High-level League of Legends players can now be awarded the same visas as more traditional pro athletes, says publisher Riot Games. On July 11th, Riot e-sports manager Nick Allen told GameSpot that the company had convinced US immigration services to recognize League of Legends as a professional sport and simplify the visa process accordingly; the first person to benefit will be Canadian player Danny "Shiphtur" Le, who was temporarily unable to compete this spring because of work permit problems. E-sports VP Dustin Beck later confirmed the change to Polygon. "This is a watershed moment," he said. "It validates e-sports as a sport. Now we have the same designation as the NBA or NHL or other professional sports leagues."
The change, Beck said, could let non-American players join US teams: "It's like David Beckham coming to LA Galaxy." He said convincing US Immigration and Citizenship Services to offer players pro sports visas was "a long process" that hinged on proving League of Legends can offer people the chance to make a living as professionals. "A lot of people have been dismissive of it because they don't understand the scope of this," he said. "Our viewership numbers are stronger than 80 or 90 percent of the sports covered on ESPN."
The visa Beck is referring to is likely the one for "internationally recognized athletes," which lets players stay for up to five years in the US. There's a history of considering non-athletic games under the banner of sports — chess being the best-known example — and non-League pro gamers regularly come to the US, despite periodic visa problems. Riot's move opens the door for other e-sports players to get similar treatment, as long as there's a group or company willing to lobby as hard for them. Others, meanwhile, point out that there are still plenty of non-Americans in gaming who find it difficult to get into the US.