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U.S. recognizes eSports players as professional athletes
U.S. recognizes eSports players as professional athletes
July 12, 2013 | By Kris Ligman

July 12, 2013 | By Kris Ligman
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League of Legends sets precedent yet again. Riot Games eSports manager Nick Allen reveals to GameSpot that in bringing international LoL players Stateside, the United States government is beginning to issue the players visas as "professional athletes."

"The United States government recognizes League of Legends pro players as professional athletes, and awards visas to essentially work in the United States under that title," Allen explains in a video interview with GameSpot.

It was no easy task to obtain the visas, Allen says, with Riot engaging in a prolonged back-and-forth with the U.S. government until the studio had provided enough proof to back up its argument. However, by setting this precedent, Riot may help pave the way for more eSports pro players to obtain athlete visas in the future.

The "groundbreaking" move will afford international eSports tournaments "a much easier process," Allen says, "because [players will be] actually recognized by the government. This is a huge thing."


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Comments


Ramin Shokrizade
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I'm guessing the next step is to have the IRS recognize them as professionals :)

Steve Lee
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Ramin - this has already happened. Pro players in League of Legends are paid professionals, taxed just like the rest of us, and have been since the inception of the league.

Andrew Wallace
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Checking the closest box on a form because a more accurate description is not yet available isn't exactly "groundbreaking", in my opinion.

Maria Jayne
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"Athletes" ....words are funny sometimes.

evan c
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Sitting on my ass all day pressing buttons is serious physical activity...

Hugo Cardoso
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Is there a better word for someone who is very good in a competitive environment?
Are professional chess players legally considered athletes?

David Klingler
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Professional chess is something that has already gained a lot of recognition as serious professional competition. Unfortunately, eSports competitors have not yet gained much respect from the general public in most parts of the world. The work that the professional gamers put in to compete at the top level demands respect, and I feel disgusted each time someone makes a joke about it. A sport doesn't have to be physically-focused to be a sport or be competitive. I think 8, 16+ hours a day of concentration and precision is much more respectable than someone tackling someone else onto the ground. People need to stop being ignorant and learn to appreciate more forms of competition.

Ramin Shokrizade
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I've spent at least four years of my life (1999 to 2003) as a professional cyberathlete. I was paid more than I would have using my (first) degree in exercise physiology. I've been a track coach for 15 years, and trained two world record holders. I feel pretty safe saying that cyberathletes are athletes, and this type of competition is extremely demanding physically. You may not see your catecholamine levels rising, along with your blood pressure and heart rate, but it is happening. Cyberathletes often have to endure play durations that all but the most extreme endurance athletes would never attempt.

It is for this reason that I think a lot of our current games are dangerous for cyberathletes, because to be competitive we make them play 24 hours a day, and they do.

Olympic shooting, which is an officially sanctioned Olympic event, is a focus sport. But there you only have to focus for a few minutes, essentially a sprint. Cyberathletes have to maintain similar levels of focus for hours without fault, to me making them much more highly trained than Olympic shooters.

Cyberathletics is tremendously demanding on the nervous and circulatory systems. Renal failure has also resulted when water balance is not carefully maintained during extreme play durations by amateurs. While I have not been to a lot of tournaments, I don't remember seeing any obese cyberathletes at these competitions. I've also noticed that cyberathletes are able to jump from one game to another and still be competitive. This is because their nervous systems are more powerful than those of an untrained individual, as suggested by all of the studies that show improved coordination and reaction times from video game play (even short durations), even in non-game activities.

There are 10 (physical) organ systems in the human body. It makes no sense to me to say that training some organ systems makes you an athlete, but training other ones does not.

Christian Philippe Guay
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Athlete is the right word here.

It's not because a sport is less physically demanding than another that it makes it something else. And one of the greatest strengths of video games is that as players can't run out of stamina and can't injure other players, the most dedicated players can experience high level play in just a few weeks or months when it would take at least 3 years in most sports. I've done it myself in 1 month and a half playing over 8 hours a day. However, it also taught me that if you do that for 3 months, then it takes 6 to lose the fat (humor). Whoever plays game competitively has to train physically as well.

