As someone who works in the immigration enforcement unit for the British Home Office, the announcement of visas for professional League of Legends players intrigued me. Not only is the game now recognized as an ‘eSport’, players can also travel internationally to compete in tournaments. I’m not a League of Legends player and didn’t know much about the game when I first heard the news so I spent quite a few days doing my homework on the topic. While doing so, I came across two major objections that a vast majority of people have raised. Firstly, people have taken issue with League of Legends being recognized as an eSport. Secondly, people have reacted negatively to the news that professional players will be granted visas to travel and compete.
I tried to look up the definition of an eSport to fully understand what it means. Granted it feels a little awkward to refer to video games as such, but people must realize that this is just a term used for competitive gaming. If it was up to me, I would have just called it a video game competition instead of inviting a storm of angry rants by calling it an eSport. Still, it’s impossible to please everyone and those who want to find faults will continue to do so. I think people are arguing over a non-issue. Call it a sport, call it a game, call it whatever you like. The fact is, it’s year 2014 and people do play video games professionally. As humans, it can be in our nature to try and resist a new concept that we’re not well acquainted with, and this is a classic example of that. I’m sure that the general public had similar things to say when people first started playing chess professionally. Eventually, we’ll have to move on and get over it.
I don’t see an issue with anyone competing professionally to earn money. There are plenty of other debatable professions if we really want to go there. I’d also like to point out that professional video game players develop quite a lot of useful skills when playing in tournaments: hand-eye coordination, team working, an excellent eye for detail, planning and organisation, and responsiveness, to name a few. I understand that playing League of Legends does not require the same physical exertion that playing a game of football does, but that doesn’t mean that these tournaments deserve scorn from misinformed people who think video games are all about sitting on your couch and wasting time while munching on a slice of pizza.
The second most widely discussed issue surrounding this news seems to be the issuance of visas for professional players to travel. People have presented a range of arguments including the fact that video games can be played over the internet and should not require travel. Others have quickly jumped to pull out the ‘illegal immigration’ card. While I understand that video games can be played over the internet, tournaments are not all about that. I have watched enough video game tournaments to safely say that the atmosphere when teams are physically present is unbeatable by a web-based tournament. The League of Legends Season 3 World Championship last year was watched by 32 million people. The number speaks for itself.
My career puts me in a good position to understand the concerns people have about immigration in Western countries--USA and UK, to be more precise--but a lot of those commenting do not seem to understand how the immigration system even works. Those who want to circumvent the immigration processes will find a way to dodge the system regardless. The lengths people go to can be mind-boggling. Applying for a genuine visa to play video games in a tournament is not going to result in masses of people emigrating. You have to meet a certain criteria, which isn’t easy to meet by any means. Plenty of professional players have already been denied visas, and in an extreme case, German pro-gamer Marcel "Dexter" Feldkamp was denied entry upon arrival for reasons even he doesn't know.
Making money by playing video games is harder than playing a physical sport professionally because of the sheer level of competition. You can find a plethora of outstanding League of Legends players of any age in any given country, but I cannot say the same for sports like football. At the end of the day, one has to be an exceptional player to earn a living from playing the game, with little room for “bad performances”. We need to stop declaring doom and gloom the minute we see something new and different. To argue over what a video game tournament should be called is silly. But what’s sillier is to assume that anyone who wishes to partake in a competition across borders will be doing so in order to obtain citizenship of the respective country. We cannot simply shut ourselves down because we feel threatened by something, and it’s high time that we stop making a mountain out of a molehill.