Most people that follow esports know that one of the biggest esports events of the year starts tomorrow: Dota 2's The International. This tournament boasts a 20+ million dollar prize pool, and is one of the primer events of the year across all esports titles. Needless to say, such a large event requires a skilled on-air talent team. Valve, the owner of Dota 2 and the host of The International, hired 25+ highly skilled and popular individuals to help put on the show. These were all paid positions, and a huge feather in the cap of anyone invited and hired to participate.
Enter Henrik "AdmiralBulldog" Ahnberg. A well known professional Dota 2 player, he recently moved away from an active role as a player into the broadcasting and talent side of esports. As such, he was one of the people hired to provide on-air casting for the event. However, he was prevented entrance by U.S. Customs this morning due to issues with his Visa. Here is a link to his statement, and the language subject to my discussion today:
"I got contacted by valve(pgl) if I wanted to be part of ti7 and I of course said yes. Soon after that they asked me for passport and visa information which i provided,I have a b1/b2 visa. It's for tourism and business, which I didn't think much of I'm kinda there to do business? I should probably looked into more myself but I heard nothing more from valve or pgl so I assumed they reviewed it and thought it's all good.
. . .
Then the US customs, it took around 1 hour 30 minutes to get up to the us custom officer where I told him I was here to work as a commentator on a tournament hosted by valve. He then led me a away to a little room filled with maybe 20 other people and asked me to wait for a few minutes.
. . .
The officers told me that what valve was doing is not okay, if valve are bringing in people to work for them they need to make sure everyone has working visa. I find it hard to believe valve is doing something wrong but at the same time I don't know what i was doing wrong."
Visa issues are a common problem in the esports industry. The international nature of esports, and its ability to transcend borders, leads to problems in the physical world comes calling and puts requirements on international travel and business. The United States is no different--they have stringent visa requirements, with different categories of visas granting access for different activities.
This is likely where Bulldog ran into problems. According to his post, he had a B1/B2 visa. This is a common visa scheme; they are often combined for general travel purposes. This visa is called the "Visitor for Business/Visitor for Pleasure" visa. Individuals with a B1/B2 visa may do the following:
Consulting with business associates
Traveling for a scientific, educational, professional or business convention, or a conference on specific dates
Settling an estate
Negotiating a contract
Participating in short-term training
Notice the major category that is not included: gainful employment. Bulldog informed customs that he was working an event in the United States, which set off a red flag with customs. While I can't be positive, as I was not in attendance, this appears to the be reason his visa was revoked and he was denied entrance.
This all could have been avoided had Bulldog acquired the correct visa. I have no interest in pointing fingers--the loss of a fantastic personality at one of my favorite yearly events is tragedy enough. However, we must learn from the mistakes of others to avoid them in the future. Bulldog and the Valve team likely should have had Bulldog apply for the O-1 Visa: Individuals with Extraordinary Ability or Achievement. This visa allows an individual with an "extraordinary ability in the sciences, education, business, athletics, arts, or motion picture or entertainment industry" the ability to be gainfully employed in the United States for a short period of time for a stated purpose, cleared ahead of time by Customs. Of course, this would have required Bulldog to present evidence that he was at the "one of the small percentage who has risen to the very top of the field of endeavor," but given his expertise and worldwide reputation in esports it is highly unlikely he would have been denied entrance, especially if Valve provided supporting documentation about The International.
Moving forward, players and organizers must be more cognizant about the hoops embedded in the U.S. Custom system. While I've seen some online posts about how "Bulldog just didn't know how to lie well enough to Customs," this is not a valid approach for the good of the esports industry. I applaud Bulldog's honesty, even if it had a negative impact on his International appearance.