In a war of tanks, there’s World of Tanks. Somewhere along the several hundred miles of frontline in Ukraine, a Ukrainian soldier is probably playing World of Tanks – the video game. A war hero recently admitted to gaming although he had to open a new account when he lost his login information. During training in June, border guards outside Bakhmut, where one of the war’s bloodiest battles was fought, were found playing. And a tank crew seen grabbing a quick lunch last year had slapped a World of Tanks logo on the hull of its T-80 main battle tank. “I’m playing from time to time, when I have a bit of free time,” said Lt. Nazar Vernyhora, who last year gained attention for his command of a real tank that destroyed armoured personnel carriers and damaged a Russian tank during a battle outside of Kyiv.
Starlink satellite internet is prevalent on Ukraine’s battlefields, and soldiers have smartphones. The draw of mobile video games is obvious. War is often marked by long stretches of boredom, so why turn to the enduring favourite pastime of soldiers – throwing small rocks at bigger rocks – when there’s World of Tanks? The urge to play a violent video game in the midst of the most brutal land war in Europe since World War II may seem baffling, but it represents an important way soldiers cope with the bloodshed around them: disassociation. But the multiplayer game – with its two teams of tanks and other killing machines destroying each other on a virtual battlefield – is an eerie echo of the actual war unfolding around its uniformed player base. Ukrainian tanks, and other armoured vehicles, can sometimes find themselves locked in bloody duels that their crews are also experiencing virtually.
It is hard to state precisely how popular the game is on the Ukrainian battlefield. Still, in visits across Ukraine’s frontlines by NYT, the game was often seen and talked about. Anton, a commander of a tank company entrenched outside the embattled city of Avdiivka, showed footage of a recent battle. His favourite clip was of a Russian tank getting destroyed, its hull bursting into flames and the turret ejecting into the air. “I love World of Tanks,” he said.
The top two highest-earning World of Tanks players in e-sports competition from 2011 to 2021 were Kirill Ponomarev, a Russian, and Dmytro Frishman, a Ukrainian. The two men were once on the same World of Tanks e-sports team.

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