Since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine in Feb. 2022, the Russian Rainbow Six Siege teams of PWNZ and Outsiders were thrust into a strange situation. Formerly known as Team Empire and Virtus.pro, respectively, both teams were forced to compete under a neutral banner to be allowed to play.
A day after Ubisoft’s announcement, Team Empire’s and Virtus.pro’s bundles were also removed from the R6 Share program, and so went a key revenue stream for both teams and organizations in Siege.
Without that money and with Europe’s sanctions aimed at Russia and its oligarchs, one didn’t have to be incredibly intelligent to anticipate the inevitable financial troubles that esports teams and their players were about to face in their futures -- like PWNZ have been facing since the start of the 2022 season.
“We don’t have any salary since March, and we don’t have bootcamp,” said PWNZ manager Igor “TheRealestRussian” Obukhov to SiegeGG in early July.
SiegeGG also spoke with Nikita “Niko2k” Rusyaev, PWNZ’s most recent signing, in late July. The Russian player joined the squad just before the start of Stage 2 to replace former Virtus.pro member Andrey “Andreezy” Baviyan.
Niko2k has been very transparently fed up with Team Empire and the lack of payments – the situation is so critical that he cites it as a key reason for his team’s lack of results in Stages 1 and 2 of the EUL.
The player also claimed on Twitter that he is not under a contract with Team Empire, stating “technical I am free (sic)”.
When asked by SiegeGG if he accepted playing for the team under unpaid circumstances, he mentioned he “should be paid” but he “didn’t know now”.
SiegeGG contacted Team Empire for comment but received no response.
The issues are not just limited to in-game performances. The situation became so dire for Niko2k earlier this month that he was forced to “eat (just) bread for the 2-3 days” after complications with his bank. He also mentioned he had to “sell some of (his) things, mouses or keyboard, to have money as well.”
“People trash talk me and (my) team for no reason, yes we play bad, but we can’t go better in this case. … The financial situation is bad, because I can’t work to the fullest and indeed the first month I didn’t understand what I should eat in a week. Now I got a little comfortable and found ways to survive,” he said.
Niko2k’s problems were exacerbated after he was hit by computer troubles.
“Due to financial problems, Ubisoft blocked the organization and the organization stopped getting money. I had a financial reserve that was supposed to help me, but I had to spend it to play EUL,” he explained.
While he is apparently not the only player on the team in this situation, the effects are felt unequally for some.
“Some don’t care, they had enough ups in their careers to save enough money, (but) I can say that it’s hard for three of us,” said Niko2k.
In such a situation, with a lack of financial and food security, it’s clear why PWNZ have been barely able to make a dent against their fellow EUL teams.
“The level of preparation has fallen … the priorities of some players are shifting in search of funds. In general I can say that we need a bootcamp and an acceptable minimum (wage), then we will show what we are really capable of,” continued Niko2k.
“I've been combining my whole career, work, study, and Siege. But now it's a different level of play, in the BO1 format. You need to devote eight-plus hours a day to win. And accordingly, I have to sacrifice financial well-being.
This whole situation is strange, because now I can neither work normally nor play normally, there are many problems related to money and this puts pressure on all of us. No matter how stupid it may sound, for our environment, without money you are nobody.”
Niko2k also revealed that the stress has been getting to him after matches due to his team’s results and the helplessness of the situation.
“I hate to lose, and after the game that was ours, it’s physically hard to fall asleep, sometimes I just want to go outside and yell,” he said.
In a different life, he may never have pursued competitive Siege and may not have had to grapple with such troubles. At one point, he had been studying to become a doctor, but he left the course after realizing that the profession was not for him.
“I get too attached to people and their problems and I want to help everyone,” he elaborated. “(But) perhaps I will continue my studies as a psychologist in the future”.
It’s now been four months of despair for the team. PWNZ have no more options to travel to Berlin and the team is likely out of the Six Invitational 2023 race. Stage 3, too, could be similarly difficult for the team with no end in sight to the war and the accompanying sanctions.