@evan c
For the record, the brain is the part of your body that requires the highest amount of energy to function, so to play games at a high level is far more physically demanding that you might think.

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Giro Maioriello
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I'm reminded of......

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Srm21isYMs

:P

Randall Stevens
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This weekend Evolution (biggest fighting game tournament in the world) is happening and players wanted to come from all around the world to compete. Players in certain countries, like China, had a lot of trouble working through the process to come here to play. They won't be staying here, but I hope this decision can make the process of international travel for gaming easier and more acceptable.

It's not a demanding physical activity, but they work really hard and are really proud to come and compete. I wouldn't want to take that away from them, and if it means changing what a word means to some government body, then so be it.

WILLIAM TAYLOR
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Absolutely nothing about eSports outside of a Wii Sports or Dance Central competition is athletic. I think there is a bit of spin in the representation of the Visa. I wonder if everyone that comes to the US for any type of competition gets a "Professional athlete" visa because, "hey, it's close enough and it'd be a waste of our time to go up the chain to get a new category made for something that will be effectively identical," rather than, "we consider eSports to be athletic competition."

Ramin Shokrizade
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Are you an exercise scientist or even a competitive athlete? I am both and I am going to have to disagree with your assertion. I go into more detail above.

Dan Jones
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Damn, son, you just got Shok'd.

Katy Smith
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What are professional poker players called? While I highly respect what "cyber athletes" do, I have trouble putting a Starcraft player in the same league (pun intended) as a running back. I would put them in whatever category professional chess or professional poker players are in. If that's athlete, I guess I have to expand my personal definition of "athlete" :)

Christian Philippe Guay
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I think you are slightly confused here. RTS, FPS and fighting games all require at best both physical (dexterity) and mental skills. Chess and Poker do not require any physical skills whatsoever, big difference.

Katy Smith
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No, not confused =/

I get that eSports players require skills. I actually am very impressed with it. I just don't think that "athlete" is the right word. I am skeptical that competing in an FPS tournament should be equal to the physical exertion of other more common sports. Not hatin', there should just be a better word for "professional competitor".

Ramin Shokrizade
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Having been a USA and UCLA track coach, I have a hard time seeing what baseball players do as "athletics". I guess I am a bit of an elitist. They are sports people and require some physical discipline and training despite how inferior it might be to what a marathon runner requires. I certainly think that cyberathletes get their heart rates higher and burn more calories than baseball players do.

Perhaps us elitists could call the competitive baseball, luge, race car drivers, ping pong, golf, and Starcraft players "professional sports people". I think these fine distinctions are not really necessary to the government though. All of these people may be extremely well trained, but when the training is focused on the nervous system the results are not going to look anything like linebackers.

I have the most respect for gymnasts, dancers, and martial artists, who have to have both the strength and endurance, and the crazy nervous system training at the same time.

Katy Smith
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So I got off my lazy butt and actually researched what an "athlete visa" is. Here's what it says from the government website :

"You must be coming to the United States to participate in individual event, competition or performance in which you are internationally recognized with a high level of achievement; evidenced by a degree of skill and recognition substantially above that ordinarily encountered so that the achievement is renowned, leading or well known in more than one country."

So 1) individual event, 2) internationally recognized 3) doing something that takes skill.

Using that definition, cyber-athletes are definitely athletes. However, Cirque du Soleil performers are not. It seems that, while it's cool LoL players are able to compete in the US now, the US government hasn't really modified or expanded the definition of what an athlete is. I think this story is making a bigger deal out of the visa title than they should be.

As far as the baseball players being athletes thing...I'm not going to touch that one. People far more versed in athletics have already done that a dozen times over.
http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/columns/story?columnist=kurkjian_ti
m&id=6614933

Christian Philippe Guay
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It seems that most people strongly associate the word athletic with strength and not much with dexterity. But the etymology of the word ''athletics'' fits perfectly with competitive video games:
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The word athletics is derived from the Ancient Greek ἀθλητής (athlētēs, "combatant in public games") from ἆθλον (athlon, "prize") or ἆθλος (athlos, "competition").


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