In a an ever-developing world where virtual arenas are now as entrancing as real-world stadiums, the world of esports has advanced from sideline gaming to a global phenomenon. Esports transcends borders, as players from all over the world often gather to compete in tournaments that feature millions of dollars in prizes, along with millions of online viewers. Many of these tournaments and leagues, such as the official Call of Duty League (CDL), the League of Legends Championship Series (LCS), and the Valorant Champions Tour (VCT), to name a few, take place in the United States, where globetrotting players compete for prestigious titles in stadiums while both in-person and online fans tune in to cheer them on.
However, an intriguing area that is often overlooked is the intersection of esports and United States immigration law. After all, the United States has some of most complex and strict immigration rules in the world, and as esports continues to rise in popularity, teams, players, and even fans must figure out how to navigate the intricacies of United States immigration regulations.
Just like athletes in traditional sports leagues, such as the NBA, NFL, MLB, and NHL, esports players are athletes that must secure an appropriate visa so they can be authorized to enter the United States and compete therein without running afoul of any immigration decrees. This notion applies to all players no matter where they hail from or how popular they may be, and as they prepare for their competition “on the field,” our legal team is formulating and implementing elaborate legal maneuvers, collecting and organizing extensive documentation and evidence, and concocting strategies to ensure that each team is able to help their players achieve their dreams of competing from within the United States.
Two main nonimmigrant, or temporary, options apply to esports professionals: the P-1 visa and the O-1 visa. In its most general terms, the P-1 visa allows athletes who are internationally recognized to showcase their astonishing talents on American soil during specific athletic competitions, seasons, or events. Designed for individuals who are known in more than one country, the P-1 visa provides a clear path for esports athletes to compete in distinguished leagues that require players of international recognition. In order to merit a P-1 visa, in addition to other requirements, the athlete must be able to prove that they meet certain eligibility requirements, including proving major tournament wins, high rankings, endorsements from recognized experts, and more. Another way to seek a P-1 visa is to prove that the athlete meets the statutory definition of being recognized as a “Professional Athlete.” Coaches, trainers, and other support staff who can prove that they are essential to a principal P-1 athlete can apply for what’s known as a P-1S visa, so they may support the team or individual in their efforts from within the United States.
The other option, which often provides more flexibility, is the O-1 visa, which permits individuals that possess extraordinary abilities in their field to enter the United States to work within their industry. Although the standard is much higher, there are benefits to seeking an O-1 visa over a P-1, and our legal team often strategically prefers this route in order to ensure the best chances of success. In order to merit an O-1 visa, the individual athlete must be able to demonstrate that they have a reputation of distinction and maintain extraordinary abilities in their sport. This requirement can be met by submitting evidence such as press, articles, awards, large followings, high rates of compensation, and more. It is also helpful to demonstrate that the athlete has worked with distinguished companies, teams, brands, and organizations, as well as providing testimonial letters from prominent individuals who can attest to the athlete’s extraordinary reputation and work history. Obtaining an O-1 visa is difficult and requires tremendous creativity and legal acumen, but is absolutely obtainable and is a true testament to esports players’ dedication and skill in their games. We often seek O-1 visas for Influencers, Streamers, and Content Creators in the gaming world as well, as esports often bleeds into these industries, especially when the athletes and games are streamed on Twitch, YouTube, Kick, or Rumble.
While the immigration process can seem daunting, the labyrinthine landscape of immigration law is surmountable with a strong legal team by your side. What is most crucial is finding a firm that has extensive experience in this world, as the stakes are often very high, rosters are finalized with inked contracts early on in free agency, and fans do not want to be disappointed if things go awry. Luckily, at Wildes & Weinberg, we have tremendous experience in understanding the history and complexities of United States immigration law, as well as the nuances and novelty of the esports industry. We have been fortunate to represent a plethora of esports talent, including athletes competing for Minesotta ROKKR (CDL), Team MIBR (VCT), and Immortals (LCS), to name a few organizations. It takes a true symphony of legal expertise and esports passion to bring the esports ecosystem to life in the United States, and finding a strong esports immigration lawyer is often one of the first steps in orchestrating a successful season.
