US relaxes athlete travel restrictions, could esports benefit?

The United States government wants live sports back on television, and it’s making moves to ensure that happens.

The Department of Homeland Security has signed an exemption that will allow athletes to bypass current travel restrictions. Though the measure is primarily designed to help traditional sports such as baseball and hockey, it may open the door for many esports organizations to reunite their separated teams and will give leagues the chance to streamline operations after some have been forced to have teams compete from great distances.

“The order, signed on May 22, 2020, states that it is in the national interest to except aliens who compete in professional sporting events organized by certain professional sporting groups...The Department will work with the professional sporting groups to identify the specific athletes, essential staff, team and league leadership, spouses, and dependents covered by this exemption,” acting DHS Secretary Chad F. Wolf said in a statement.

The statement specifically hones in on organizations such as the NBA, WNBA, NHL, and MLB as beneficiaries of the move, suggesting the DHS will work directly with major sports entities in determining eligibility for exemptions. It is unclear how stringent the DHS will be with exemptions, but even a modest thaw in travel restrictions will be welcome news for sports and esports bodies alike.

Travel restrictions have hit esports hard

Global travel restrictions have been major hurdles for all sporting entities, but the team-based nature of most competitive gaming titles and focus on international competition has proven to be particularly difficult for esports. Each title has been impacted differently, with some adjusting better to the “new normal” than others.

League of Legends has been able to maintain regular regional play in an online environment, with competition organizers quickly adjusting to the production differences. By comparison, the Overwatch League has struggled to maintain normalcy, which has resulted in its teams being functionally split across two separate leagues with limited matching options. Numerous other games, including Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and Dota 2, have seen teams with multinational rosters forced to compete with substitutes while international team members are stuck abroad.

An ease in travel restrictions for esports institutions would allow certain events to enjoy a greater sense of normalcy and would allow American organizations to reunite teams that had been separated.

That said, there is no guarantee that this will throw open the gates for esports in the same way it might for the NBA or MLB.

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