After months of waiting, Leffen is finally free.
Team SoloMid announced on Wednesday that Super Smash Bros. Melee star William “Leffen” Hjelte, who is co-sponsored by Solo-Mid and Red Bull, had been approved to receive a temporary visa. The visa will allow Leffen, who is from Sweden, to compete in American events through the end of July.
The visa is a short-term P-1A visa, which allows international visitors to “perform at a specific athletic competition as an athlete, individually, or as part of a group or team, at an internationally recognized level of performance.” The P-1A is primarily used by those who compete in athletic sports, but it has been sought by a small but growing number of esports competitors who hope to participate in American events.
Leffen had not been able to compete in the United States since September. He had flown stateside in October to compete in The Big House 5, but he was denied entry into the country. The problem was that he had tried to enter on a tourist visa as he had in the past, but he needed a different type due to his employment (in the eyes of U.S. immigration law) by the U.S.-based Team SoloMid.
Leffen’s initial request was denied last week in part because the person who heard the case did not consider Melee a legitimate sport that fell within the P-1A guidelines. Red Bull and SoloMid re-submitted the visa request, as visas are approved on a case-by-case basis and can be reheard.
Red Bull also launched a social media campaign centered around the hashtag #FreeLeffen. The campaign included a WhiteHouse.gov petition to recognize Melee and all esports as legitimate sports, which would make it easier for esport competitors seeking P-1A visas. The petition currently has more than 53,000 signatures. It will receive an official response from the White House if it reaches 100,000 signatures by May 29, although the response does not guarantee that any action will be taken.
Once the approval was announced, Leffen wasted no time registering for American events. He confirmed his spot in CEO in June, an event that he won last year. He also announced his intent to compete—and win—at Evo in July.
Leffen also thanked his sponsors and fans, while asking them to continue to spread word of the petition in a series of tweets.
“I want to put some emphasis on the fact that not everyone who gets into trouble with [U.S. Customs] will have the support I did,” said Leffen. “That’s exactly why I still think the petition is important. Esports is here to stay[;] [it shows] that we deserve rights.”