“All my career I’ve played with Ukrainian players, I’ve played with Russian players and I’ve played with American players, and all [are] great guys,” Kostyliev said. He gestured to his teammates on stage with him, three Russians and a Ukrainian. “Right now, I stay with my friends, with my real friends. We win together and we lose together. And we all want peace for Ukraine and for [the] the whole world. All of us [are] scared.”
On Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the start of a “special military operation” in Ukraine after months of massive military buildup on the border between the two countries. Since then, the United Nations reports that more than 50,000 Ukrainians have fled the country as Russian forces have moved closer to the capital, Kyiv.
On stage Friday, Kostyliev’s speech positioned his team as a positive example of coexistence and friendship. “We all have to show [an] example in this tournament for [the] world”, he continued, after a round of applause in the room. “We all have to stay human first.”
Kostyliev is widely regarded as one of the greatest “Counter-Strike: Global Offensive” players of all time. In 2021, the “Counter-Strike” news and statistics portal HLTV ranked him the best player of the year, writing that “it can even be argued that it was the strongest year anyone has ever had in the history of the game”. The 24-year-old plays for Natus Vincere, or NAVI, a Kyiv-based esports organization which, like Kostyliev, has the record as an esports powerhouse. On Thursday, the organization posted a series of messages in English, Ukrainian and Russian on its Twitter feed outlining the situation.
‘Russia attacked Ukraine’, reads NAVI Statement. “We are devastated. Our main focus right now is to try to stay calm and take care of ourselves, our loved ones and those who need help.
Since the invasion, a number of esports organizations around the world have changed their social media profile pictures to the blue and yellow colors of the Ukrainian flag. In a subsequent tweet from NAVI, the organization expressed gratitude for the support, especially for those in Russia who had spoken out against the war.
You cannot imagine how important your support is. Especially all the Russian people in the streets who are again protesting against this devastating war.
— NAVI (@natusvincere) February 24, 2022
Since the start of the Russian military operation, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has made repeated overtures to the Russian people to vocally oppose the war. Some Russian esports athletes, in particular, spoke out on Twitter. The esports organization Team Spirit, which in October was congratulated by Putin after winning the “Dota 2” international championship, posted the following statement on Twitter: “We are against war and we are against violence”. Several players from Moscow-based Gambit Esports posted tweets ranging from expressions of disbelief to outright support for Ukraine. A share the hashtag #StandWithUkraine, along with a Ukrainian flag and a heart emoji.
Thursday morning in Ukraine, Kostyliev tweeted Poland, where he was preparing to compete, that his city was “bombarded”.