US issues athlete visas to professional gamers

The United States is letting pro gamers from the UK's Team Dignitas to enter the country on a visa normally used by elite athletes.

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The United States has finally accorded gamers the respect they deserve, allowing foreign pro gamers to enter the country on a visa normally used by elite athletes.

The move officially recognises online game League of Legends as a professional sport, with players from UK clan Team Dignitas issued with P-1 visas.

"The lawyers had to go back and forth with US Immigration for several months to get everything in place, especially understanding that this is a sport," Michael O'Dell, Dignitas' manager, told the BBC.

To qualify for a P-1 visa, you have to demonstrate "a high level of achievement in a field evidenced by a degree of skill and recognition substantially above that ordinarily encountered, to the extent that such achievement is renowned, leading, or well-known in more than one country," according to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.

That sounds about right to me -- eSports, as pro gaming is known, are high-profile, big business events with millions of dollars in prize money up for grabs and millions of fans around the world tuning in on services such as Twitch.tv.

They showcase the most talented players in the world, men and women (okay, mainly men) with staggering reflexes and brilliant teamwork. The most popular eSport is StarCraft II, which gets audiences comparable to more traditional outdoor sports in Korea, but multiplayer online battle arenas such as League of Legends and Dota 2 aren't far behind.

Here in London, gamers pack out pubs for weekends of gaming known as Barcraft. Check out our video report from the Assembly House in Kentish Town (tough assignment, this one):

Do you think eSports can change our image of professional athletes? Are gamers as skilful and competitive as players of more sweaty, muscular sports? Bring your A game to the comments, or our semi-professional Facebook page.