The White House has yet to weigh in on whether esports competitors should be considered athletes.
That will soon change.
A petition on the official White House website calling for the U.S. to allow international esports competitors to receive athlete visas reached its goal of 100,000 signatures last night. That means the White House will give an official response to the petition within 60 days, although a response does not guarantee that any action will be taken.
The type of visa, called a P-1A, is the same given to foreign athletes in traditional sports who compete “at an internationally recognized level of performance.” Although P-1A applications are judged on a case-by-case basis, esports players are often denied these visas because they’re deemed to not meet P-1A standards. Adding esports to the category would make it much easier for a foreign competitor to meet the standards of the visa.
The final push came on Monday thanks in part to a series of Reddit posts on many esports-related subreddits including r/GlobalOffensive, r/Dota2, and r/StreetFighter among others. The r/GlobalOffensive and r/DotA2 posts reached the front page of the site as a whole, and the attention they received, coupled with a spot on the front page of the whitehouse.gov site, helped add around 30,000 signatures in just under 12 hours..
The petition was initially part of the #FreeLeffen campaign, which was created late last month by Red Bull and Team SoloMid in response to the struggles that Swedish Super Smash Bros. Melee star William “Leffen” Hjelte faced when trying to compete in the United States. An initial surge of signatures came with the launch of the campaign, and another surge accompanied the news in early May that he had been approved for a temporary visa.
Leffen was denied entry into the country last October when he attempted to compete at The Big House 5 Smash tournament in Michigan. He had previously entered the U.S. on a tourism visa, but his visa was no longer deemed appropriate by U.S. Customs. Because he was sponsored by the U.S.-based Team SoloMid, he was considered employed by the team and needed a different visa. His initial P-1A request was denied in late April, but his request was approved on a second attempt.
The White House’s response to the petition will come at some point before the end of July.