Alex Ich leaves Ninjas in Pyjamas after visa issues

Esports is generally a young man’s game

Esports is generally a young man’s game. Even today, with more players receiving salaries, it’s hardly a job with a secure future.

That’s one thing that makes legendary mid laner Alex “Alex Ich” Ichetovkin so unique. Ichetovkin uses esports as a career to support not only him, but his family. That’s one of the reasons the Russian left his long time team Gambit GamingNinjas in Pyjamas, an organization located in Sweden, promised to secure a visa for him in Europe so Ichetovkin could relocate his family and practice at a team house with them nearby.

But Ninjas in Pyajamas have not yet obtained the proper visas, and now they won’t have to. Ichetovkin asked to be released from the team last month and is a free agent.

The mid laner revealed today that Ninjas in Pyjamas never followed through on their visa promise in a lengthy post on Facebook. Ichetovkin has been living and practicing in Sweden with a Schengen visa, a kind of temporary visa designed to allow travellers to visit European Union countries with little hassle. That doesn’t allow the Russian to move his family in with him, though his wife did visit for a month during his stay at the Ninjas in Pyjamas team house.

The Schengen visa allows a stay of 90 days in a six month period, leading Ichetovkin to question his prospect of playing in the League Championship Series this year. When the process to obtain a more permanent visa in countries like Germany, where the LCS is located, take three to six months for Russian nationals, it’s easy to see why Ichetovkin is feeling frustrated about his future.

“My schengen visa expired. I couldn’t be in Europe anymore, and it was already obvious that NiP don’t want to make me a work visa especially after we didn’t get into LCS,” Ichetovkin said. “They were waiting to see if we got into LCS or not.”

If that assertion is true, that seems a little bit disingenuous from an organization that lured Ichetovkin away from his long-time team Gambit Gaming with that a promised visa.

Ichetovkin also aired other grievances with the organization, like their failure to pay approximately 5,000 euros owed him.

Ninjas in Pyjamas owner Per Lilliefeth made a statement of his own, noting that the team will pay the money within the 30 days after they received the invoice from Ichetovkin on September 14th. Lilliefeth notes that Ichetovkin wanted to be released of his contract of his own volition, and the team has had no contact with the player since doing so, stating that these grievances could have been addressed in a proper fashion had Ichetovkin done so.

As for the visa issues, it sounds like acquiring a visa in Sweden was harder than Lillifieth and the team anticipated. Esports is not part of the Swedish Riksidrottsförbundet, their national sports federation, and thus Ichetovkin did not have any special status to help him acquire a visa, a la the athletic recognition received by esports players in the United States late last year.

It seems as if the two parties have resolved their issues, even if Ichetovkin is left in limbo, a free agent with shaky career prospects.

But Lilliefeth couldn’t help but take a jab at his former player at the end of his statement.

“On the performance side we are just sorry that Alex hasn’t lived up to the expectations and we wish him all the best in his future teams,” Lilliefeth wrote.

Ninjas in Pyjamas has a checkered past in League of Legends, with a ridiculous number of iterations of star filled lineups falling out of the LCS or failing to qualify. This season, with Ichetovkin in tow, was no different. But taking a jab at a departing player, one unhappy with his time in the organization, seems a bit uncalled for. Though it’s quite possible the language Lilliefeth chose, a non native English speaker, may just be a little unfortunate.

As for Ichetovkin, he’s made a plea that he doesn’t want his career to end on this bitter note.

“I really want to stay relevant, keep playing my favourite game and keep pleasing you with my plays, but lately I was much more busy with trying to fix all visa problems, looking for an organization, moving back and forth, and trying to survive in League of Legends,” Ichetovkin explained. “I am too tired fighting against me being Russian. Right now I think there is almost no way for Russian player to get into somewhere because you can’t play anywhere except Russian leagues which are not that high skilled. It is like full isolation.”

He’s actively looking for teams and has already attracted some attention—a legendary player like him is sure to have plenty of suitors. But his unique situation, with a family in tow, also makes him a harder sign.

At least one team has already reached out to him, though it’s unclear in what capacity they’re contacing the player. SK Gaming managing director Alex Müller asked Ichetovkin to contact him on Twitter. Müller runs two teams under his brand—Riot World Championship qualifiers SK Gaming, one of the top teams in Europe, and challenger team SK Gaming Prime.

SK Gaming Prime already has an up and coming mid laner in Hampus “Watdefox” Myhre, but they may be looking to gear up before the upcoming Expansion Tournament, their last chance to qualify for the LCS next split.

The real interesting possibility is with the big team.

SK Gaming put together a solid performance at worlds, but young mid laner Jesse “Jesiz” Lee looked overmatched on the big stage. Could Ichetovkin move in and take his place? It’s just speculation, but that’s the kind of blockbuster move that could potentially move SK Gaming from perennial contenders to real champions, and place Ichetovkin back on the world stage.

Of course, Müller’s intentions may be more benign. Maybe he sees Ichetovkin as a veteran coach, considering SK Gaming will not be able to take Nicolaj “Incarnation” Jensen behind the bench next season. He runs a German-based organization, and may just be offering his expertise to help solve the visa issues that are seemingly dooming Ichetovkin’s career.

Whatever the case, it’d be a shame if the career of Alex Ichetovkin ended over his status as a Russian citizen. Whether he’s back wearing SK Gaming colors or joining another team, we can all hope that one of League of Legends greatest players and greatest personalities gets another chance.

Screengrab via Riot Games/YouTube