In a decision that sparked great excitement amongst Chinese gamers, the United States has officially recognised professional video gaming as a sport and will allow foreign gamers to travel to the US on the same visas given to professional athletes.
The decision affects players of League of Legends, a multiplayer online game produced by Riot Games. After a lengthy negotiation between Riot Games and the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service, it was announced on 14 July that competitive League of Legends players will be eligible for the P-1A Internationally Recognised Athlete visa – the same visa given to athletes travelling to the US for competitions.
According to US Citizenship and Immigration Services , the P-1A visa is awarded to those “participating in [an] individual event, competition or performance in which [they] are internationally recognised with a high level of achievement.” In the case of professional gamers, it will allow them to remain in the US to compete for up to five years.
Nick Allen, one of the managers of Riot Games, described the decision as a “lengthy process” that Riot Games had vigorously fought for.
“This is groundbreaking,” Allen said in a 14 July statement. “Now we can start looking at international players when they come over. It’s a much easier process because they’re actually recognised by the government. This is a huge thing.”
Chinese League of Legends players reacted enthusiastically on Sina Weibo to the news, which went viral and received thousands of comments. Many were excited for a chance to compete professionally in the US and even join US teams, while others joked that they were going to start playing the game in order to obtain Green Cards.
“Now gaming is finally in a global competitive phase,” one commentator wrote. “Let’s see how our [professional Chinese teams] do.”
League of Legends is extremely popular in both the US and China, and has a fanbase of more than 40 million players. A report  from Chinese news portal Tencent claimed that over 50% of all Chinese video game news coverage focused on the title, a fantasy-themed strategy game where players form teams and compete against each other for control over an arena. League of Legends is one of the main games in the growing field of competitive gaming, also known as “e-sports.” Professional e-sport players work together in teams, practice hours a day and compete in tournaments, where winners have won over US$100,000 (HK$776,000) in prizes. There are a number of competitive players in China, and the League of Legends All-Star competition will be held at the end of May 2013 in Shanghai.