US Visa Office Says ‘League of Legends’ a Professional Sport

High level League of Legends players can now get the same visas as more traditional professional athletes, says publisher Riot Games. July 11, Riot e-sport manager Nick Allen told GameSpot that the company had convinced the US immigration service to recognize League of Legends as a professional sport and simplify the visa process accordingly; the first to benefit will be Canadian player Danny “Shiphtur” Le, who was temporarily unable to compete this spring due to work permit issues. E-Sports VP Dustin Beck later confirmed the change To Polygon. “This is a defining moment,” he said. “It validates esports as a sport. Now we have the same designation as the NBA or NHL or other professional sports leagues.”

The change, Beck said, could allow non-US players to join US teams: “It’s like David Beckham is coming to LA Galaxy.” He said convincing US immigration and citizenship services to offer players professional sports visas was “a long process” which depended on the evidence. League of Legends can offer people the chance to earn a living as professionals. “A lot of people have rejected it because they don’t understand the scope of it,” he said. “Our audience figures are over 80 or 90 percent of the sports covered on ESPN.”

The visa Beck refers to is probably that of “internationally recognized athletes”, who allows players to stay for up to five years in the USA. There is a history of looking at non-sport games under the banner of sport – chess being the best known example – and not-League professional players regularly come to the United States, despite periodic visa issues. Riot’s decision opens the door for other esports players to get similar treatment, provided there is a group or company willing to lobby for them. Others, for their part, point out that there are still lots of non-Americans in the game who are struggling to enter the United States.

Sara R. Cicero