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Visa issues causing headaches in the Esports world

January 16, 2020

The esports industry is plagued by uncertainty over visa issues. Most recently, Broxah, Shernfire, and Cain, three key members of Team Liquid’s newly acquired League of Legends lineup experienced delays with visa processing ahead of the 2020 League of Legends Championship Series Spring Split held in the United States. As a result of the delays, Team Liquid announced that it had to find a last-minute replacement for Broxah, a change that may ultimately affect the team’s preparation and performance in the competition.

Esports athletes are similar to traditional professional athletes in many ways - they train intensively, some for over 80 hours per week, to develop game strategies and compete on a combination of finely tuned strategic thinking and quick reflexes. Like its traditional counterpart, the esports industry is organized into teams, by game and region, that travel the world to partake in global competitions. Esports teams are ranked by earnings and tournaments played, and high-performing athletes are traded, much like in traditional sports.

Despite these similarities, esports players are not considered professional athletes in many jurisdictions, and continue to face significant challenges in securing the documentation necessary to switch playing regions or participate in global competitions.

A potential solution to this problem was proposed by the German Federal Government and States in the form of a dedicated esports visa, scheduled to take effect in March 2020. The visa provides esports players and coaches from non-EU countries with an easier pathway to permanent residency in the country, and is expected to make Germany more competitive in the esports industry.

To be eligible for this new visa category, the player must meet at least the following requirements:

  • Be at least 16 years old,
  • Have a certain salary, and
  • Have confirmation of professional activity by the federation responsible for esports.

A short-term visa continues to be available to players seeking temporary travel to Germany.

No other country currently has a dedicated visa for esports professionals. In the United States, esports players are recognized as professional athletes and can apply for the P-1 visa otherwise restricted to those professionals. However, issues in processing and granting such visas continue to be a concern due to the discretion awarded to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in determining whether the athlete meets the P-1 requirements.

Similarly, in Canada, the National Occupational Classification Code 5251 for “Athletes” is defined to include the term “gamer – video games”, but the specific authorization required for entrance into the country continues to be determined on a discretionary basis.

Considering the remarkable growth and continued success of esports over the past few years, it remains to be seen if the rest of the world will follow Germany’s lead and become more competitive in this industry.

The authors would like to thank Alexandra David, Articling Student, for her assistance in preparing this legal update.