Uncertainty surrounds several esports pros in wake of US executive order

by Daniel Rosen Jan 29 2017
Thumbnail image courtesy of Richard Heathcote / Action Images

Several esport athletes are affected by a 90-day travel ban that will bar citizens of seven countries in the Middle East and North Africa from entering the United States of America.

The ban is part of an executive order signed by President Donald Trump, and will suspend US visas for any citizen of Iraq, Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Libya and Yemen. According to the New York Times, the ban prevents citizens of those countries from entering the US if they hold a passport issued by those nations, even if they hold citizenship from another country.

Several people who hold citizenship from those seven countries were detained in airports after the ban was enacted and were threatened with deportation. According to the Associated Press, they were freed after the American Civil Liberties Union filed a court petition and received an emergency order from a New York judge that prevented deportation of people from the nations subject to the travel ban, arguing that their legal rights had been violated.

Several prominent esport athletes hail from those seven countries, including Street Fighter V player Arman "Phenom" Hanjani. While Phenom lives in Norway, he holds Iranian citizenship and would be unable to enter the United States for American events on the Capcom Pro Tour until the ban expires. The first Premier tournament of the 2017 CPT season will be Final Round 20, which will run from March 10-12.

Other esports athletes that may be affected include Super Smash Bros. for Wii U player Ramin "Mr. R" Delshad, who also holds Iranian citizenship. Mr. R recently signed with Elevate, and the organization planned on moving him to the United States so that he could be closer to the game's biggest tournaments. A spokesperson for Elevate told theScore esports that they are unsure exactly how the travel ban will affect Mr. R, and are hoping it will pass.

"At this time, we are not 100 percent sure what impact, if any, this has on our process of getting Ramin stateside," the spokesperson said. "Our plan is to just move forward on all appropriate paperwork and hope for the best."

Vainglory player Hamza "IraqiZorro" Najim is Iraqi-Canadian and would also be subject to the travel ban. IraqiZorro attended the 2016 Vainglory World Championship with GankStars Cerberus and is also a co-owner of the team. GankStars' CEO Alex Novosad told theScore esports that IraqiZorro was supposed to travel to California to join the rest of his team in a team house, but their legal counsel has said that he will be unable to do so because of the travel ban, despite his P-1 visa.

"We're deeply saddened by the new administration's executive order that prevents some background-checked, legal visa-holding travelers from entering the country," Novosad said. "IraqiZorro, GankStars, and the rest of the Vainglory community are affected by and punished for something none of them had anything to do with. Mr. Najim entered and left the US multiple times, never violating his visa terms or any US law, and there's absolutely no reason for the US government to bar him from entering."

The Canadian Prime Minister's Office released a statement late Saturday night saying that the US State Department will allow Canadian citizens to travel freely to the United States despite the travel ban. However, according to CNN, the Department of Homeland Security was overruled by the White House earlier in the day when the DHS believed that the ban would not apply to green card holders. On Sunday, Canada's immigration minister Ahmed Hussen reiterated that Canadian citizens and permanent residents will be unnaffected by the travel ban.

Novosad noted that the Vainglory spring championships will be held in Europe, but the organization hopes this can all be resolved before the summer championship in the United States. Super Evil Megacorp CEO Kristian Segerstråle released a public letter to his staff and the Vainglory community in which he mentioned IraqiZorro's inability to enter the US, and said that the company stands against the travel ban.

"For the many migrants, green card holders (such as myself), and holders of various visas at Super Evil Megacorp at the Lair and around the world the fact that something like this can happen is pretty scary. Both the order itself and all the rhetoric around it," Segerstråle wrote. "I am certain that cooler heads will prevail and that the checks and balances in the US system of government will ensure that, the United States will revert to its status as a defender of equality and justice of all. Meanwhile, to anyone concerned about this; know that I will personally use all resources at my disposal to shield any staff and their families who might feel vulnerable as a result."

Riot Games, who run the League of Legends Championship Series, will hold the NA LCS Spring Finals in Vancouver, Canada from April 22-23, which would fall just at the end of the 90-day ban period. When asked for comment on how this could affect players who may be unable to return to the US if they leave the country, a spokesperson for Riot Games said that the organization is unable to provide definitive info given how quickly the situation is developing.

Several members of the esports community have also spoken out about the ban on Twitter, whether it directly affects them or not.

theScore esports has reached out to several esports organizations that may be affected by the travel ban for comment, and will update this story as it develops.

Daniel Rosen is a news editor for theScore esports. You can follow him on Twitter.