Stiff competition: League of Legends tournament recognised as pro sport

League of Legends 1
A floating gothic lolita and someone with a neon blue bow. Yeah, I have no idea what’s going on here.

In a bit of rather unusual news, the US State Department now recognises the League of Legends League Championship Series as a proper professional sport.

While this might sound like a bit of a minor change that will result in 90% of you reading this scoffing into your coffee, it’s reasonably big news for two reasons. First, the US is pretty big; their recognising a game played entirely on computers as capable of an actual professional sport is rather impressive. Second, it sets a precedent for other eSports to be recognised in the same way. It says something about how far gaming and eSports have come in the west, really.

Other than credibility, the main upshot is that players from other countries moving to US teams can now apply for the same sports visas as professional athletes for, say, the NBA or the MLB. The first player to make use of this is Danny Le, better known to the League of Legends community as Shiphtur, who made the move from Canada to the US to join Team Coast.

It’s worth noting that – right now – the LCS is the only league recognised as such. As said above, though, there’s now precedent for others to apply and be granted the same rights.

League of Legends 2
In this screenshot, a man does a twirl to show off his lovely armour – but forgets to put down his sword before doing so. Those poor little purple chaps were all eight feet tall a few seconds before this screenshot was taken.

The news first broke via a Gamespot interview with Riot Games’ Whalen Rozelle and Nick Allen, in which Allen stated that LCS players are now eligible for professional athlete sports visas. The news was later confirmed to Polygon, with Riot’s VP of eSports Dustin Beck calling it “a watershed moment” and likening it to “David Beckham coming to LA Galaxy.”

“It was a long process,” Beck explained. “We had to get endorsements from participants and prove that this is a consistent, viable career path and people can make a living playing games.”

Which is a bit of an understatement. Going by Polygon, LCS’s top teams can garner seven-figure sponsorship deals and the best players can earn annual salaries exceeding $100,000 USD, which makes me wonder what the hell I’m doing writing news. eSports viewer numbers are on the rise, too, with Beck reckoning that these figures are stronger than “80 or 90 percent of the sports covered on ESPN”, and a recent event in Shanghai garnered a whopping 18 million unique viewers.

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