The denial resulted in a petition that was signed by more than 100,000 people, and basically asks that the USCIS to recognize all esports as “legitimate” sports so international players can come to the U.S. on “Internationally Recognized Athlete” visas.
This all started when William “Leffen” Hjelte, one of the best Super Smash Bros. Melee players in the world, being denied a visa from the United States because Team SoloMid, an American company, was sponsoring him while he was in the country on a tourist visa instead of a working visa.
As a response, the #FreeLeffen campaign was created by Red Bull and Team SoloMid, which could be seen as the initial spark for the esports petition.
Leffen subsequently applied for the visa that most foreign athletes in traditional sports apply for, the P-1A, which requires athletes to compete “at an internationally recognized level of performance.” But since Super Smash Bros. Melee is not recognized as a “legitimate” sport, Leffen’s initial P-1A request was denied in late April.
Even though his request was approved on a second attempt, it exposed an important issue that needs to be addressed. And this is hardly the first, nor will it be the last, instance of visa troubles for esports players.
In the past, professional players in other esports, such as League of Legends, have been approved for P1 visas in order to travel to the U.S. and compete.
Given this precedence, the petition tries to address this issue and make sure that other competitive games would be considered “legitimate” sports in order to let players come and compete in the United States.
An answer within 60 days
The White House is expected to give an official response to the petition within 60 days.
There is of course no guarantee that something positive will come out – or that anything will happen at all – but gaining this recognition would be an important step in bringing esports closer to traditional sports in terms of the rights of professional athletes.
With esports becoming more mainstream, development as such is very much welcome.
With Turner’s ELEAGUE now underway and other big competitions being around the corner, the esports community has a lot to look forward to. This coupled with professionals not having problems when traveling to the U.S. in the future could boost the competitive gaming community even further.