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.