By: Paolo “Sandata” Bago, Kurt Lozano and Riku Quiapon
With eSports rapidly gaining ground as an accepted competitive discipline, countries and governments are increasing the requirements for competitors looking to join international tournaments.
In the United States, what was first heralded as a great leap for eSports acceptance — the recognition of eligibility for esports professionals to the P1 Athlete’s Visa — has now potentially jeopardized two Philippine teams from participating in this year’s biggest Dota 2 tournament, The International 2016.
According to both of the teams’ management teams, Execration (EXE) and TNC Pro Team (TNC)’s they were advised by the US embassy to apply for P1 (Entertainer, Athletes etc.) visas instead of B1-B2 visas (Business-Tourist). Unfortunately, doing so would take months to get approved, especially given the reduced time window.
Reportedly, both teams first applied for their visas July 8 (for EXE) and 15 (for TNC). In a letter given to both teams, Valve advised both EXE and TNC to apply for B1/B2 visas, citing that teams used these for immigration to join past TIs.
Both were advised to resubmit their applications after their first try by the US embassy. After their second attempt, the US embassy stated that both teams were qualified to fly, but that they needed to apply for a P1 visa instead of a B1/B2. The setbacks have prompted both teams to seek help from the office of Senator Benigno Paolo “Bam” Aquino.
With visa problems haunting teams from outside the United States attending The International and other eSports tournaments held in the country over the years, a petition was submitted to the White House last April to recognize eSports as “legitimate” sports so that players can come with P1 visas.
With time running out, the two Philippine teams are currently coordinating with Valve and Senator Bam Aquino, an avid supporter of eSports,who also assisted Team Rave with their visa issues last year.
For his part, the office of Senator Aquino promised to exert all efforts to help the two Philippine teams resolve this matter and make their trip to Seattle. The office of the senator has been helping both teams fix all their legal duties with immigration since they qualified for their berths at The International.
TNC Manager Paulo Sy released a statement today about the issue:
“This is the dream of every Dota 2 player, not just for our players but for everyone. Especially sa Filipino community. It’s been awhile na may pinoy team na nagrepresent sa TI6. This time, dalawang teams pa. This is not a negative thing to look at. This clearly means that eSports is growing big. Now, they are considering the players as real athletes, that’s why they are requiring P1 Visas.
We would like to thank Valve and Sen. Bam Aquino for trying to help us in the process to make it to TI6. All of these are okay, it’s all for the growth of eSports.”
Arvin Risos, manager and owner of Execration also released a statement:
“It has been an emotional roller coaster ride for us, this is actually turning out to be harder than the qualifiers. It has been the dream of our team to Qualify to The International 6 since TI1 and now that it finally happened, we’re facing this visa issues and it’s emotionally exhausting to be honest. We are thankful to Senator Bam and Valve for helping us out throughout this process. Hopefully, somehow some way we get our visas in time for the event.”
Important to note is that none of the Philippine teams are technically barred from flying to the US, only that the US government is requiring them to state their status as athletes competing in an esports tournament.
If the US embassy in Manila grants both teams B1/B2 visas, this can help them secure their flights at the very least to attend the event. But any future team looking to compete in the US will have to secure P1 visas.
Another option open to EXE and TNC is that Valve find a way to expedite the requirements needed to get a P1 Visa
Following this, Philippine-based teams would do well to secure P1 visas for their players for any succeeding event in the US. As esports continues to grow, the once wild west of the industry is slowly overlapping with the mainstream…and with it comes increased pressure and regulation.
To further help the local esports scene, teams that encounter similar issues like these in the future may contact the Philippine eSports Organization (PeSO). Here’s a statement from the Executive Director of PeSO, Tryke Gutierrez:
“With the rapid growth of eSports, we’re facing regulation issues that are inevitable in any growing industry. The US’ decision on granting eSports athletes visas which appeared to be good news at first is turning out to be a challenge for filipino teams. At this point, we need all the help we can get. We have been assisting the teams with their requirements and processing for the past weeks in cooperation with Joebert Yu and the managers of both teams however, we haven’t gotten the visa and we only have 12 days to go. If you know anyone who can help us out kindly contact Tryke@esports.com.ph. Thanks.”