The ESI Podcast on immigration – going international

Posted on 23 May 2019

The ESI Podcast on immigration – going international

The ESI Podcast on Immigration- going international

 

Voiceover
Welcome to the Esports Insider podcast in partnership with Mishcon de Reya. 

 

[Music plays]

 

Ollie
Welcome to the Esports Insider podcast in partnership with Mishcon de Reya. I am your host Ollie and this week I am joined by three industry leading guests once again and we are going to be discussing everything around visas from players to talent from a team perspective and also from a tournament organiser perspective. To my left I have the wonderful Kieran. Tell us a bit about yourself?

 

Kieran
Hello I am Kieran Holmes-Darby, Managing Director and Co-Founder of Excel Esports.

 

Ollie
And next up is Clem.

 

Clement
I am Clement Murphy I’m Marketing Manager for FACEIT, the world’s leading competitive gaming platform... they’ve paid me to say that [laughter from Ollie].

 

Ollie 
Yeah and Clem has a background in all things tournament so knows quite a lot for his sins and last but not least we have Maria.

 

Maria
Hi my name is Maria Patsalos, I am a Partner at Mishcon de Reya. I specialise in immigration and I am in the sports group.

 

Ollie
Lovely.  Well as you can see we have people with infinitely more knowledge than me [laughter from Ollie]. But I mean Esports is a very, very young industry as we all know but the wonderful thing about it is it’s very, very global from grass roots all the way up. Um I guess even if we look at kind of grass roots UK they had players playing that might be Swedish or whatever so when we look to make that more local, then obviously with that comes a lot of issues that people probably don’t take into account and we are lucky to have Kieran from an Excel stand point. I assume you’ve dealt with these issues in the past and ongoing now with LEC I assume you are also dealing with them. Tell us a little bit about the process and how much hassle it really is for the team owner?

 

Kieran 
Yeah I suppose when um when Esports was this you know, global phenomena and we were slightly smaller, less professionalised and without any infrastructure it's much easier to pick up players from all over the continent um and you know, they would play from their home so visas weren’t really an issue ever um and you were largely competing in online tournaments or perhaps competing in a tournament in Europe as a one-off which was a much easier thing to deal with. Um now with you know, us being sort of making the claim for the UK’s leading Esports team and really trying to brand ourselves as that and push that, we want to have infrastructure here in the UK of course so we’ve opened up our new HQ in Twickenham Stadium. That’s where our players, our players will be based in Twickenham, in houses separate from the facility and be training there every single day.  So there comes the problem of, you know, we need to get all of these players into the country to work as Esports professionals which no one has done from, you know, on a long-term perspective in Esports yet because no one is based in Esports team from around the continent in the UK. Um so this is now you know, a massive topic for us and something that we are battling almost it feels like on a daily basis where we are recruiting North American people from a, you know, coaching stand point, analysis stand point, not just the player stand point um and I think, yeah as you rightly outlined there are, there are troubles in the UK because players are not recognised like sports players so what do they class as?  They are doing a profession, they are just highly skilled, a lot of them are highly remunerated for that um skill set and you know, how do you class them? Well the way to class them at the moment is as entertainers because they are often streaming, they are often on camera for you know, when they are playing in their tournaments and they are entertaining us in every right. Um but that’s not you know, that’s not the cleanest explanation of what they do it’s just one that fits at the moment in the UK. Much easier in America where they had the P1 visas and much easier even in Germany where they are more recognised now by the Home Office so um yeah we’ve had a lot of issues.

 

Ollie
And I guess from a Mishcon perspective is that something you seen… is Esports like anything you’ve seen prior um because obviously I guess football is very much more established but I mean this is going to sound ridiculous but for example, my experience of a football manager and I try and sign of Venezuela and Superstar and I had to apply for a work permit and he gets denied one. Um is it looked… I mean this is a guy that’s going to get paid thousands and we compare it to I don’t know, trying to bring someone over for an Esports purpose, in a lot more recognised field and they can get declined work permit so like how does it work in Esports and is there anything that you’ve worked on prior that kind of fits a similar mould?

