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The more we try to look the other way or brush this under the rug the further away we are as an esports community, especially in such a tricky situation and scenario outlined below.
Portrait of William "Leffen" Hjelte, Swedish Smash Bros Melee Player.

William “Leffen” Hjelte

*Edit: Since this article was published, Leffen has received a temp Visa.
The latest shift in the esports community targets one of Super Smash Bros. Melee’s best players, William “Leffen” Hjelte. Leffen was deported (while sponsored by an American company) and on top of this, he was also denied a P1 Visa. Let’s back up, there is a bit more to mention:
  • Leffen isn’t the only one who has experienced this. There are a few others facing the same situation.
  • The qualification and discussion of what makes esports a “legitimate” sport is ongoing.
  • The reason Leffen was deported was because the Visa he held was a tourist Visa.
  • While competing or “working,” it is required that you have an athlete’s Visa.
  • P1 Visa is the “Internationally Recognized Athlete” Visa – see the snippet below pulled from USCIS.gov.

    Individual Athletes Eligibility Criteria

    You must be coming to the United States to participate in individual event, competition or performance in which you are internationally recognized with a high level of achievement; evidenced by a degree of skill and recognition substantially above that ordinarily encountered so that the achievement is renowned, leading or well known in more than one country.

There are huge grey areas. Traditional sports such as basketball or soccer are physically demanding with mental involvement. An esports athlete technically fits under those principles. The level and skill involved in esports greatly surpasses my understanding and comprehension of what actually goes into preparing for a competition and competing in general. For that reason, I am not an internationally, well-renowned competitor in esports – but that’s neither here nor there.

This discussion isn’t only about Leffen being snatched out of what may be the only thing he knows but it’s about the technicality international gamers could face when we are dealing with international affairs.

Looking for more detail on this topic? Follow this Reddit thread. If you want to support and be a part of the change, you can sign this petition here.

Photograph of William “Leffen” Hjelte copyright of Red Bull.

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