So apparently the US decided to step up its sanctions on the evil mullahs and gas killing animal Assad by banning the popular multiplayer video game League of Legends in those countries.
As tensions between the U.S. and Iran begin to boil over, the conflict has had an unexpected side effect. League of Legends, one of the most played video games of all time, has been blocked in Iran and Syria by the U.S. government.
After a U.S. military drone was shot down by the Iranian army earlier this week, the already tenuous relationship between the two countries has immediately soured even further—and Syria is also caught up in this penalty.
This is an extraordinary occurrence that hasn’t been seen in the esports sphere before.
Anyhow, apart from illustrating the schizophrenia of the USG – do they expect gamers to rise up against those regimes and do what the jihadists and MEK cultists couldn’t? do they expect this to make the boomers who run those countries sad? – this does raise an issue that is not entirely trivial.
I would wager that for a significant percentage of younger people around the world, their video games libraries are their most significant “investments” into the United States, and the foreigners they meet on multiplayer games constitute their main exposure to Americans and Westerners. In “Axis of Resistance” countries, such as Iran and Russia, this demographic will be significantly more Americanophile than the average for that country.
And they can lose access to all their content and connections should USG decide to sanction them, as happened to Crimean gamers in 2014.
As with other types of sanctions, the products in question don’t even have to be all-American to be banned because of the banal fact that the US is still the world’s single biggest market, and there are very few corporations that will be willing to go out to bat for Syrians, Iranians, and Crimeans if it means losing access to it. This is a case in point. League of Legends is developed by Riot Games, which is entirely owned by Tencent, the Chinese technology giant. In this sense, it is a microcosm of how China bows before American diktats not to import Iranian oil, despite their own strained relationship with Washington D.C. And if it isn’t acting boldly on something that directly concerns its own geopolitical interests, then it most certainly is not going to do anything to promote the consumer rights of people in the “Axis of Resistance.”
There are no obvious solutions to this. One can install a VPN, but that causes ping to go up, and some platforms, such as Steam, disallow using it to circumvent national restrictions and may permanently lock accounts found to be doing so. This is usually applied to Westerners who want to buy games at (much lower) East European prices. However, banning accounts from US-sanctioned countries would be entirely legal and predictable. There is also of course piracy. However, that isn’t entirely trivial either – the average video game these days is around ten times larger than a high quality movie, and more importantly, multiplayer games have sophisticated means of detecting pirate copies.