Competing before a sold-out crowd of 13,000 fans at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, South Korean team SK Telecom T1 came out the clear winner against China’s Royal Club (3-0) at the 3rd annual e-sport League of Legends championships on Friday, October 4. The 4-man team will split a whopping $1 million prize – not bad for a video game that was released four years ago.

17-year old Lee Sang-hyeok (aka “Faker”) led his team to victory and indicated in a recent interview that SKT would rest for a day then head back to Korea to train and compete in the Korean qualifiers for the 2013 World Cyber Games (WCG) in Kunshan City, China at the end of November.

WCG is the “Olympics” of international competitive e-sports tournaments with an official opening ceremony and top athletes from various countries competing for gold, silver and bronze medals. In their respective countries, players must win a series of online qualifiers before competing at the WCG finals where the top winners also will receive cash prizes and other awards.

The WCG national finals held in Durham, NC ended on October 6, to determine WCG Team USA.

These are just some accounts of the competitive e-sports events that occurred this month and admittedly they “sound” a lot like traditional sporting events. In fact, when you line up many aspects of e-sports alongside traditional sports, it is no wonder why the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) has approved P-1 visa petitions filed on behalf of certain “internationally recognized” e-sports individual athletes and teams worldwide. E-sports organized competitions have:

  • gaming rules and regulations
  • qualifying competitions and elimination rounds
  • referees
  • team players who wear uniform jerseys and have nicknames that they and fans refer to in and out of game play
  • events that are televised and have half-time shows with live bands and mascots
  • avid fans who watch games in-person and online
  • major corporate sponsors (such as Coca Cola ™, Samsung and Microsoft)

Competitive video gaming occurs indoors, therefore there are no seasons so game play is year-round. Also the players stay pretty healthy as there are no serious game-related injuries like you would see in football, hockey or soccer.

No matter if the sport is traditional or recently recognized by USCIS, how does an international athlete get a P-1 visa to train and compete in the U.S. at various competitions during the year?

Whether the foreign national is an e-sport competitor or in a long-established, traditional sport, the athlete must have a well-prepared P-1 visa petition filed with USCIS and approved before the athlete enters the U.S. Key components to an approvable P-1 visa petition involve:

  • assessing from the start how “renowned, leading or well-known in more than one country” the athlete or team is in order to meet the USCIS standard
  • providing a well-documented history of international wins for the team or individual athlete
  • submitting proof of receipt of top awards or significant honors in the sport
  • including a detailed statement(s) from the media or other recognized expert in the sport addressing how the athlete or team is internationally recognized
  • offering copies of any contracts with a major U.S. sports league or team, or other entity such as a corporate sponsor for endorsements, commensurate with the high level of the sport
  • listing international rankings if applicable
  • offering an itinerary of U.S. sporting events, competitions, trainings, etc. that will determine the length of time the athlete can stay in the U.S.

As e-sports raises its “voice” in the international arena and U.S. sponsors submit strong, approvable P-1 visa petitions to the USCIS, we should expect to see many more e-sport organized competitions held in U.S. cities bringing in foreign national competitors, their families, friends and fans from all over the world.

Posted by: Cynthia Hemphill, Shareholder