Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Clear Night 47° Clear
News >  Business

Threat of visa restrictions raises concerns about Seattle hosting video-gaming competition

UPDATED: Fri., Feb. 10, 2017

An e-sports player takes part in a computer game festival in Leipzig, Germany, last month. Hosts of the video-gaming tournament The International say visa restrictions could affect attendance for the annual competition, scheduled to be held in August in Seattle. (Jens Meyer / Associated Press)
An e-sports player takes part in a computer game festival in Leipzig, Germany, last month. Hosts of the video-gaming tournament The International say visa restrictions could affect attendance for the annual competition, scheduled to be held in August in Seattle. (Jens Meyer / Associated Press)
By Matt Day The Seattle Times

Another potential casualty of President Trump’s suspended travel ban is The International, the annual competitive video-gaming competition that draws thousands of spectators to Seattle for a weeklong tournament.

The tournament, held at KeyArena in recent years and scheduled to begin Aug. 10 this year, features teams of professional players squaring off in “Dota 2,” the online multiplayer personal computer game. Thousands of spectators pay to watch. Many of the teams and their fans fly from outside the U.S. to participate in the event, a cornerstone of the world of e-sports, as competitive video gaming is known.

Executives at Bellevue-based Valve, maker of “Dota” and host of the tournament, were asked at a news event Thursday at the company’s headquarters whether Trump’s executive order and potential future visa restrictions could move the company to rethink the site of the tournament.

“Any pressure on visas getting into the United States is worrisome for us,” said Erik Johnson, a longtime Valve employee who works primarily in business development. “We’re going to run the event, no matter what. Ideally we’d run it here. But the event’s going to happen. If it became too difficult we’d have to find a way.”

The tournament was held in Germany in 2011, its inaugural year.

Subsequent events have been held at Seattle’s Benaroya Hall and KeyArena. Last year’s tournament boasted a prize pool of more than $20 million, the largest in e-sports history. This tournament is usually held in August.

Valve has occasionally faced difficulty securing entry visas for competitors. The company credited Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell’s office with helping smooth entry for professional gamers held up over the years.

“If you’re an opera singer, it’s pretty easy to get a visa,” Valve co-founder Gabe Newell said Thursday. “The State Department kind of understands who these people are. If you’re a Nobel Prize winner, they kind of know who you are.”

Less so for professional gamers, many of whom have little in the way of ties to the U.S. to share with immigration authorities, he said.

Potential changes aside, Valve is feeling the effects of Trump’s executive order, which temporarily suspended entry into the U.S. for refugees and citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries before a federal judge in Seattle halted enforcement.

“We have people who work at Valve who can’t go home,” Newell said “They’ve been here for years. That’s a problem, not just these hypothetical future employees but actual Valve employees.“

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter

Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.