Wildes & Weinberg was founded in 1960 by Senior Partner, Leon Wildes. Nearly three quarters of a century later, the firm continues to concentrate its practice in all aspects of U.S. immigration and nationality law, servicing the immigration requirements of prominent American and International firms, banks, industrial, financial, and manufacturing concerns, as well as law firms in connection with the personnel needs of their foreign national employees.
In addition, the firm has a distinguished clientele and has done substantial immigration work for performing artists, directors, writers, models, actors/actresses, athletes, fine artists, art dealers, curators, influencers, esports professionals, and literary agents. Most notable was Leon Wildes’ successful representation of former Beatle John Lennon and his artist wife, Yoko Ono, in their deportation proceedings, the basis of which has inspired legislation, and has been portrayed in films, plays, and literary works worldwide. Some of the firm’s other distinguished clients include soccer icon Pele, Master Chef Jean-Georges, musicians Sinead O’Connor and Boy George, scholar Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks (z”l), as well as Former First Lady Melania Trump and her family.
Michael Wildes, the firm’s Managing Partner and the son of Leon Wildes, is also currently serving his fourth term as Mayor of Englewood, New Jersey, is the author of Safe Haven in America: Battles to Open the Golden Door (which draws on over a quarter of a century of his practice in the immigration field), is an Adjunct Professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York, and serves as Counsel to Lincoln Center and several international/corporate law firms. Michael’s son, Josh Wildes, now a third-generation immigration lawyer, joined the firm after working for the U.S. Department of Justice in their immigration courts, has experience within immigration at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and as an avid sports fan who has spent ample time researching the parallels between sports and immigration law, he handles many of our esports athlete’s cases.
Despite difficulties currently being encountered in dealing with U.S. immigration authorities, the firm has maintained an extraordinary track record for success in its cases. The firm’s litigation group has expanded its efforts in filing Mandamus Actions and other Actions in Federal Courts throughout the nation. In addition, Wildes & Weinberg’s multilingual staff is spread throughout its offices in New York City, Englewood, New Jersey, Miami, Florida, Denver, Colorado and by appointment only in Los Angeles, California and Tel Aviv, Israel, and represents individuals and corporations throughout the world. They are known for their experience and special expertise in processing each foreign national’s case with nothing less than the highest level of professionalism.
*A version of this article originally appeared on Esports Legal News here: https://esportslegal.news/2023/08/24/an-overview-of-esports-and-united-states-immigration-law/
I would like to bring the positive news that mine and my family's visas have been APPROVED! I would like to take this opportunity to thank you and to express my heartfelt gratitude for your exceptional efforts and unwavering support...Lee Jackson Date : September 25, 2023
Michael and his entire team are professional, diligent and knowledgeable, effective and efficient, patient in guidance and interaction, and confident and reassuring in attitude. In brief: excellent partners and guides for the complex immigration journey.Jonatan S Date : September 14, 2023
The team at Wildes & Weinberg waste no time. They are intelligent, professional, and know exactly what needs to be done to succeed in your case. Had the pleasure of working with Josh Wildes, Julie P. Levey, and Brenda Moura,...Michael “Dimucc” DiMuccio Date : September 8, 2023
Josh Wildes & everyone on the W&W team were excellent with dealing with my green card application. The team were responsive to any questions, set clear goals & requirements for any & all documentation and were clear on what to...Kelvin Barker Date : March 10, 2023
I received my Green Card from Michael Wildes and his firm some days ago. The petition approval and Green Card release represent a real achievement for people like me in the US. Michael Wildes and his team are excellent, and...Luca Zammataro Date : November 22, 2022
Dear Michael Wildes, my husband and I would like to thank you and your team, the work was not easy, especially in the statement, there were a lot of flaws, but we managed to correct everything in a short time,...Jacques Carline Date : August 3, 2022
Our client David came to us after spending more than three years stuck in the immigration court morass with another attorney. His individual hearing wasn’t scheduled to occur for over a year, and he thought it might get pushed off...David E. Date : June 8, 2022