 

Maria
Yeah I think we have to remove football from the comparison because football is in a different league in every sense of the word, the money involved obviously the regulation, the tier 2 work permits that are available and tier 5 so I would compare Esports to kind of early day’s darts. Okay. So darts as we all know was only made a professional and governing regulated sport in 2005 which is fairly recently. So we still see kind of some comparisons with um darts and maybe even snooker so the comparison is whereby darts players and snooker players are often travelling around the world playing in tournaments.  They are not necessarily always based in one country um and that’s where I see the comparison with Esports players. Um so I know that for example, you know FACEIT organise these tournaments and we have players coming in for those, that’s okay because they can come in as visitors um under the visit visa rules, people, sports people whether they are regulated as sports people or not are able to come to the UK and play in one-off tournaments for prize money. They are not allowed to be paid full-time in the UK but they can do that so that’s where I see the comparison.  Um and we’ve had issues in the past where we’ve had calls from darts players who are stuck at the border saying you know that the immigration officer isn’t letting us in and I say well how long have you spent in the UK over the last year and they say something like you know, eight/nine months. I say well there’s your problem, a visit visa is only for six months of any given year.  It doesn’t mean that when you leave the UK it re-sets the clock and you can come back in which is a common misconception. So yeah I would say the comparison is darts but as you said, the major problem is the fact that Esports is not yet regulated, it doesn’t have a governing body and therefore the Home Office don’t recognise it as a sport and that’s where the issue is.

 

Ollie
Clem from a tournament operator perspective obviously for example you just look at FACEIT, PUBG right, you have an obscene amount of players coming over completing this truly global competition. Um do you guys, does the responsibility ultimately lie with the team owners? Do you guys offer support in that sense or kind of how does it look from a tournament operator perspective when you have so many different countries, so many different nationalities all coming in?

 

Clement
Yeah I mean frankly it’s, it’s a lot of work. There is a lot that we have to do on our side and obviously the ultimate decision rests between the players and their passport situations and the Home Office but we do a lot of work in writing recommendation letters, writing clarification supporting material to help their applications and that does help on a lot of occasions er but for instance, you were talking about the, the FACEIT global summit PUBG event we recently did.  We had a Vietnamese team that was qualified who didn’t make it, couldn’t come because of visa issues, had to be substituted and that’s ultimately the biggest like heartbreak in these stories is you have these teams and these players who they work really hard, they, they work at their game, their craft to compete at the highest level and then ultimately they are denied by something that is completely out of their control. They’ve done the hard part, they’ve competed, they’ve beaten everybody else, they’ve got to this major international tournament with big money on the line, this is a you know, a career defining moment especially for you know, teams like in PUBG where the eco system is a lot less developed than Counterstrike for example. So it’s, it’s a big deal and something that I think the UK needs to kind of get a handle on quite quickly.  I mean it was recommended in the UK, in the UKie White Paper the fifth point in their list was to sort of re-examine the visa process because it’s caused a lot of hassle for us as tournament operators we are trying to put together with um merit based tournament which the- with the best teams in the world and we are looking at these really weird creative solutions to try to mitigate some of those problems so for example the FACEIT major last September we had um the- we were the first tournament organiser in Counterstrike host all of the minors in the same place, the qualifying tournaments to the major so in doing so we hosted all the qualifiers ourselves in the same country that the major would be hosted in. It was the first time that was done and we had a few people who had qualified to the minor who were rejected but in previous years those people would only be rejected when they had qualified to the major so there is still that level of heartbreak but it is much less in than someone who had gone through the whole minor process to qualify to the major and then make it to- and that has now become part of the, the major pitching process. That’s something that is specified by Valve to say this is what we want you to do to try to mitigate those risks. And that happens a lot in a lot of different places.

 

Maria
Can I just ask a question?  Do you know why the Vietnamese team were rejected?

 

Clement
Err I don’t. No

 

Maria
Ok, it's interesting to see what the Home Office are saying.

 

Clement
Yeah.

 

Maria
It may just be on an individual basis that they don’t believe that they are visitors but it would be interesting to kind of understand what the issues are specifically.

 

Clement
Yeah I mean we work with an um um agency which helps us to overcome some of those problems and can navigate um some of those, some of those things and it helps us to prepare each- helps us to work with the teams to prepare their applications to make them as strong as possible. Um I don’t know what the case was specifically with this team but we find that it is mostly teams from CIS, Russia um and the East that kind of have these, most of these issues.

 

Kieran 
Serbia certainly has some problems as well. I mean there is a really talented up and coming League of Legends player called Yoppa who we were looking at signing at one point um and you know, one of the… on his pros and cons list one of the big cons was this is going to be really difficult to get a visa for him. Um he has just been denied, his team made the EU masters finals hosted by ESL in Leicester a couple of weeks ago and he was denied a visa to get in so he couldn’t play um which is you know, is a great shame and it’s been something that’s plagued his specific career his whole life being a Serbian national. I don’t know the specifics around it but I know it is very difficult so.

