Esports is an industry where borders, culture and languages are bridged daily and global experiences are the norm. Politics and esports don’t always intersect or impact each other – unless the discussion turns to travel visas. Visa issues have always plagued the Dota 2 international tournament experience and scene – preventing players and teams from being able to participate in events on US soil. Rifled with bureaucratic red tape and extensive procedures already, a new executive order put into action by the United States could now become more detrimental for the careers of many and negatively impact a burgeoning scene on the North American continent – including relocating mega million dollar event – The International outside the United States.
On January 27th, newly elected 45th president of the United States, Donald Trump, signed an executive order, that issued a reportedly “temporary” travel ban of seven countries – Somalia, Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Iran, Liybia and Sudan.
Those that are of national origin from the included countries have been barred or subject to being detained while entering the United States. This also pertains to those with valid visas or Green Cards already issued.
The ban seems to not exclude travelers that are in possession of passports from other countries not effected by the ban, as long as the holder has any national origin ties to one of the countries from the executive order.
Travel ban impact on Dota 2
At a quick glance players most effected could potentially include Aliwi “w33” Omar and Kuro “KuroKy” Saleh Takhasomi. Both dual citizens with w33 hailing originally from Syria and KuroKy from Iran.
Although based on specific circumstances and fine details, both players (and perhaps more) might be technically outside the parameters of the order, Border Control Police always have the final word in admitting any travelers even with approved and secured documents. The potential for an individual officer to still detain or bar them is quite high – an already ambiguous and discretionary power.
Already rumored is that Lebanon, Pakistan, Jordon and other countries are being considered as well. Extensive discussion and decision is expected to take place in approximately two weeks.
High profile and known players such as Syed Sumail “SumaiL” Hassan and his brother Yawar “YawaR” Hassan are Muslim immigrants from Pakistan.
Amer “Miracle-” Al-Barkawi and Yazied “YapzOr” Jaradat both hail from Jordan where its already been reported that a traveler was turned away.
Sébastien “7ckingMad” Debs is originally from Lebanon and would then could also become effected.
This development now add fuel to an already menacing fire for Dota 2 international players – recognized recently by Valve in a round-table discussion with PC Gamer. Valve reportedly will even consider moving the pinnacle of all events – TI to international soil.
Any pressure on visas getting into the United States is worrisome for us (…) We’re gonna run the event no matter what. Ideally we’d run it here [in Seattle] because it has a bunch of advantages being close to our office. But the event’s going to happen. So yes, if it became too difficult, we’d find a way.
– Erik Johnson, Valve
Johnson admits the logistics would be quite difficult to arrange and organize the event outside the US, but its not impossible. The first International was held at the trade show GamesCom in Cologne, Germany where they unveiled Dota 2 to the world.
TI6 and Boston Major Visa issues
In December, another visa bureaucratic process has claimed victims in the Dota 2 scene. Days before the Boston Major, the directly invited Filipino sensations, Execration, was informed that they will not be able to travel to the United States to participate in the event. Their visas had been delayed, due to inadequate timing of receiving documents and gaining USCIS approval.
Both LGD.FY and IG.Vitality had received official denials for two players each on their teams and were forced to participate in the Major with two stand ins.
ViCi Gaming.Reborn was one of four teams to experience the woes of the cumbersome and anxiety producing visa application process for The International 6.
LGD Gaming’s Xue “September” Zhichuan had been denied his visa for a fourth time and was not able attend TI6. He hadbeen replaced by coach/substitute Wang “Banana” Jiao – no stranger to the Internationals.
Luckily, TnC and Execration are already arrived in Seattle as their visas were approved in the witching hour before the main event. After weeks of heart wrenching anxiety and uncertainty, the two Filipino teams – TnC and Execration had finally resolved their visa issues with the support of Senator Bam Aquino and help once again from Senator Cantwell in the United States.
Dota 2 visa issues over the previous years
The visa application process and its outcome weighs heavily on teams traveling to Seattle, for The International. The lack of legal sanctioning can definitely end up taking its toll on players and fans alike.
Last year, after an onslaught of visa denials right before The International 5, Valve reached out to US Senator Maria Cantwell and asked for help providing assistance to struggling teams.
