The International eSports Athlete Visa

Our immigration law firm works with the biggest eSports companies on the planet for their travel and work visas. Tech companies have always had special needs for highly skilled workers from around the world. But with the explosion of video games as international sporting events (League of Legends, DOTA2, Counter-Strike), there is now a need to secure visas for the athletes with “l33t skillz”.

The International is one of those events. It is Valve’s mammoth DOTA2 competition in Seattle that fills the Key Area every August. The 2015 event is coming up Aug 3-8.  The prize pool for the tournament is almost $18 million. The winning team will take home over $6 million!

Players will come from around the world to compete at The International. Regional tournaments in Europe, South East Asia, China, and North America drew athletes from around the world. Yes, ATHLETES. International competitors in eSports events enter the United States on P-1 Visas issued by the USCIS. This visa classifies them as “athletes that compete, individually or as part of a group or team, at an internationally recognized level of performance.” Right up there with players for the NBA and NHL.

How do you get to The International from outside the United States? Practice.

Seriously, elite skills are required for a P-1 visa. But the visa process is started with the filing of Form I-129 Petition for Non Immigrant Worker. This is filed by the employer of the worker, which in the case of an eSports competitor can be the organization hosting the competition, or the team’s agent or sponsor.

Many forms of documentation are required to establish the athlete as an internationally recognized competitor. This can include a contract with an internationally recognized league or team. Evidence of the player’s participation in the sport at a high level, from a commissioner or official from the sport’s governing body. Proof of previous awards or monetary earnings in the sport. And even a written endorsement from a commentator or sports writer in the field attesting to the athlete’s ability.

Once the visa petition is approved, the athlete can apply for the visa at their local U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

The benefits of obtaining the proper visa for competing in eSPorts pay off for years. They visa is good for 1 or five years, and can be extended. This allows the player or team to train in the US and travel around to compete. The visa can even cover family of the competitor, as well as “essential personnel”. Personnel can include coaches, trainers, referees, and the team’s water boy and the pit crew that cleans the mouse balls between bouts.

With eSports now on the international stage, how long until we see DOTA in the Olympic Games?