In August, the U.S. government, for the first time ever, gave a professional gamer the kind of special visa it issues to professional athletes. It was largely thanks to lobbying by Riot Games, makers of League of Legends. Now the first visa has gone to a professional StarCraft player, and it gets him out of military service.
Kim "viOlet" Dong Hwan, 23, (above) got his visa Dec. 9, reports The Daily Dot in a long feature about Kim's career and how he got to this point. Kim told the Dot that he news moved him to tears, and Kim's agent said had the visa not been granted, Kim would have been enlisting in the army.
"It was do or die for him," Andrew Tomlinson told The Daily Dot. "He either got the visa or entered the Korean military."
Military service is compulsory for adult men in South Korea; though neither Tomlinson nor Kim specified what this means regarding his obligation, it's likely the visa will help to delay his draft date. Professional athletes in South Korea have been able to put off the obligation. [We've revised our original headline in light of this.]
The P-1A visa Kim now holds allows him to live in the United States and earn a salary as a professional gamer. While players who do not hold this visa may keep any prize winnings from participating in a tournament on a regular visitor's visa, the salary portion is important. It allows Kim to be paid while he trains between events with his in the United States.
Kim, however, also had been denied entry to the U.S. three times before, he said in a statement released by his management agency, Cyber Solutions Agency. If this one didn't pan out, his eSports career was effectively over. "This year, 2013, was so stressful: mental stress, body stress ... just huge stress til last week," he said.
"I've been so jealous when other Koreans traveled to the USA for tournaments," Kim said. "If we got denied this last time too, yea, I would pretty much have to retire."
Kim, notes The Daily Dot, had been on hold since his silver medal performance at the North American StarLeague a year ago, and $100,000 in winnings. The three visa denials this year left him out of the $1.6 million World Championship Series. Kim had sought visas to enter the U.S. to study english.
His management agency said they received and obeyed explicit warnings in November 2012 not to enter the country without proper documents, as doing so would risk being permanently barred entry to the United States. But when Danny "Shiphtur" Le got a P-1A in August, a new way materialized for Kim. Kim got endorsements from Blizzard Entertainment's chief operating officer, the CEO of North American StarLeague and the head of eSports for Machinima.
With the visa, Kim says he plans to enter the United States "next Monday," and "meet all my 'merican friends. ... You don't know how happy I am, I'm like flying dude."
First 'StarCraft 2' player officially recognized as an athlete by U.S. government [The Daily Dot. Image via Cyber Solutions Agency]