League of Legends players get athlete visas, helps eSports players be considered 'professional athletes'

By Luke Caulfield , Updated Jul 13, 2013 12:29 PM EDT

If you look up "athlete" in your dictiona...who'm I kidding, everyone googles now adays. Plug "athlete" into your preferred search engine, make your way past the Wikipedia entry that anyone can edit to something that looks like a reputable dictionary (anything without "urban" in front of it), and you'll find a definition along the lines of, "a person who is trained or skilled in exercises, sports, or games requiring physical strength, agility, or stamina." We're now at the cusp of the 21st century, and for good or bad, the U.S. government is no longer applying such a defintion to the term.

It was a "lengthy process" according to Riot Games' eSports manager Nick Allen, but "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," he said to GameSpot.

In all honesty, I can't say I saw that coming.

Allen called the visas "groundbreaking for eSports," and "a huge thing."   

If you haven't played or heard of League of Legends, it's an MMO played by millions of gamers around the globe, who, utilizing the right amount of strategy, character builds, mouse clicks and key strokes can win a LOT of money in various tournaments and championships, one of which is set to begin fairly soon. Skill required? Hell yes. Pressure involved? It's a competition, of course there is. Does that make all players athletes? Well...I suppose that depends on your definition. Training for such an activity definitely doesn't follow a "traditional" regimen, but then again, eSports aren't your traditional sport.

The winners of the Season 2 League of Legends World Championships were the Taipei Assassins out of Taiwan. According to the team's former manager, Erica Tseng, a typical day for the team consists of "exercise in the morning, (to maintain their health and strength during competitions), then English classes to improve their ability to communicate with overseas players and fans. Then they start their practices, with training focused mostly on practicing with other teams (NA, Taiwan, SEA, Korean, China teams), or play ranked games (solo and duo) to train their personal skills."  

By way of comparison, Geoffrey Mutai is a Kenyan national and skilled long distance runner. He's the most recent winner of the New York City Marathon, and shattered the previous record by completing it in a few minutes over 2 hours. That's 26.2 miles. Do the math, and you'll see he runs a mile every 4 and 3/4 minutes (I may have dropped a 1 somewhere). That means this guy's easily a mile or two ahead of most of us in the time we take to slug down a cup of coffee and have a bowl of cereal. To train, he'd run up to 149 miles a week, or, about 5 and a half marathons.

In order to compete, both Mutai and the members of the Taipei had to get a visa from the U.S. government. At the time, only Mutai would've gotten an athlete's visa. This year, it'll be both.

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