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Gabe Newell on US travel ban: 'We have people at Valve who can't go home'

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The Trump administration’s recent travel ban on citizens from seven countries has already prompted many games industry figures to weigh in on the move. Though currently overturned by a federal judge, the ban is still in dispute between the administration and the appeals court, meaning companies are still considering what it could mean for them.

During a roundtable discussion with PC Gamer and other journalists earlier today at Valve's studio in Bellevue, Washington, Valve’s Gabe Newell and Erik Johnson commented on the travel ban, laying out how it has affected the company’s business. It hits them in two obvious areas: hiring and esports. As far as the latter is concerned, Valve’s annual Dota 2 International could be affected. According to Johnson, “any pressure on visas getting into the United States is worrisome for us.”

Newell added that because esports is such a nascent industry, it's already difficult for some players' work status to be recognized, especially since many players are minors. In 2014, Asian teams CIS-Game and Arrow Gaming were initially denied US visas in the process of preparing for The International. After four attempts, Arrow Gaming was able to obtain visas and compete, but CIS was not.

The US government's ban adds to these existing challenges, says Valve. "If you're an opera singer, it's pretty easy to get a visa. Like the State Department kind of understands who these people are. If you're a Nobel Prize winner, they kind of know who you are," said Newell.

Facing the prospect of more logistical hassles organising The International, Johnson said Valve would consider hosting the event outside of the US. “We're gonna run the event no matter what. Ideally we'd run it here [in Seattle] because it has a bunch of advantages being close to our office. But the event's going to happen. So yes, if it became too difficult, we'd find a way.”

On the topic of Valve’s employees and whether any had been affected by the ban, Newell confirmed some have. “We have people who work at Valve who can't go home,” he said. “They've been here for years. They pay taxes. They cheer for New England in the Super Bowl and we try to not hold that against them...

“But you know, they can't leave the country,” he continued. “So, like, there's some event outside the country, and for the first time we say 'Wait, they can't go because they can't get back.' So that's a problem, not just these hypothetical future employees but actual Valve employees. So yeah, that's a concern for us.”

The three-hour roundtable discussion touched on a range of topics, and we'll have more coverage coming soon.

Evan Lahti
Evan Lahti

Evan's a hardcore FPS enthusiast who joined PC Gamer in 2008. After an era spent publishing reviews, news, and cover features, he now oversees editorial operations for PC Gamer worldwide, including setting policy, training, and editing stories written by the wider team. His most-played FPSes are CS:GO, Team Fortress 2, Team Fortress Classic, Rainbow Six Siege, and Arma 2. His first multiplayer FPS was Quake 2, played on serial LAN in his uncle's basement, the ideal conditions for instilling a lifelong fondness for fragging. Evan also leads production of the PC Gaming Show, the annual E3 showcase event dedicated to PC gaming.