the News desk.
|Is it time for eSports gamers to be
recognised as athletes?
| Visa issues
are keeping many of the worlds best gamers from competing at top events
because eSports is not considered a legitimate sport by US
The competitive gaming
community is eagerly anticipating a White House response to a petition asking
eSports to be formally recognized as athletics. The petition specifically asked
the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services to recognize competitors
as athletes in order for them to be eligible for P-1 visas, allowing them to
compete for money at major tournaments. The petition surpassed the 100,000
signature threshold in under one month, warranting an official comment from the
It was filed in response to the deportation of
Swedens William Leffen Hjelte, who is currently ranked as the
third best Super Smash Bros Melee player in the world. Visa issues have kept
Hjelte from major tournaments since last October.
On 4 May, Team
Solomid announced that a visa had been approved for Leffen until July, to allow
him to participate at the Evolution Championship Series, the most prestigious
fighting game tournament in the USA.
|According to a
government statement that has since gone viral via a video of Hjelte reading
it, he was originally not approved for a P-1 visa because Smash Bros
Melee is not considered a legitimate sport.
The statement has
sparked many debates on social media. The petition amassed the 100,000
signatures required to guarantee a response by being shared by many different
eSports communities, and retweeted by musicians like Lupe Fiasco and
celebrities like Dylan Sprouse.
Esports are in a transitionary period,
where immigration officials probably dont know much about them or the
fact that major cable networks like TBS and ESPN broadcast matches of
competitive Starcraft and Counterstrike.
Many competitive games are
team-based, but receiving a P-1 visa has kept complete teams from
Riot Games has been successful at building out League of
Legends into a recognizable sport (with an official championship series called
LCS), and it has the distinction of facilitating the very first P-1 visa to an
eSports competitor in 2013.
There are conversations in the Super Smash
Bros community as to whether Nintendo needs to play a more active part in
growing Smash into what the USCIS would recognize as a sport.
would need a Nintendo-endorsed league (content would have to be driven from
them). Getting this is difficult, says Tafo, a blogger for Melee it On Me
who maintain the most authentic player rankings for various Smash games.
As of now, Nintendo is providing logistical support for various Smash
tournaments throughout the year. Its a good first step, but an assortment
of unconnected annual tournaments are not the same thing as a formalized
Nintendo Smash league with a set season leading up to grand finals.
Attempts to get an official comment from Nintendo on the matter have
proved fruitless. Nintendo told the Guardian: We have nothing to announce
on this topic.
A Reddit post from four months ago details a
conversation between a Smash community member and Nintendo Treehouse employee
@JCDotFace, hinting at larger role to be played by Nintendo in 2016. The
exchange has since been verified on Twitter by both JC and D1, the Smash
community program manager for Twitch. There is a general sense that some
announcements could be forthcoming at Evo 2016, or maybe with the rumored NX
release of Smash. Much of this is based on anecdotal information.
fighting game community, or FGC, which began in the arcade scene of the early
1990s, is going through a cultural transition itself. According to Kotaku, Evo
itself was borne out of an argument in 1995 about who was the top player, which
resulted on an online beef being settled at an arcade on Broadway in New York
City. Now it takes place in a massive Las Vegas convention center, though the
FGC community has played a major part in deciding which games get included at
the tournament and which do not.
Smash Bros was included briefly in
2007s line up at Evo, and then stopped in 2009, and then only started
again in 2013 when the Super Smash Bros Melee community managed to win a
coveted slot on Evos mainstage after winning a fundraising competition
for breast cancer research. Just a few years ago, it was controversial to
accept Smash as a fighting game by the FGC (who emerged from the arcade era of
more traditional 2D fighters). It was included into the Evo roster at a time
when fanbases for games had to prove something to the FGC in order to be
This years Evo, in contrast will be including Pokken,
a new Pokemon fighting game that has only been available for two months.
Nintendo has been partnering up with various tournament organizers around the
USA, including those at EVO to help provide logistical support, though the
details of their support remain unclear. What is somewhat clearer is that
theres a likelihood Nintendo saw an opportunity to promote their latest
IP. The role that Smashers need from Nintendo is a different one than just
publicizing new games to them.
In 2013, 32 million people tuned into
the League of Legends third season World Championship series, more than either
the viewers for the MLB World Series or average viewers per match of the NCAA
Final Four that year.
While there have been scant studies about the
popularity of eSports versus traditional televised sporting events among young
people, theres no reason to believe eSports wont grow in
viewership. Super Smash Bros Melee came out in 2001, but the largest Super
Smash Bros Melee tournament ever is taking place this July at Evo 2016. Last
year, the Evo stream for Super Smash Bros Melee broke the 200,000 viewer mark,
setting a new record for concurrent viewers at a fighting game
Getting a response to the White House petition will help draw
attention to the plight of eSports competitors, but ultimately it will take
more than awareness to transform the communities that have grown around
competitive video games, like Super Smash Bros Melee, into true sports.