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Why overseas gamers are getting special visas to come to the U.S.

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You may not know it, but eSports is a big deal. With  more than 3,000 competitors competing across nine different games for thousands of dollars in cash prizes at EVO 2013, the Las Vegas tournament has just set its attendance record. And that’s just fighting games — professional circuits for StarcraftLeague of Legends and Call of Duty frequently boast tournaments with more than $100,000 in payouts. 

Now, there’s a new sign of eSports’ growing stature: The U.S. is allowing gaming teams to apply for the P-1 visa — an application reserved for professional athletes.

According to the U.S. Department of State, the P-1 visa allows holders to perform and, “requires an internationally recognized level of sustained performance.”

The visas were granted in light of tireless lobbying by League of Legends creators Riot Games in an effort to bring international players to U.S. teams for the League of Legends Season 3 World Championship (LCS). The tournament, which starts its qualifying rounds in September, culminates in a final competition in at the Staples Center in Los Angeles in October — where millions in prize money is up for grabs.

The P-1 visa brings international players stateside to work closely with their team. It also opens the door for International teams joining the LCS circuit season by season, often smaller events held across the country for a $100,000 prize pool. LCS holds tournaments nearly year-round, and can offer a steady stream of gaming-related income for those skilled enough to earn it.

Ultimately, the P-1 visa gives eSports an opportunity to flourish even more, and gain more viewers in the process. With the rise of competitive online games, tournaments have been reaching ever higher records in attendance, such as a recent Major League Gaming event in Anaheim that boasted 21,000 attendees. According to Kotaku, the last LCS World Championship drew a total of 8 million viewers during the competition, spiking when last year’s winners, Taipei Assassins, left with the $1 million prize.

Gaming teams from the U.S., Japan, China and Korea also tend to do well at these competitions.