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Photo by: StarLadder

It should’ve ended with a simple punishment. A monetary fine, perhaps, or even a few months of sabbatical, just to cool heads.

In every other situation and every other esport, this would likely be the sanction against Carlo “Kuku” Palad. Instead, the Dota 2 player and captain of TNC Predator is now denied entry into a city, all because of a moment of childish behavior.

The story developed over several weeks during last November. It started with Kuku using a racial slur in a pub game and then tried to cover it up in the poorest, most naïve way possible with the incompetent “help” of his manager. With all this developing on the eve of the Chongqing Major, however, the local Chinese government saw that as a great opportunity to flex muscles and show who’s really running the gig in a textbook overreaction.

By the start of December, the whole drama was done and dusted. Kuku took a leave of absence and TNC played the Chongqing Major with Ryo “ryOyr” Hasegawa instead. Even Valve had woken up from their hands-off slumber and had issued a comment that “Kuku is not banned by the Chinese government” and that they “do not believe [Kuku’s] presence creates a security threat.” Valve proceeded to ban Kuku themselves, saying it’s a punishment for how the whole situation was mistreated internally.

It should’ve been over then. Mistake, repercussion, and a chance for repentance. That should be the natural sequence of events after screwing up. But apparently, a racial slur was too much to swallow for some.

If what you get for being an idiot in-game is a ban to enter a city, where does it all go from there?

“After inquiries to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Public Security in Chongqing, we regret to inform you that Kuku is not allowed to enter Chongqing to participate in the WESG in accordance with the decision of the city government.

As the tournament organizer, WESG will follow the instructions of the local government. This is the final decision.”

This statement was issued today, Feb. 11, informing the public that the Chongqing government just isn’t ready to forget and forgive Kuku’s misgivings. After winning the SEA qualifiers, TNC Predator will once again have to look for a replacement for their captain at the whim of a government clerk.

The events leading up to the Chongqing Major were already alarming. They set up a precedent that could lead up to a chilling future, where governments get involved to dictate how third-party businesses are carried out. The actions of the Chongqing government were worrying at best and terrifying at worst. If what you get for being an idiot in-game is a ban to enter a city, where does it all go from there? What happens if more cities — say Shanghai, where TI 9 is supposed to be held — follow suit? What happens if there are more and more protests against government involvement from key figures in the industry?

At the time, Valve’s words were some comfort at least. The company’s assurances that Kuku was not under real threat and that he’s not in fact banned led the community believe — at least for a little while — that it is all a giant misunderstanding. Valve’s statement read as if they are in control, and it’s easier to trust Valve than it is to trust the Chinese government — for obvious reasons.

This makes the plot twist all the more bitter: Valve never really were in control. Their decision wasn’t independent from Chinese authorities. Unless the Chongqing government completely changed its mind between December and now, Valve’s reassurances were a complete lie. Kuku’s ban was real and so was the threat to his safety. It still is.

What’s more harrowing is that this is a reality Dota 2 fans might have to get used to.

What’s more harrowing is that this is a reality Dota 2 fans might have to get used to — a world where government officials decide who is allowed to play in China and who isn’t, all based on de facto non-crimes. Around the Chongqing Major, Kuku’s controversy was merely a precedent, something we believed would never happen again, but that’s no longer the case. Since WESG is in no way connected to Valve’s DPC circuit, it is also unlikely the Bellevue HQ will break its culture of no-comment to fix this.

Maybe Valve don’t believe Kuku deserves redemption, although their statement on his ban cited that the punishment “does not affect future tournaments.” Or, maybe, they don’t think it’s worth interfering. After all, this is just one non-DPC tournament, one of hundreds of Dota 2 players on one of dozens of pro teams against the power of the Chinese market.

It wouldn’t be surprising to see Valve follow the will and whim of Chinese authorities in interest of their future cooperation. In late November, Valve and Perfect World officially launched Steam China to cater to a market that already made up a quarter of Steam’s population. And right from the start, it became clear that what happens in China will likely be outside Valve’s control.

Reports on Steam China stated that Perfect World will impose content control and censorship on steam in accordance with Chinese regulations. This in itself is in direct contrast to Valve’s own policy of allowing basically everyone and everything on the platform, but why fight China? There are times that adhering to some idealistic principles is just bad for business.

Imagine an esports industry where Orwellian clerks get to decide what happens to tournaments. Imagine having to get used to it.

You might think that Kuku’s bans and Steam China are too far apart to have a real connection and, technically, they are. However, these two cases hint at Valve’s unwillingness to step in and do what’s right — stand up for their own product and the people who make a living out of it and promote it worldwide. This communicates that they are willing to allow a government interfere with their own and third parties’ businesses and governments should be the last on the line to pass judgement in cases such as these.

WESG is not a DPC event so maybe it’s technically not Valve’s business. But Dota 2 as a game absolutely is, and so are those, whose livelihood depends on it. There are cases that should never, ever be the government’s call, least of all because most governments still refuse to understand what esports is.

Imagine an esports industry where Orwellian clerks get to decide what happens to tournaments. Imagine having to get used to it.

At the time of this article, Valve are yet to issue a statement on WESG and Chongqing and WESG have declined any and all comment on the matter.

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