CNET, a leading tech media website, has reported that the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) had approved a P-1 petition submitted by a professional electronic sports (or “eSports”) gaming team from the United Kingdom. This is the first report that USCIS has approved P-1 status to a professional eSports team.  

The P-1 visa classification applies to an athlete, individually or as part of a group or team, coming to the United States  for a specific athletic competition to perform at an internationally recognized level. The individual must demonstrate a high level of achievement in a field, evidenced by a degree of skill and recognition substantially above that ordinarily encountered, to the extent that such achievement is renowned, leading, or well-known in more than one country. P-1 visas have been used primarily by professional sports teams to allow individual players to attend athletic competitions over the course of a season.   

In addition to “eSports,” “competitive gaming,” “professional gaming,” and “cybersport” are other terms used to describe the increasingly popular competitive play of video games. The most common video game genres associated with electronic sports are real-time strategy (RTS), fighting, first-person shooter (FPS), massively-multiplayer online (MMOG), racing and multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA). Games are played competitively at amateur, semi-professional and professional levels, and some games have organized competition in the form of leagues and tournaments. Events such as Major League Gaming (MLG), European Gaming League (EGL), Global Starcraft II League (GSL), World Cyber Games (WCG), Dreamhack, the Evolution Championship Series (EVO), and Intel Extreme Masters provide both live broadcasting and streamed games, as well as cash prizes to competitors. One example is the upcoming “The International” competition taking place in Seattle, Washington, in August, where the winning international eSports team will be awarded $1 million.   

While a P-1 visa was used in this case, alternatives, such as business visitor visas, are available to professional gamers, depending on the particular circumstances of the eSports competition.