P-1 Athletic Visas for Pro Gamers for 5 Years? Score!

By Fuji Whittenburg, Esq.

The P Classification

Pursuant to 8 CFR §214.2(p)(ii), there are two types of Ps:  (1) individuals coming to the United States to perform as an athlete (individually or as part of a team) to compete at an internationally recognized level of performance; and (2) individuals coming to the United States to perform as a member of an entertainment/musical group that has been recognized inter-nationally as outstanding for a sustained and substantial period of time.

On the heels of the P-1 visas granted to Riot Games’ video game players over the summer, I was immediately approached by two (2) South Korean video game players, or “gamers”, as they are called in the electronic sports (eSports) industry. We successfully made the argument that professional gamers are eligible for P-1A classification as internationally recognized “digital athletes”, and recently secured P-1 visa classification for two video game players from South Korea to train and compete in the eSports league in the U.S. for a five-year period.

Professional Gamers (eSports)

Video games, such as StarCraft II (Blizzard) and League of Legends (Riot Games), have become hugely popular around the world. Professional national teams have been created where players train rigorously and earn hundreds of thousands of dollars annually in cash prizes and corporate sponsorships. This has become the norm in the eSport profession. As with other popular professional sports (e.g., boxing, football, basketball, baseball), eSports offer lucrative careers, media exposure, and loyal fans. Similar to NBA and NFL players, professional gamers from across the globe – especially South Korea and China — have become virtual super-stars and as a result, if they play their games right, may also be eligible for P‑1 visa classification as internationally recognized athletes.

First let us define what it is to be an “athlete.” The Merriam-Webster defines it as, “a person who is trained or skilled in exercises, sports, or games requiring physical strength, agility, or stamina.” What is a sport? The Oxford Dictionary defines sport as “an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against each other for entertainment.” The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as “a source of diversion: or; a physical activity engaged in for pleasure.”

A Pro Gamer fits all aspects of being classified as an athlete, including physical agility and exertion.  First of all, eSports is a profession and can be classified as a major sports league in which gamers compete on teams against each other in professionally sanctioned international and national tournaments and competitions.  Second, these tournaments and competitions are widely broadcast on various online media networks to millions of viewers and fans. For example, the DreamHack Winter 2011 tournament was broadcast to over 1.7 million viewers.  Furthermore, professional StarCraft II players often receive high-paying corporate sponsorships from not only the game maker, Blizzard, but also by such companies as Sony, Red Bull, Razer, Ozone Gaming, NOS Energy Drink, and PokerStrategy.com. Lastly, gamers demonstrate and report a high-level of physical exertion and training, even if it is limited to the arms, hands, brain and eyes.  A certain level of physical exertion is not specified or required in order to be defined as a ‘sport’. The average person who does not regularly play video games, lacks a full understanding of the skill and precision it takes to truly master the video games of today. Modern video games require that the gamer possess a full array of technical and mental skills in order to succeed on a competitive level.  Most video game play is measured in “actions-per-minute” or the number of times in one minute a player can move a unit or perform an action in the game.  While the average StarCraft II player can perform less than 30 actions-per-minute, professional players competing at the international level, train for a minimum of 10 hours a day, six days a week in order to perform 300 actions-per-minute.

It is undeniable that gamers in eSports possess a high degree of both mental and physical agility worthy of being classified as athletes.

Perhaps the most aggressive promotion of eSports – according to Forbes, there is an online petition already in circulation and as early as the 2020 Summer Games, eSports may become an Olympic event where pro-gamers could by vying for Olympic Gold.

A few things you will need to gather if you are looking for a P-1 visa for a Pro Gamer:

  • List of all national or international competitions/events that the gamer has participated in.
  • Evidence of all competitions that the gamer has won or placed in.
  • Copies of any press/interviews/publicity about the gamer or his record. Any newspaper/magazine article or review that mentions the gamer should be included.
  • If the gamer has appeared on television or radio, please provide a brief explanation of the show and story, and if possible, some written confirmation/transcript (videotapes and audiotapes cannot be submitted to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
  • Evidence of the gamer’s national or international ranking in the sport.
  • Evidence of the gamer’s past or current membership on any national or international teams.
  • Experts in the industry willing to sign letters of reference or peer consultation letters on the gamer’s behalf.
  • Information about upcoming events/competitions in the United States in which the gamer  will be competing (including events or campaigns for a promotional company or sponsor).
  • Consultation letter can be obtained from peer groups or organizations (perhaps a company in the eSports industry such as Blizzard, IGN, Activision, Riot Games, etc.)
By | 2013-12-10T18:29:56-08:00 December 10th, 2013|Uncategorized|Comments Off on P-1 Athletic Visas for Pro Gamers for 5 Years? Score!

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