US issues 'athlete' visas to League of Legends players

15/07/13

League of Legends screenshot

The US has issued League of Legends players with athlete visas, effectively recognising the video game as a professional sport.

Players have been issued with P-1 visas, intended for "individual athletes".

Developer Riot Games has been campaigning for players to be recognised as sporting professionals.

The move has been described as "groundbreaking" for eSports, a growing community of professional gamers.

One of the first players to be granted a visa is Alberto Rengifo, 19, of UK-based Team Dignitas.

Team manager Michael O'Dell said the Canadian player's application took "several months".

"Now Alberto can stay in the USA and practise and fly in and out of the country without worrying that he would be refused entry," he said.

Riot Games put the team in touch with an immigration lawyer who took up the case.

"The lawyers had to go back and forth with US Immigration for several months to get everything in place, especially understanding that this is a sport," said Mr O'Dell.

In recent years eSports has grown rapidly and top players can win millions of pounds in prize money.

League of Legends has more than 40 million players worldwide.

The biggest tournaments are attended by tens of thousands of fans and receive coverage on dedicated TV channels.

Winners of the League of Legends Season 3 World Championship starting in September will take $1 million (£662,000) in prize money.

The US embassy in the UK states that individual athletes with P-1 visas "may be admitted for five years and a team for a period of six months".

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