When Iran shot down an unpiloted American drone near the Strait of Hormuz last week, few would have expected the fallout to trickle into the world of esports. But after the United States imposed strict new sanctions on Iran, here we are.
With Iran and Syria regarded by the US as hostile states, League of Legends players in both countries are now prohibited from using the required client software.
A number of Syria and Iran-based League of Legends players tweeted messages from the client software:
“Due to U.S. laws and regulations, players in your country cannot access League of Legends at this time.
“Such restrictions are subject to change by the U.S. government, so if and when that happens, we look forward to having you back in the Rift.”
While sanctions aimed at trade, militaries, and governments are commonplace, this is a first for gaming.
In the countries impacted, LoL players have been quick to voice anger at the situation. They claim this move by the US government won’t have any discernible impact on the people in power. Considering many Syrians and Iranians live in relative poverty and video games may offer solace or enjoyment, they may well be right.
While in some parts of the world access to Virtual Point Network software can allow players to get around such regulations, the cost of VPNs in Iran and Syria is somewhat prohibitive to the general gamer.
Riot Games, it should be said, has not made any official comment on the matter. It appears the company has little choice but to obey its government. LoL access apparently falls under the sanctions’ trade prohibitions. The vast number of LoL microtransactions that take place in countries all over the world constitute a form of trade (at least for now).
What does this mean for the future of esports?
The truth is Iran and Syria don’t really put a dent in Riot Games’ coffers or reputation. But what if future sanctions of this kind were directed at China or Russia?
Those nations boast large esports-happy populations. And any ban on these citizens would likely result in a tit-for-tat ban of US players from accessing games in these regions.
You then arrive at a miniature “cold war.” Perhaps some of the world’s finest teams couldn’t or wouldn’t play in major tourneys. Can you imagine LoL Worlds without the best Chinese and Russian teams? It’d be a digital version of the 1980 Moscow Olympics.
The biggest damage, however, could be to esports’ image as a worldwide, all-inclusive sphere of entertainment. The fact that the US government has arbitrarily decided to bring esports into the political arena could have a corrosive effect.
ATTA KENARE / Staff / Getty Images