Dota 2's championship, one of the biggest events in esports, might have to find a different venue because Swedish bureaucracy is refusing to classify esports as sports, which could prevent professional players from entering the country in order to compete.
In an announcement today, game development studio Valve said that it's investigating alternate venues for the DOTA 2 championship because the Swedish Sports Federation had officially decided against adding esports to its organization. The decision means that some esports athletes would potentially be unable to get a visa to enter the country and attend the competition.
In an announcement today, Valve said that while it was preparing for the 2021 the Dota 2 championship, also known as the International,, it ran into problems with the Swedish government, namely, the Swedish Sports Federation. Valve said that it had been assured by various Swedish governing bodies that the International would be classified as an "elite sporting event," allowing DOTA 2 players to receive specific visas that would allow them to travel to the event. Unfortunately, the Swedish Sports Federation voted two weeks ago that esports would not be accepted into the federation. Valve said that its "only remaining option" was to ask Swedish Minister of the Interior to reclassify the International as an elite sporting event, which was also denied. Valve said that it appealed this decision, but is now looking for alternative locations for the International.
"With the Minister of the Interior failing to recognize The International - Dota 2 Championships as an elite sporting event, anyone attempting to procure a visa for travel into Sweden for TI10 (including players, talent, and staff) would be denied," Valve wrote. "The absence of this official recognition also means individual border agents would be making decisions about entry for those traveling to the event from countries outside the EU who do not typically need a visa to enter Sweden.”
Per Strängberg, a spokesperson for Sweden's Minister of the Interior Mikael Damberg, told Waypoint that the government was not in a position to help Valve.
"The Swedish Government has not declined to recognise Dota 2 as an elite sporting event. The government does not make those decisions or judgements," Strängberg told Waypoint in an email. "Questions about those judgments should be asked to Riksidrottsförbundet, the Swedish Sports Confederation."
Waypoint has reached out to the Swedish Sports Confederation for comment but did not immediately get a response.
Strängberg also directed Waypoint to the government website, which explains that EU Member States have temporarily banned non-essential travel to the EU in order to mitigate the effects of COVID-19. The ban does not apply to people with "an essential need or function in Sweden," like "people travelling for the purpose of performing highly skilled work, if their contribution is necessary from an economic perspective and the work cannot be postponed."
If you've ever played Dota 2 you already know that playing it on a professional level is clearly "highly skilled work." I don't know if it's "necessary," but an event the size of The International, where players compete for millions of dollars in an arena with a giant audience, is presumably going to have some kind of economic impact if it's postponed or taken to a different country.
The International has occasionally been held internationally. For six out of the nine years it's been held, the event has taken place in Seattle. The first International was held in Cologne, Germany, and in the last two years it's taken place in Vancouver and Shanghai. The event was supposed to take place in Stockholm, Sweden, in 2020, but had to be postponed due to the pandemic.
Waypoint reached out to Valve, Stockholm Live, and the Swedish Minister of the Interior but they did not immediately respond to a request for comment.