Athlete Visas Helping eSports Become More Mainstream

On December 9, Kim Dong Hwan, a 23-year-old South Korean native, was granted a P-1A visa by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. The visa is granted to individuals who come into the country “temporarily to perform at a specific athletic competition as an athlete.” His particular sport? Starcraft 2, the hugely successful real time strategy video game published by Blizzard Entertainment.

The foreign national, known best for his competitive handle “viOLet,” is only the second e-gamer to be granted this distinction.

On a personal level, the move by immigration authorities is a big win for viOLet. As noted in a Daily Dot profile—one that also broke the news of the approved visa— written by Patrick Howell O’Neill, viOLet had been denied entry into the United States on three previous occasions, putting his career and livelihood in jeopardy.

Instead of giving up, viOLet’s agent Andrew Tomlinson began the long and arduous process of requesting a P-1A visa, which requires applicants to not only prove that they’re among the elite in their field, but that their sport—or video game in this case—is financially viable. To accomplish this, Tomlinson secured written endorsements from eSport heavyweights like Blizzard Entertainment and Twitch.tv’s Ryan “Fwiz” Wyatt. 500 pages of application and thousands of dollars later, viOLet was allowed to ply his trade in the United States for at least five years. Not only did this save his career, but it also prevented him from being forced to join the South Korean army (military service is compulsory for adult men).

But viOLet isn’t the only one who will benefit. eSports as a whole also stands to gain.

“For the game it’s a big deal because it means that people can move around the world more,” Patrick Howell O’Neill told the hosts of Fusion’s “The Morning Show” on Wednesday.

“Tournaments won’t be cancelled because of visa and immigration issues, and it becomes a big step just for the professionalization of e-sports.”

He also added that the next barrier to be broken is societal acceptance.

“When this news broke a lot of people scoffed at eSports,” he said, “but the fact is so many people are playing [games] and it’s going to grow that it’s just a matter of time before [eSports] become more and more comparable from a business and societal perspective to mainstream sports.”

O’Neill likened the growing acceptance of eSports to marriage equality.

“It’s not a matter of if but when,” he explained.

“The old people have to die off. The younger generation plays a whole lot of video games. This is what they do, and it’s only natural that they would eventually try to satisfy their competitive urges at a much larger and organized scale.”

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