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Tuesday, March 5, 2024
The Observer

O'Boyle: Esports needs same legal recognition as traditional sports

I have no reason to believe Leon Rodriguez, the director of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), reads this column. I’m sure he’s a very busy man with many other things on his plate. But maybe he finds a few minutes every day to read the hottest take of the day from the Observer’s sports staff.

If he did though, he may remember a debate between Marek Mazurek and Zach Klonsinski early last semester about whether “esports” (or “egames,” as Klonsinski would prefer to call them) are real sports. Mazurek pointed to the huge following these sports have, while Klonsinski argued they lacked the “physical exertion,” required to be true sports.

I’m not much of an esports fan. I don’t know who the best “mid-laner” is, I have no strong feelings about which champions need to be “nerfed” and I have no idea who “Faker” “mains” as. My instinct says I should agree with Klonsinski. Real sports require a level of athleticism that esports simply can’t reach. But it doesn’t matter what I think, or what Mazurek or Klonsinski think. It does matter what the USCIS thinks. And I know that they need to listen to Mazurek.

This summer the definition of sports gained widespread attention in the buildup to the Evolution Championship Series, which is apparently a major tournament for fighting games. Swedish national William “Leffen” Hjelte, the third-ranked Super Smash Bros. Melee player in the world, was unable to enter the tournament due to visa issues. To be precise, he was denied a P-1 visa to enter the competition because “Smash Bros. Melee is not considered a legitimate sport.” In May it was announced that he could be granted the visa, but by this point it was too late, and the tournament occurred without him. Leffen’s situation prompted a White House petition which received over 100,000 signatures, calling for all esports to be recognized as legitimate sports for visa purposes.  

For other foreign players, the act of getting a US visa is still hit-or-miss. Visas have been granted to League of Legends players before, but right now the process seems entirely arbitrary. Players missing competition for visa reasons is nothing new and may not go away soon. That’s something that needs to change. Esports players should be able to have the same confidence that they can compete in tournaments across the world than tennis players and golfers have.

The fact is, even if they don’t meet the true definition of a “sport,” esports are too popular to ignore. With viewership for some events into the tens of millions, hosting competitions featuring the best players is a lucrative opportunity for any country. And esports will only continue to grow from here. It just makes sense to create an outright rule that guarantees top gamers can receive esports visas when needed.

Maybe you don’t like the idea of including something where the greatest athletic feats are well-timed clicking and staying awake for long stretches of time being legally categorized as a sport. I can understand that. But it surely isn’t too much to ask for P-1 visa definitions to change and allow entry for “a specific athletic competition, or esports competition.”

Do esports require serious physical exertion? Not really. But from a legal standpoint, there’s no good reason why they should be different. So if anyone at the USCIS is reading this, give esports competitors the legal recognition they deserve.