The burgeoning world of professional video gaming known as electronic sports (eSports) scored a big win this week when Riot Games, creators of the popular online competitive game "League of Legends," announced that it had successfully lobbied the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services to begin issuing professional players P-1 visas, which are intended for "individual athletes."
Dustin Beck, vice president of eSports at Riot, told NBC News that the change in policy "is a watershed moment," both for the field in general and "for the pros who've made this their life's passion and career."
Previously, Beck said, foreign players "had trouble proving to customs that they played video games professionally."
"Going through that protracted process multiple times a year was a real burden, especially for Canadian pros who come here regularly for tournaments," Beck said.
While immigration procedures might not have been so burdensome that they kept players from competing in championships hosted in the U.S. entirely, many individual eSports players stand to benefit because the new immigration policy allows for more flexibility in the creation and managements of teams in the U.S., said Mike Sepso, the co-founder and president of Major League Gaming.
"We've been bringing eSports pros to the U.S. to play for eight years," he said. "It's just been a more difficult visa process. This is great because it's a five-year visa, so many people will be able to come and live here and train in team houses rather than go back and forth constantly."
Dave Walsh, a former eSports athlete who dominated the professional "Halo" circuit under the gamer tag "Walshy" until his retirement in March 2012, said that the eSports community has been extremely proactive.
"This is the kind of thing we got covered before it became an issue," Walsh told NBC News. "It wasn't a huge hurdle to jump over, but this makes it more legitimate."
Walsh, who has been sponsored by brands such as Dr Pepper and Red Bull throughout his 11-plus years in eSports, said that he didn't think new brands would be tripping over themselves to start sponsoring more gamers just because they're now technically considered athletes. But, he said, "maybe this means they will start looking at us more closely."
"Most importantly, I think it's just recognition by a federal government body that, hey, an eSport isn't that different from golf or tennis or any other sport where the government would issue a visa to an athlete," Sepso added.
Beck of Riot Games told NBC that the company has been lobbying U.S. immigration services "for the past six months or so," with the tipping point coming from the inception of a weekly "League Championship Series."