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U.S.: (Some) Gamers Are 'Athletes', Too


Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Five months after a decision that placed video gamers -- or eSports athletes -- on a level playing field, immigration officials granted the first two P-1A visas for international gamers to live, play and compete in the U.S.
 
In December 2013, Canadian Danny Le and Kim "Violet" Dong Hwan, of South Korea, were deemed internationally recognized athletes in their respective sports. In the case of video gaming, the specific sport is the game in which the player competes professionally at an international level. Le is a 'League of Legends' pro; Kim is a 'StarCraft2' athlete.
 
While the decisions go a long way in carving a path for international gamers to compete in the U.S., they certainly do not make visas a foregone conclusion for all professional gamers from other countries. The biggest hurdle faced by both Le and Kim was demonstrating that their respective games could be considered a legitimate professional sport with a long-term future and not just a fad that would eventually fade away.
 
The decision to admit Le was based on documentation and testimony offered by the international 'League of Legends' community, tournament organizers and even the publisher and industry groups. Le's visa was premised on U.S. immigration officials' recognition of 'League of Legends' as a legitimate sport. This opened the door for other pro 'Legends' players to apply for P-1A visas, but did not extend to pros who compete in different games.
 
So, in spite of Le's admission, Kim had to make a case for extending recognition of 'League of Legends' as a sport to 'StarCraft2' -- essentially reinventing much of the wheel, offering more than 500 pages of documentation legitimizing himself as a pro and 'StarCraft2' as a sport. The only thing currently clear about the state of admitting professional gamers to the U.S. is that visa applicants must be pro players of either 'League of Legends' or 'StarCraft2'.
 
While this game-by-game approach makes some sense, the sheer number of video games played professionally by international gamers could result in an avalanche of visa applications requiring individualized determinations of games' legitimacy as sports -- all before even approaching whether the individual player is an internationally recognized pro. Now that the door has been opened, immigration officials should take steps to identify what existing games can be legitimately recognized as sports with professional players. Or, in the alternative, shore up the criteria a game and its international constituency must meet in order to be recognized.

The immigration process is already victim of enough gridlock. Such problems shouldn't be exacerbated by a piecemeal approach to newly recognized categories of sports and athletes.


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