Akbar “Sonneiko” Butaev’s US visa was denied for three times, last year, right before The International 5. The support player managed to get approval during his fourth appointment at the US Embassy.
Chinese team EHOME faced the same situation, last year, when Chen “Cty” Tianyu got his US visa request denied before The International 5. At that time, LGD’s Business Development Consultant, Orrin Xu, reported that the US Embassy “completely disregarded Valve’s invitation letter”.
TI5 Wild Card contenders, Vega Squadron, went through the same struggles, when Semion “CemaTheSlayeR” Krivulya’s visa application was denied twice. CemaTheSlayeR faced the same situation once again, when he was forced to stay behind in Moscow and arrive later in Frankfurt for the first Dota 2 Major, due to visa complications.
Before The International 5, Team Empire managed to secure a US visa for Maxim “yoky” Kim after two failed attempts. According to the organization, Yoky’s visa application was successful thanks to supporting documentation from an article written by US sports broadcasting giant ESPN, referring to the team’s situation of playing without one of their members due to visa issues. The road to approval was long and arduous for the CIS team. Throughout 2015, they faced obstacles and challenges one after another in relation to obtaining visas. They were forced to enlist the help of Gleb “Funn1k” Lipatnikov to stand in at the MLG Pro League Championships, when Maxim “Yoky” Kim had his US visa denied for a second time. Team Empire’s success as MLG Columbus Pro League Champions had earned them a direct invite to the MLG Pro League held in partnership with ESPN X-Games in June, but the team was forced to withdraw due to visa issues.
In 2015, Ilya “lil-_-HarRDy” Ilyuk – who was on Virtus.Pro at the time – was unable to obtain a visa for the Dota 2 League Season 5 LAN finals in Las Vegas.
The same year, Jio “Jeyo” Madayag stood in for Mineski at The Summit 4, in Los Angeles. Jeyo replaced Ryan Jay “Bimbo” Qui, who was unable to secure his US visa.
Southeast Asian team Rave had a string of unfortunate visa issues, last year. The Filipino team was forced to withdraw from StarSeries Season XII, in order to secure their visas for MLG Columbus. Ironically, they could not obtain the visas on time and were forced to withdraw from that tournament as well. After additional issues regarding their “employment” in South Korea, the team received national media attention and the backing of a senator. Their story had a happy ending, as they eventually managed to get visas for The Summit 3 in LA.
Invictus Gaming’s arrival to Bucharest, Romania, for the StarSeries XII DreamHack Bucharest 2015 LAN finals was delayed after the team was held up at the Frankfurt Airport due to Schengen visa issues. Frankurt airport police had detained Wong “ChuaN” Hock Chuan for twelve hours. The team was delayed and arrived in Romania minutes before they had to compete.
HellRaisers had to seek a stand-in for the Red Bull Battle Grounds in Santa Monica, California, after Artyom “Artes” Gorobey’s visa was denied. This unfortunate event was even more painful, as HR had already withdrawn from the D2CL playoffs, in order to have time to work on their visas for Red Bull Battle Grounds 2015.
Vega Squadron earned the third and last European spot for the MLG Pro League Season 2 LAN finals on May 19th, 2015, when they took down London Conspiracy, 2:0, in the qualifier finals. However, the CIS squad was left with too little time to secure their US visas and were therefore forced to withdraw from the event.
In 2014, Armand “bOne7” Pittner was denied his US visa for the Monster Energy Invitational in Austin, Texas. Cloud 9 hired an immigration lawyer to secure his visa for The International 4.
Four out of five players from the SEA team Arrow Gaming were denied their visas to attend TI4. The team benefited from additional supporting documents provided by Valve and backing from Malaysia’s Minister of Youth and Sports, and managed to get their visas in the end.
The entire Chinese team CIS, except for Dominik “Black^” Reitmeier who holds a German passport, were denied their visa applications during an interview with the US embassy, in 2014. They later appealed the decision and gained approval.
While on the Mousesports roster, Alexandru “ComeWithMe” Crăciunescu was denied his US visa and replaced by Kuro “KuroKy” Salehi Takhasomi for The International 2012.
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