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Competitive gaming recognized in U.S. as a pro sport

The official League of Legends eSports tournament League Championship Series has been recognized as a fully professional sport by the U.S. State Department.

For the first time, players from outside the United States can move to the U.S. under specific visas, which are provided for pro sports players coming to America to work. Previously, overseas LCS players had to go through a complicated series of applications to play professionally in the United States.

The first player to benefit from the change in the law is Danny 'Shiphtur' Le, who has joined Team Coast and is eligible to move to the U.S. from his native Canada. The new recognition of LCS applies to the eight professional teams operating in the United States, and is not applicable to other eSports leagues, though they can now apply to be added to the list of recognized leagues.

"This is a watershed moment," said Riot Games vice president of eSports Dustin Beck. "It validates eSports as a sport. Now we have the same designation as the NBA or NHL or other professional sports leagues. This opens the gates for other professional League of Legends players to make the transfer to U.S. teams. It's like David Beckham coming to LA Galaxy."

The news first emerged during an interview with Riot's eSports manager Nick Allen on GameSpot, in which he said that LCS players are now eligible for professional athlete sports visas.

Beck told Polygon that the change in status had been requested by Riot Games. "It was a long process," he said. "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."

League of Legends Season 3 World Championships are scheduled to take place at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on October 4, a significantly larger venue than last year's Galen Center. LCS has grown enormously in recent years, with top teams attracting seven-figure sponsorship deals and annual salaries for the best players averaging around the $100,000 mark.

"A lot of people have been dismissive of it because they don't understand the scope of this," said Beck. "Our viewership numbers are stronger than 80 or 90 percent of the sports covered on ESPN. In Shanghai [All-Star event in May, 2013] we had 18 million unique viewers. We are seeing growth over growth for every subsequent event that we do."