It isn’t often U.S. politics affects esports, but president Donald Trump’s executive order barring citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States puts the immediate futures of two high-profile competitive fighting gamers in limbo.
Street Fighter V player Arman “Phenom” Hanjani and Super Smash Bros. Wii U player Ramin “Mr. R” Delshad are both of Iranian descent. Despite not living in Iran – Phenom was born and resides in Norway and Mr. R was born in Iran but resides in The Netherlands – neither can travel to the United States due to the temporary immigration ban.
“It’s very confusing,” Phenom told Yahoo Esports. “I got worried and didn’t know what was going on. I saw new information coming out like certain countries being exempt, especially in Europe. But at the same time there were a lot of stories about people being deported left and right. I didn’t know what to think.”
Competitive gamers having problems getting into the U.S. because of visa issues is nothing new. Smash Melee pro William “Leffen” Hjelte spent nearly a year trying to acquire a P-1 visa that would allow him entry to the U.S.
But this immigration ban has halted individuals from entering the country while they are subjected to a more stringent vetting process, even if they had already gone through a lengthy vetting process to acquire visas.
Here’s where things get tricky. According to a page on the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website explaining the executive order, dual nationals are allowed to enter the U.S. provided they have a valid visa in a passport issued by a country not on the list. However, in an email to the U.S. Embassy in The Netherlands, Mr.R was told otherwise.
Phenom said he saw an article that mentioned the ban did affect dual citizens and grew worried. He plans on contacting the U.S. Embassy in Norway soon for clarity on the situation. As was the case at many U.S. airports on the day the ban was issued, no one appears to understand or is following the executive order exactly as it is written.
“I think it’s absolutely insane this is even an issue just because I was born in Iran,” Mr. R told Yahoo Esports. “I’m agnostic and the last time I was in Iran was 10 years ago. I’ve lived in the Netherlands pretty much my entire life. Politics in the US is a joke, honestly. I’ve been following the election even before Trump got elected and couldn’t actually believe how some of the Republican debates went down. It really seemed like a reality TV show rather than a political debate.”
Not being able to enter the country for 90 days means Phenom could possibly miss out on three Capcom Pro Tour 2017 Premier Events in the U.S.: Final Round in March, NorCal Regionals in April, and Combo Breaker in May. Phenom said his intention was to go to Final Round since it is the first Premier Event of the year.
For Mr. R, it puts a damper on his plans to travel to the U.S. to compete and potentially stay in the country through Evo 2017. The top 10 Smash 4 player would potentially miss four events on the monthly 2GG Championship Series circuit. That could be a huge blow to his shot at the championship finale in December.
As confusing as the situation is now, there is no guarantee things will change after the current executive order lapses because we really have no idea what Trump’s administration has planned beyond that.
“People are protesting it really hard. They’ll be pressured to the point where I don’t think they can keep it longer than 90 days but who knows. Maybe they don’t care and make it indefinite. CPT would be over for me and I would go to Asian tournaments for the experience,” Phenom said.
Mr. R has already confirmed he is going to Japan for Tokaigi 2017 and is considering staying a few months to train.
“I’m not surprised this happened, especially with Trump. [Barack] Obama wasn’t about dividing people and cultures but with Trump, I kind of had the idea he would do something like this,” Phenom said. “He got voted in so there’s nothing you can do about that.”
Michael Martin hopes this issue is resolved soon so we can see these players compete in the U.S. Follow him on Twitter @Bizarro_Mike.