the war has affected monetization and streaming of games
In the wider picture of the conflict, a major strategy of Ukraine’s allies has been the financial isolation of Russia. This has had direct consequences on Russian gamers who monetize their content.
For example, in March, the biggest gaming streaming platform Twitch told all of its Russian-based streamers they’d no longer be able to get paid; the sheer logistics of getting money into Russian accounts weren’t possible. Even if streamers could get online with a VPN, international sanctions are keeping payouts out of the country.
In the same month, Epic also stopped paying out cash prizes to Russian Fortnite competitors. It gave a short notice period for outstanding payments to be claimed and until now, Russians still can’t claim tournament prizes on the platform.
How the gaming community is supporting Ukraine
Along with stopping Russians and Belorussians from accessing gaming content, gamers have directly helped the people of Ukraine.
Epic, through communities in games such as Fortnite, raised a staggering $144 million. The money was split between five NGOs doing humanitarian work in the country.
Fanatical also pulled together a Ukrain Charity Bundle that comprised more than 50 games in March 2022. Within a day of its launch, the bundle had already made $1.6 million and was available for a month to buy at $15 a time.
What the future might bring for Ukrainian game developers
While some developers and gamers have chosen to stay in Ukraine during the conflict, there are plenty who have left.
An unfortunate consequence of the war has been a brain drain across all sectors, including software development. The developers in Ukraine who worked for global companies such as Ubisoft, Microsoft, and Wargaming.net have been supported to leave the country.
Others who did work for local firms will have left and found work elsewhere and they’re unlikely to return in the near future. The skills Ukrainians bring to the industry aren’t lost, but the benefit won’t go to Ukraine for years now.
Before the war, there had been strong synergies between Russian outsourcing companies and Ukrainian developers. Oftentimes, contracts would be awarded to a Russian company that would then subcontract to Ukrainians. That business relationship has all but ceased now and again could take years to repair, if it ever truly does.