League of Legends Blocked in Iran, Syria

Two hands hover over a keyboard with pink backlighting.
A gamer types on a keyboard in the training room in Berlin.
Tobias Schwarz/Getty Images

Gamers in Syria and Iran no longer have access to one of the world’s most popular multiplayer online video game, League of Legends.

It’s not because of hacking or server problems—it’s because of geopolitics.

Over the weekend, a user based in Iran wrote on the League of Legends forum that they received this message when they tried to play:

Warning message from League of Legends
Riot Games

The player wrote:

im so shocked.

i woke up this morning. and i cant play anymore.

IRAN is one of big EUW League Communities. there are alot of players here and now they cant play the game.

i played league for years. alot of people i know too. we cant play anymore. i love league of legends. i wanna play. its the only game i enjoy playing. please let us play.

political problems between IRAN and america is between gorverments. players and people have nothing to to with this.

Players and people have nothing to with this.

Developer Riot Games’ decision to block both Iranian and Syrian players from League of Legends comes after the Iranian army shot down a U.S. drone it claimed had crossed into its airspace—an incident that almost led the U.S. to conduct a military strike on Iran. On Monday, President Donald Trump signed a new agreement sanction targeting Iran and its Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

A representative from Riot Games told Slate, “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.”

Because of the new U.S.-Iran tensions, companies may be less inclined to take a risk working with the country. Richard Nephew is a senior fellow of foreign policy for the Brookings Institution and an expert on sanctions. In an email, he said, “It is certainly the case that these kinds of service providers are increasingly conscious of the risks of providing such services to Iran, which I would agree would be potentially sanctionable. The regs are pretty clear in describing what is sanctionable.” He added, “There are some exceptions for personal IT, but limited really to communications technology and the like, intended to allow civil society to engage with the rest of the world.”

Some League of Legend players might argue that the game does allow civil society to engage with the rest of the world. According to Dot Esports, “The ban hasn’t stopped some players from cheating the system and using VPNs to get around the authentication process. … But this still makes it quite difficult for League players in these affected countries to play since VPNs can be quite expensive in these areas.”

Unfortunately for those players, Nephew doesn’t think that the ban will be lifted any time soon: “There is a slippery slope and that’s why sanctions tend to have fairly bright lines. If you allow video games, would you allow other transactions of goods and services? If a video game online is OK, why not physical DVDs or what-have-you? … And there may be good arguments to let all of these goods go to Iran, but, under the embargo, since 1995, we’ve had pretty bright lines to avoid these conundrums, and I don’t see that changing.”