Pro Gamers Get U.S. Work Visas, Thanks to Industry Lobbyists

U.S. to grant visas normally reserved for athletes to videogame players

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Courtesy of Riot Games

Forget mathletes. The gaming industry is the latest sector to redefine the term “professional athlete.” While Congress continues to wrangle over immigration reform, video game publisher Riot Games announced its successful lobbying of the U.S. Immigration and Citizenship Services (USCIS) to allow a certain type of visa typically reserved for professional athletes to now also include competitive gamers.

As Quartz reports, foreign gamers often face difficulty in finding ways to stay in the U.S. through work permits for multiplayer tournaments. Meanwhile, professional athletes can qualify under O-1 visa, in which they must prove an extraordinary ability in their field, or, a P-1A visa, which covers sports teams and athletes. But Riot Games, the company behind the popular, multiplayer battle game League of Legends, has lobbied to recognize gamers as professional athletes, thereby easing restrictions on bringing in non-U.S. citizens.

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The news comes ahead of the League of Legends Season 3 World Championship (LCS), a league based on the battlefield video game, which will take place in Los Angeles at the Staples Center beginning in September and culminate with the final showdown in October. Since the ruling in late May, Riot Games tells TIME two competitors have secured visas in order to join U.S.-based teams. Danny “Shiphtur” Le moved from Canada with a P-1A visa to join Team Coast, a North American LCS team based in Southern California while Edward “Edward” Abgaryan, a Armenian citizen, was able to leave Russia to join Team Curse, a North American LCS team based in Las Vegas. The LCS is now officially recognized as a sports league just like the NBA, NFL and NHL.

To win the visas for its players, the Santa Monica-based company had to prove evidence of the industry’s contributions, which included comparing the viewership to major broadcasting sports events. According to a Gamespot interview with Riot Games manager Nick Allen, last year’s World Championship Event event drew a 1.1 million peak concurrent viewership and more than 8.2 million total unique viewers worldwide for both television and online. But the buck doesn’t stop there.

The event rakes in enough cash that this year’s winner will receive $1 million out of a $8 million prize pot. The event is so large that the company hosts it at the Los Angeles’ massive Staples Center as well as two other venues. The new immigration stipulation could be a boon for the gaming industry in terms of recognizing gamers for their economic value.

MORE: How Bungie’s Destiny Became the Poster Child for Next-Gen, Always-Online Gaming

7 comments
NEPTpoker
NEPTpoker

Why are foreign citizens allowed to get work visas to come to the United States to play Video Games for  Cash Prize Pools, while Tax Paying American Citizens are not allowed to play in Poker Tournaments online ?  

cjh2nd
cjh2nd

" The LCS is now officially recognized as a sports league just like the NBA, NFL and NHL."

except that video games aren't sports. it may be a professional gaming league and a professional hobby league, but it's not a sports league. to call it such clearly shows a complete lack of knowledge on what constitutes a sport by the author, namely some sort of physical activity. and tapping a joystick is not exercise, as much as i wish it was.  what's next? is every 15 year old who's addicted to internet porn going to be an "athlete"? because that's more of a workout than a video game is

pjb0515
pjb0515

@cjh2nd It takes a form of hand eye coordination.  You might not break a sweat playing video games, but it does require a certain set of physical skills that say Chess does not.  Chess is completely mental, your accuracy of placing pieces on the board doesn't provide you with any better chance of winning.  I never understood why everyone is so gung ho about the sanctity of the definition of a sport.

wandmdave
wandmdave

@cjh2nd If golf and nascar are sports then this certainly qualifies.

khadjsal
khadjsal

@cjh2ndIronically (check definition 1b) from Merriam-Webster:

sport noun
Definition of SPORT

1a : a source of diversion : recreation
b : sexual play
c (1) : physical activity engaged in for pleasure
(2) : a particular activity (as an athletic game) so engaged in

Sorry, but your argument fails the test for obviousness against the definition.

burtflaxton
burtflaxton

@khadjsal @cjh2nd Ex-Semi-Pro "eSport athlete" here. Video games are not sports as we understand them to be by the current social definition. Sure, by dictionary definition you can squeeze video games into that wide spectrum, but it does not change the fact that these are still just video games. Even Guitar Hero is a video game. cjh2nd's statement is beyond ignorant, but khadjsal, yours is just a vague definition pasted from Webster's. Definitions of words and societies interpretation are two different things. I play League of Legends around 20 hours a week, but I would never need to stretch the term of what I do to a sport, or that I was an athlete. You can call them "eSports", but that is because they are for the most part very similar to sports in concept. There are teams, with rosters, who practice, scrimmage, have matches and playoffs. This has happened for decades though with scrabble, chess, and other "games" played. No one felt the need to call these sports, and no one should. It is what it is, putting a term onto does not change what it is. Getting into semantics here, but the label/word you put on something does not change what it is. The picture of a tree on the map is no an actual tree. The label/word "tree" is even further from the representative picture of the tree. The map is not the territory. League of Legends is not a sport just because someone says it is. It will always be a game.

wandmdave
wandmdave

@burtflaxton @khadjsal @cjh2nd I disagree with your final sentence.  As you so aptly pointed out social consensus defines what is and is not a sport and that consensus can easily change as society does.