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The strong dependence of retroviruses, such as human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1), on host cell factors is no more apparent than when the endosomal sorting complex required for transport (ESCRT) machinery is purposely disengaged. The resulting potent inhibition of retrovirus release underscores the importance of understanding fundamental structure-function relationships at the ESCRT-HIV-1 interface. Recent studies utilizing advanced imaging technologies have helped clarify these relationships, overcoming hurdles to provide a range of potential models for ESCRT-mediated virus abscission. Here, we discuss these models in the context of prior work detailing ESCRT machinery and the HIV-1 release process. To provide a template for further refinement, we propose a new working model for ESCRT-mediated HIV-1 release that reconciles disparate and seemingly conflicting studies. Expected final online publication date for the Annual Review of Virology Volume 4 is September 29, 2017. Please see http://www.annualreviews.org/page/journal/pubdates for revised estimates.