In this article we look at how foreign eSports (competitive video gaming) competitors can use the visitor route to participate in UK competitions and what the rules say about earning prize money. We also look at options for gamers looking to apply their trade in the UK on a long-term basis.
While most gaming is confined to online platforms, large in-person tournaments attract thousands of spectators and million-dollar prize pools. Earlier this month London hosted the Call of Duty World Series of Warzone tournament, bringing over 150 competitors to the capital to fight over a $600,000 prize pool.
Competing on a UK visitor visa
In most cases foreign eSports competitors travel to the UK to participate in one-off events and will not remain in the country after the event has finished. The most suitable immigration option is seeking entry as a visitor.
The visitor visa does what it says on the tin; holders can stay in the UK for up to six months for a visit. Appendix V: Visitor of the immigration rules lists certain prohibited activities for visitors. Funnily enough, permitted activities for visitors beyond standard tourism are contained within Appendix Visitor: Permitted Activities.
Appendix V prohibits working and receiving payment for activities undertaken in the UK. eSports competitors are classed as “entertainers” under paragraph PA14.1 of Appendix: Permitted Activities. This means that they are permitted to enter the UK as visitors to take part in competitions.
Depending on the competitor’s nationality, they may need to apply for a visitor visa before travelling to the UK. The Home Office has a list of nationalities that are required to apply for their visa prior to travelling to the UK, known as ‘visa nationals’.
Full guide to visit visa applications, appeals and judicial reviews for family and general visits to the UK, including how to prepare and what to expect on the day.View Now
A national of any country that is not included in this list is known as a ‘non-visa national’. A non-visa national can normally seek entry as a visitor on arrival in the UK. However, they must still satisfy the visit visa requirements and should be prepared to explain the purpose of their visit to immigration officers at the border.
Can eSports competitors receive payment in the UK?
Some competitors may receive prize money or other payments for appearing at an event. Although Appendix V prohibits receiving payment from UK sources for activities undertaken in the UK, there are exceptions at paragraph V4.6 of Appendix V to allow competitors to receive prize money and reasonable expenses to cover the cost of their travel and subsistence.
Competitors in eSports are prohibited from receiving additional payments for appearing at events unless they have been formally invited to the UK by a ‘creative organisation, agent or broadcaster based in the UK’. This is known as a Permitted Paid Engagement.
Importantly, the inviting organisation must be based in the UK, so eSports competitors cannot be invited to compete by their own overseas organisation. The invitation must instead come from the competition organiser. Permitted Paid Engagements can also only last a maximum of one month.
Competitors expecting to receive these payments will need to obtain a letter from the organisation inviting them to the UK, and visa nationals must provide the letter as supporting evidence with their visa application. Non-visa nationals seeking entry at the border must specifically request entry for their Permitted Paid Engagement, as well as provide the invitation letter and details of their engagement to immigration officers.
Are there any long-term visa options for eSports competitors?
Unless a player’s personal circumstances afford them with immigration options, there is not currently an immigration category for eSports players looking to base themselves in the UK to play for and compete with UK organisations.
The International Sportsperson visa is the UK’s visa route for international sporting talent, but eSports players are not eligible. Gaming is not considered to be a sport, and applicants under this route must first be endorsed by their sport’s governing body. This requires an assessment of the player’s skill and previous experience. The absence of a governing body for eSports players means the current system is incapable of including them.
A potential solution would be the creation of a separate eSports visa route which does not require governing body endorsement. Some countries, such as the USA and Germany have already successfully implemented a specialist visa route for professional eSports players to ensure that international talent remains in the country.
The visitor visa remains the only option for overseas eSports players competing in the UK. It does the job. For UK-based teams looking to attract foreign talent to stay in the UK however, there are no options, and the only solution for some of the UK’s biggest teams is to relocate the USA.