A simple Tweet on September 16th announced Aram Karamanukyan as the new CEO of, and investor in, Russian esports organisation Virtus.pro.
The announcement caught the esports community by surprise, especially due to the low profile with which it was made: an unverifiable Tweet from a brand new Twitter account. His position was confirmed shortly after by a post on the Virtus.pro website.
Karamanukyan is a newcomer to the esports industry through and through. He claims to have previously worked in construction, hospitality and finance in Armenia, before getting in touch with competitive gaming. Encouraged by the advice of a friend and the wish to invest in a sector with high-growth potential, he started to study esports and decided to make his move into the industry.
On a personal level, the new Virtus.pro CEO described himself as “a man, Armenian, a businessman, an investor, [and] a father of a 10-year-old girl” when asked to introduce himself.
The low-profile announcement is in tune with his style, he told Esports Insider. “I’ve never been much of a public figure, which is why I didn’t have an account on Twitter. But in esports, everyone’s used to communicating on Twitter, so I created an account.
“We, as I mentioned in my second post, were planning a nice announcement, with a video, with my introduction and a welcoming speech. The media team insisted on it. But because of the current situation in Armenia, when we are in fact at war and my fellow citizens are dying, I refused.”
The war Karamanukyan referenced is the ongoing conflict between South Caucasus nations Armenia and Azerbaijan, which broke out again in September 2022 after a cease-fire agreement mediated by Russia was quickly broken.
“I can’t afford to do media when there’s a tragedy around,” Karamanukyan continued. “At the same time, a public announcement was required that I now own Virtus.pro so that we could compete in international tournaments. And then I decided to just tweet about it — after all, esports is a digital sport, so this is the most organic announcement, I think.”
Attention to his home country is a fundamental pillar of Karamanukyan’s plan of action for Virtus.pro. Under his leadership, Karamanukyan’ says the organisation will seek to connect with the Armenian audience and develop the esports industry in the country of roughly 3 million people.
“I am a patriot of my country and I am interested in contributing to the development of Armenian esports. Armenia may seem like a very small country, but the global Armenian diaspora is huge, with 2.5 million Armenians in Los Angeles alone [Esports Insider: according to the US census data reported by the BBC in 2016, there are ~215.000 Armenians in LA]. And there is still Europe, Russia. It seems to me that through Virtus.pro, through such a big club, I may be able to spark the interest of the Armenian audience and bring it into the ranks of esports enthusiasts.”
“This will give the club a new audience of fans. And in the end, this will lead to the development of esports infrastructure directly in Armenia, the emergence of training bases, strong teams, and young talented players inspired by Virtus.pro. And then, after a certain number of years, or decades, we may no longer have to buy foreign esports clubs,” he said.
But Karamanukyan’s unwavering and political commitments to his home country Armenia raises questions as to just how distant Virtus.pro will be from its previous Russian ownership.
Virtus.pro was banned from competing by almost all major tournament organisers after Russia invaded Ukraine in February, owing to the fact it was owned by ESforce Holding, itself a property of Russian technology giant VK Company Limited. With unusually little detail available about the new ownership structure, and Karamanukyan’s background, questions have arisen as to whether the new CEO still had ties to the former Russian ownership.
Armenia — like Azerbaijan — is a former Soviet republic, and Russian forces maintain an ongoing peacekeeping role in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh territory. Karamanukyan is yet to voice his stance on the Russia-Ukraine war and has deflected questions on Twitter when asked. Esports Insider offered him space for him to comment on the subject, but Karamanukyan chose to not express his opinion about it.
However, Valve and PGL approved the return of the Virtus.pro brand to their tournaments following the ownership change after Virtus.pro shared documents with the developer and other tournament organisers, according to media reports, lending credibility that a satisfactory transfer took place. The organisation told Esports Insider that an Armenian company operated by Karamanukyan obtained 100% of Virtus.pro.
The new CEO said he’s still getting acquainted with the esports industry and getting in touch with other organisations’ managers. Meanwhile, Virtus.pro is searching the market for an agency to internationally represent the organisation on the commercial level. “We are waiting for offers,” said Karamanukyan. Virtus.pro will also look for opportunities to enter franchised leagues and to expand its physical structure.
“There is a separate area where my experience in [construction] will be used. I’m talking about the development of the offline presence of Virtus.pro in the world. Now there is a trend for clubs to open their headquarters, bootcamps and entertainment spaces in different cities and countries — we are also looking in this direction,” said Karamanukyan.
Karamanukyan takes charge of Virtus.pro approximately five months after the departure of former CEO Sergey Glamazda, who left the organisation in May 2022. Since then, Virtus.pro has been led by a team of managers of its former owners, ESforce Holding.
Karamanukyan did not disclose the exact investment he made to acquire the organisation, nor how much of an ownership stake he took, but claims it was ‘a market price deal’.