Riot Games’ League of Legends recently became inaccessible to players in Iran and Syria. According to a post by an Iranian player on the official League forums, attempting to access the game from those countries displays a message explaining that “U.S. laws and regulations” are behind the block.
The U.S. laws and regulations referred to are the tightened sanctions imposed on Iran by President Donald Trump on Monday. The sanctions are, at least in part, a punitive measure against Iran for shooting down an American drone on June 20, and are designed to target the personal assets of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Speaking to Slate, a Riot Games representative explained, “It’s our interpretation of sanctions that providing access to League — even if it didn’t include access to the store — could be construed as a service under U.S. sanctions.” Similar online services such as EA’s Origin and the Epic Games Store have been inaccessible in Iran for some time, with Origin not operating there since as early as 2016.
Games getting swept up in politics is nothing new — hello loot boxes — but it’s still uncommon to see a title become completely inaccessible due to global political machinations. Back in 2006, PlayStation 2 survival horror title Rule of Rose struggled to receive a European release after becoming the subject of a dubious moral panic. Franco Frattini, then European Union vice president for justice, freedom and security, railed against the game’s “obscene cruelty and brutality” and called for overhauls to the Pan European Game Information content rating system. His efforts got the game banned in the U.K., Australia, and New Zealand. More recently, the Taiwanese indie horror title Devotion was removed from Steam in China and then worldwide after a brigade of Chinese trolls review bombed it for its alleged criticisms of Chinese president Xi Jinping. Devotion is still unavailable through Steam.
News of the sanctions comes at an inopportune time for Riot Games. In July of last year Kotaku’s Cecilia D’Anastasio published an exposé on the culture of sexism at the company. Since then, the company has been in the news several additional times. In May, employees staged a walkout to protest its policy of forced arbitration in sexual misconduct cases, and earlier this month it was confirmed that the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing is investigating the company for alleged gender discrimination.
Some Iranian and Syrian players are supposedly playing the game with the use of an IP-blocking VPN. It’s not an ideal solution, though. The use of such devices can have a negative impact on connection speeds, a death sentence in a competitive multiplayer game like League.
How long Iranian and Syrian players will be unable to officially access League of Legends is, unfortunately, out of Riot’s hands. As the author of the original forum post puts it, “the political problems between Iran and America are between governments. Players and people have nothing to do with this.” Global thermonuclear annihilation is a big enough looming threat, but now you’ve got to take video games away? Come on, governments of Earth, give this guy a break.