Will League of Legends Athlete Visas Make eSports Legit?
According to the United States government, League of Legends players now qualify as athletes! The U.S. State Department has agreed to grant P-1 athlete visas to qualified foreign players which lets them compete and work in the United States. Players from around the world will be able to legally work and compete in the U.S., the same way professional athletes in other sports do now.
What’s the P-1 visa?
These are select visas that are only available to people who compete at an internationally recognized level of performance. Basically, this is the type of visa that someone like an NHL hockey player from Canada (for example, Wayne Gretzky) would get. Individual players with P-1 visas can be admitted for five years, while teams can be admitted for six months.
Some other visa types include those for cultural, musical, theatrical, or artistic performers. Riot made the move to go after the visas by contending that its players qualified as athletes, and after a long negotiation, the government conceded and agreed to recognize them as such. Riot appears to be the first video game developers to pursue athletic visas for tournament players, and possibly could pave the way for other professional gamers. Taking the first step in getting the U.S. government to recognize the athlete status of players is a massive move forward in advancing eSports in general. Riot may not have been the first in establishing eSports — games like Counter-strike, Quake 3, Warcraft 3, and other such titles were major predecessors — but LoL’s contribution in helping players be officially recognized could have at least as far-reaching an effect on eSports in the U.S. as anything that has come before. Meanwhile, South Korea, often jokingly deemed the “Mecca” of eSports, has its own government sanctioned organization, called KeSPA (Korean eSports Association).
Why did Riot pursue visas?
Riot runs both the North American and European League of Legends Championship series, which is the developer’s own seasonal LoL league which consists of professional teams. By securing classification of League of Legends players as athletes, the process of bringing players into the U.S. to compete in Riot’s tournaments is greatly simplified. Sponsors are already lining up for prominent teams, players and events.
What happens next?
This is a huge step towards legitimizing eSports. I’m anticipating a gradual shift towards more rules and regulation as time goes on.
Let’s talk about student players as an example. Some professional players are entering their League of Legends careers right out of high school. Team Coast’s captain, Darshan “ZionSpartan” Upadhyaha, went professional after graduation. There exist communities like IvyLoL and the Collegiate Star League (Starcraft 2) dedicated to organized college play. For the moment, they are not an official organization like the NCAA. But what if in later years a college level association exists for organized play? There are numerous laws that govern the process from going amateur to going pro in current college sports and it wouldn’t be completely outside the realm of possibility for those rules to be applied to eSports.
An athlete is not eligible to participate in intercollegiate sports contests if the athlete:
(1) declares that the athlete is eligible for recruitment by a professional sports team; or
(2) has concluded, in the athlete’s final year of eligibility, the athlete’s final intercollegiate sports contest, as determined by the governing body of the national association for the promotion and regulation of intercollegiate athletics of which the athlete’s institution of higher education is a member.
The moment a student decides to go professional, they won’t be able to participate at the college level. Same thing goes if they become drafted by a team. Should a player turn professional right out of high school or go straight to college and work on their last hitting and micro management some more?
What about coaches and trainers?
ESports teams are starting to employ coaches to help them in their strategy. CLG just picked up OGN caster and analyst Monte Cristo to help refine their strategy and teamwork. Would he be able to function as a trainer and practice in Iowa? In other sports, He would have to be accredited first, according to their state legislature, before he can obtain a license to be a coach. Other states have similar legislation. This adds another layer of complexity to a large number of questions — the first of which being whether states would consider League of Legends coaches in the same way as coaches for basketball or volleyball.
We haven’t even touched on the idea of player agents. And yes, before you ask, there is such an organization as the eSports Management Group, which helps represent players and teams for deals and contracts. There are sports betting sites that allow individuals to bet on the outcomes of matches. Would that get regulated as well? There are also the various issues of benefits, media broadcasts, or even — in the extreme — performance-enhancing drugs.
All of this is just the tip of a large and incredibly submerged iceberg. We might not see anything like the issues outlined above come to pass at all. But it’s enough to make you really think and consider what kind of future ramifications there could be as eSports gains legitimacy in the U.S.