The culmination of three years of competitive Apex Legends, the ALGS Championship in Raleigh, was supposed to be a victory lap. After COVID-19 derailed so many planned events and tournaments, Apex was finally going to have its big day. The best competitors from around the world, the best play that Apex has to offer, a $2 million prize pool up for grabs, and thousands of fans ready to watch their favorite players in person.
The run-up to the North Carolina LAN, however, has been plagued with issues for players. For all players involved in the ALGS Championship, practice has been almost non-existent. And for a few players, the tournament occurring in the U.S. has led to the distinct possibility that several teams will need to field substitutes.
Ali “Naghz” Naghawi is a professional player for Element 6, a squad that hails from the U.K. After helping Element 6 qualify for the Split Two playoffs in Stockholm, Naghz and Element 6 secured their spot at the ALGS Championship with a 25th-place finish in Stockholm, alongside their top-five placing in the EMEA Split One Playoffs. Now, however, it doesn’t appear that Naghz will be able to play in the Championship at all.
Despite being a U.K. citizen, Naghz says he’s ineligible for the U.S.’ Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) visa due to visiting family in Iran nearly a decade ago.
The ESTA is a system that determines traveler eligibility for the Visa Waiver Program. The Visa Waiver Program allows citizens of certain countries to travel to the U.S. for up to 90 days for business or recreation without obtaining a visa. The U.K. is one of the countries whose citizens are eligible for this process. But according to U.S. and U.K. visa sites, anyone who has traveled to Iran after March 1, 2011 is ineligible for the ESTA. And since travelers can only access the Visa Waiver Program through the ESTA, that means Naghz has to count on the expedited visa process to enter the U.S. and compete in Raleigh.
According to Naghz, he was not approved for the expedited visa, and as such, he won’t be able to compete at the ALGS Championship.
This isn’t the first time that the ALGS has had issues with ensuring players can travel to their events. Even without looking at the travel issues CIS players faced in attending the event, players like Acend’s Ameer “VJEIX” Hassan were also unable to secure a visa to enter Sweden, forcing the EMEA Split One champs to use their coach for the LAN event. Acend finished the tournament placing 37th out of 40 teams.
While some players are trying to figure out how to get into the country for the Championship event, most others just want to be able to practice the game. That’s been made impossible, however, as private lobbies have been so unstable since the launch of season 13 that several smaller tournaments have had to be canceled, and teams haven’t been able to scrim.
Those few tournaments that have gone on have done so despite their servers crashing frequently. Even if the Raleigh LAN isn’t subject to unstable private servers, many teams will be coming into the LAN without practicing in anything close to a tournament setting against the other best teams in the world. Some have resorted to just playing the game’s ranked mode together, where they’ll at least be able to practice fighting and playing with one another, albeit against many lesser opponents than they’ll face on LAN.
Apex is a game that’s enjoyed by a huge number of casual players, but several of its most popular streamers are also pros. The ALGS, who could not be reached for comment on this article, has made itself the pinnacle of Apex esports, with no other tournament series coming close to the prize pools the ALGS offers. With less than a month before Raleigh, however, players find themselves unable to travel to an international country on short notice and unable to even practice for the event that they’ve been working toward for a year.
For a game that’s generated billions of dollars in earnings, that’s simply not good enough.