In a decision that puts video game playing on par with professional sports like baseball, the U.S. government has decided for the first time to grant special immigration status to one of the world’s top online gaming competitors.
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services approved a working visa to Danny “Shiphtur” Le of Edmonton, Canada, placing him in the company of famous athletes like former soccer star David Beckham or Los Angeles Dodgers’ pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu who have left their home countries to play in the United States.
Only Le is an eSports marvel, and one of the top international players of League of Legends, a virtual capture-the-flag game in which two teams of fantasy characters compete for a glowing orb.
Le needed the visa in order to practice and compete with his teammates who reside in Riverside, California. League of Legends rules dictate that all five members of a team must be gathered together physically when playing.
“It’s kind of so big—actually kind of mind-blowing—that there’s a demand for visas for League of Legends,” Le told the Los Angeles Times.
More than 32 million people worldwide play League of Legends, about half of them in the United States. The games draw significant online audiences, up to 1.7 million unique viewers. By comparison, a typical National Hockey League game on network television last season drew a quarter of that audience.
The World Championship final for League of Legends will be held October 4, at Los Angeles’ Staples Center, home of the Los Angeles Lakers and the Los Angeles Kings. The winning team will take home $1 million.