The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the esports industry in innumerable ways, with the Overwatch League being no exception. In the middle of a hurricane of controversies, the league has hit yet another roadblock: the struggle to import players to the US due to visa complications.
According to The Game Haus, North American teams have attempted to acquire players from the previous Vancouver Titans roster. Recently, the team released its entire roster, signing a completely new team in the middle of the season. After facing several issues regarding immigration, the processes had come to a halt. It is unlikely that any of these players will be showing their faces in the Overwatch League representing a U.S. based team, as Pacific teams like Seoul Dynasty are looking to upgrade their roster and will not have to deal with visa complications when it comes to contracting new talent.
Earlier last month, Guangzhou Charge announced that players Albert “neptuNo” Gonzalez Molinillo and Qio “Wya” Haomiao were unable to continue playing for the team due to the expiration of their visas and the complications COVID-19 had imposed on immigration processes worldwide. Last year, the Washington Justice encountered visa complications after acquiring players Elliot “ELLIVOTE” Vaneryd and Lukas “LullSiSh” Wiklund, with the latter being unable to play the 2020 season for the same reason.
Esports Immigration Lawyer Genie Doi explains usually, player trades or buyouts for players with visas are subject to special treatment, allowing them to join the new team quickly. “As long as a change of employer petition is filed within 30 days of the trade/buyout, the player is immediately authorized to join the new team on his/her existing visa with no downtime. This process has not changed during the pandemic.”
This benefit vanishes if a player is left as a free agent. Differing from trades, a new petition must be approved by the USCIS in order for the visa to be issued. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. has decided to cancel visa interviews, which puts any new acquisition on hold.
“Another challenge resulting from COVID-19 is that USCIS has suspended Premium Processing. In the past, teams could pay USCIS a higher fee to have visa petitions adjudicated within 15 calendar days. This is popular in esports as most teams want new players to join the roster ASAP and cannot wait the normal 2-4 month processing time. Currently, the processing time for a P-1A visa is more than 6.5 months. As long as Premium Processing remains suspended, and because the season is halfway over, it is entirely feasible that a new player signed to a team would not receive their visa until after the conclusion of the season.”
“Even if a visa is approved, teams still have to grapple with significant travel restrictions in place worldwide. Players attempting to enter the United States can face substantial delays depending on where they’re traveling from”, states Doi.
When asked for a prediction on the impact this situation will have on esports in the short term, Doi explains that the visa restrictions will be in place until the pandemic has subsided. “Recent reports also suggest that Blizzard (and hopefully other league operators) are temporarily adjusting rules to accommodate teams facing roster issues due in part to immigration challenges. Given the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, it is difficult to predict how it will impact esports immigration long-term. Even if receding of the pandemic returns the industry to the status quo, teams and players will still face the significant hurdles that existed prior to COVID-19”.
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