If you’ve heard about the South Korean StarCraft 2 player who received a P visa for video gaming, you may think the decision represents a loophole in the visa system. But according to the rules of competitive gaming, the visa is a positive move for the careers of eSports players.
Prior to receiving a P-1A visa, Kim Dong Hwan was competing in live matches in the U.S. under the visa waiver program. Under the program, the player was limited to 90 days of residence in the country and stayed at his manager’s apartment when not competing.
Last year, Kim was told that he had been traveling between the U.S. and South Korea so often that he could no longer do so without a visa.
Marcus Graham, a 14-year competitive gamer and senior manager at the online gaming site Twitch, likened Hwan’s situation to any other professional athlete.
"It would be very similar to an athlete who would be unable to compete for a year," said Graham. "Gaming is their full-time job, so the inability to go to a tournament, to travel and compete is preventing them from doing their job."
Competitive gamers like Hwan must also fulfill the extraordinary ability requirements of the athletic visa, earning international recognition and making tens of thousands of dollars every year in prize money. In order to bring Hwan to the U.S., both Graham and Blizzard Entertainment—the makers of StarCraft 2—wrote recommendation letters to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services explaining the sport of competitive gaming and Kim's high international ranking.
"Visas have single-handedly been one of the biggest killers of players' careers. These problems have been plaguing us even as early as 2002," Graham said.