Visas and Dota - a bittersweet relationship
Ever since the start of the professional scene in Dota 2 with the inception of the International, visa issues have always stood as a solid hurdle to the development of the scene and the careers of many. The first International to be held in Seattle - the International 2012 - saw Team MUFC, a Malaysian direct invite, failed to make it to Seattle and had to be replaced by mousesports. Even Mousesports, at the same event, failed to secure a visa for Romanian Alexandru 'ComeWithMe' Craciunescu and Kuro 'KuroKy' Salehi Takhasomi had to finally replace him. Later, the entire Chinese team CIS, except for Dominik 'Black^' Reitmeier who held a German passport, were denied their visa applications during an interview with the US embassy in 2014 and had to appeal the decision to get approval.
The World's Most Powerful Passports. source: passportindex.org
An onslaught of visa denials were faced in the International 2015 with Natus Vincere's Akbar 'SoNNeikO' Butaev, EHOME's Chen 'Cty' Tianyu, Vega Squadron's Semion 'CemaTheSlayeR' Krivulya, and Team Empire's Maxim 'yoky' Kim all getting denied for their visas more than once. The story continued at TI6 when the two South-east Asian teams - TNC and Execration - both had their US visas for their entire rosters denied but were able to get them at the end with the help of Valve and Phillipine Senator Bam Aquino. Last year's TI also saw Team Empire's safelaner Vladimir 'Chappie' Kuzmenko unable to receive his passport in time as well as Henrik 'AdmiralBulldog' Ahnberg, much to the despair of his "plebs", fail to clear the immigration control upon arrival in the United States.
While visa issues have caused much inconvenience to players all around the world, it is mostly the players from developing countries who are at the receiving end of the troubles. A country that comes to mind is Pakistan.
With not a whole lot of representation in the international scene, the Hassan brothers - Sumail 'SumaiL' Hassan and Yawar 'YawaR' Hassan - have historically faced quite a few visa problems due to lack of passport parity. YawaR was unable to acquire a Taiwanese visa for the ZOTAC Cup in Taiwan, and as a result his team, is GG, had to withdraw from the event. SumaiL has been luckier, but it would have been absolutely disastrous for both if, say, Pakistan had been included on the list of countries on Donald Trump's travel ban.
With the World Electronic Sports Games having recently ended, crowning Team Russia as the champion, the chance for the representation of a Pakistani roster on the international stage for the very first time was missed in an unfortunate series of events, with Eximious Esports, who had qualified for the APAC Finals through their national qualifiers and later defeated Team Lebanon in the offline LAN Finals to gain a spot in the main event, being unable to pull through due to visa issues. While all professional teams have had their share of visa issues, it is always disheartening to see a young team missing their shot at proving themselves due to Visa issues.
Eximious Esports playing the LAN Finals at the World Electronic Sports Games. source: WESG
GosuGamers had the chance to talk to Eximious eSports' midlaner Shiraz 'Sh1zzY' Akhtar, who shared his feelings about the matter:
“I won’t lie about it, everyone’s pretty dull and bitter about it. ”
With the International now being shifted to Vancouver from Seattle, many are expecting that there might be fewer visa issues at this International. On the flip-side, all the talent and players that have secured multi-entry multi-year visas for the United States will now need to reapply for a Canadian visa and although Canada's process is rumored to be easier, competitors will have their fingers crossed.
The question that arises, however, is what should be done? Some countries are now trying to legitimize eSports as a proper sport, with the addition of esports as an official medal sport at the 2022 Asian Games in China as well as the Russian Sports Ministry recognizing it as a sport discipline. Perhaps the world may eventually move towards unanimous recognition of esports as a sport, bringing it to the Olympics and easing Visas for thousands of competitors? Yet, for now, it seems like there's a long way to go.