** LEGAL UPDATE **
First there was cup-stacking as a "sport" covered on ESPN. Now, owing to policy decisions and recent practices by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), video game players engaging in competitions within the digital world can get visas to come the United States and be employed as "athletes."
More than one visa option is available for this purpose.
The B-1 business visitor visa already covers traditional athletes, such as professional golfers or tennis players, and is a possibility for gamers as well. The limitation, however, is that those athletes and gamers may only participate in competitions and earn prize money. Local employment is not allowed under the B-1 visa, and many gamers who come to the U.S. to live and train receive a salary from the U.S. gamer league sponsoring them.
For highly qualified gamers, however, it's possible to get an employment-based type of visa in order to legally receive a salary in the United States.
Various media outlets reported in 2013 on the first gamer receiving a P-1 visa to work for a U.S. employer. The P-1 visa allows "internationally recognized athletes" to come to the U.S. individually or on a team. There needs to be an employer or agent to sponsor the visa, and the gamer must have supporting documents, such as media reports or major international competition victories, to demonstrate "international recognition."
Another option for top gamers is the O-1 visa for "individuals of extraordinary ability." This visa also requires a local employer or agent and documentation of the gamer's stature in the gaming community. Winning a major national or international competition can help. Other documentation can include media reports about the gamer's place among top-tier gamers around the world, the ability to command a high salary, and other materials to show how the gamer is among the best of the best.
At this point, U.S. visas for gamers are a regular and accepted option.
Effective Date: March 27, 2019