 

Clement
And this is something from a tournament operator perspective we know this stuff happens and we try to plan our events in such a way that means that we get the best competition that we can. Now it’s-if- the longer that this sort of thing goes on and the more issues that we have around getting players into and involved in the UK the more we are likely to look at other options for visas for instance. If we know we are running a game that has a lot of players in kind of Eastern Europe and Russia that are going to be the top level competitors we might consider doing that somewhere else purely because of the amount of issues we know we are going to accomplish. It’s got to that stage where we are actually kind of, as a British based company, we are thinking about hosting tournaments elsewhere because of these issues and it is one of those things that has been addressed in other countries, America as you were saying the P1A visa process, they approved their first Esports player in 2013 so that’s you know, six years ago now and the UK still hasn’t kind of caught up with that yet.

 

Ollie  
Yeah I think it’s interesting, I know what you said about the minor and the major process and it is interesting because that’s Valve and then if you look at the Dota circuit you have the last qualification spot for a major determined by a minor which is two weeks before and it’s held, one’s in Croatia and one’s in France and it creates umpteen problems but this is, I mean we’ve got examples of Excel who are in the LEC, Riot are very, very well organised, very well scheduled you know when MSI is, you know where worlds is, you know the location so you can start planning around that. The open eco system obviously breeds a lot of problems in the sense that literally it could be anywhere.  Valve have only just announced the dates of TI which is their biggest tournament in the world so yeah, a lot of stuff comes with the danger I guess of the open eco system.  Um is it different when you then take players to, so say yeah, you’ve got your players there ready to play here.  You are then taking your players to go and play, especially an open eco system tournament, Dota you have events from Manila through to the States through to Brazil. How does that work? What is the process then for getting your players to be able to go and compete elsewhere?

 

Clement
From a tournament organiser perspective we’ve just run FACEIT global summit. Um that was- had feeder tournaments from different regional competitions. So that was you know, the PEL, the European guys, the different PUBG leagues that are run across the world and we had to for some of them that were later on in the process, I mean we had our final European qualifiers that came two weeks before the event started which was you know, difficult in itself but for the other regions that were quite close we had to ask the players that had not yet qualified to start applying for visas you know, so we had back-ups upon back-ups for players because we knew that there was going to be this kind of attrition of teams that even the top rated teams who would come and play at the tournaments as you know, number one seed from their region would not be able to qualify so we would be looking at what’s the second option, what’s the third option, what’s the fourth option and ultimately that’s something that’s completely out of our hands from a planning perspective.

 

Kieran 
Yeah I mean generally the visiting visa is a little bit easier than trying to place someone in a country for an extended period of time so we haven’t had that many issues travelling um but yeah certainly getting players to be either based in the UK or Germany for the whole of the LEC split when you have a you know, a local LAN league for nine weeks or twenty weeks of a fifty two week year, that’s when it’s been a bit more of an issue. Thankfully I think we are just about over the line now and we’ve kind of got there with everything but it certainly wasn’t an easy process and it would have been a lot easier if there was, there was some recognition for Esports for sure.

 

Ollie
Maria I just wanted to ask you from, from like a legal perspective obviously you talked about at the start you mentioned kind of the regulatory aspect. Given that we are talking about so many different IPs and that’s the fundamental, with a legal perspective when you look at anything in sports, the fact that the IP ultimately lies with Valve who literally might say well I am not touching this, I just have the game, I have the rights to the game but you do what you want.  How difficult does that make it especially when you are talking to kind of the Government or whatever, is that why they are so reluctant? Or what do you think the reasons are?

 

Maria 
Yeah I mean I think that is part of it, how do you regulate um a sport, in inverted commas, like this where there are so many IP issues and the IP holders are not willing to give up their IP or have it medalled with in any way which is understandable so um how do you regulate it?  That is the problem because the way the Home Office works is every sport that they recognise has one governing body um and so, and the governing body is listed on the Home Office website and that’s the only way that you can get sports people in under tier 2s and tier 5.  So how is that going to work with Esports?  That is one of the major problems.  I don’t know if anyone here has any ideas on how to resolve that?

 

Kieran
I mean for us this is why I am quite vocal in my advocating the, the model that Right Games built with the long term partnership or sometimes called franchising, it’s not really a franchise system it’s kind of a misnomer but it’s easier for everyone to understand if you say franchising so those models for me from… I mean I could go for days and talk to you about the commercial benefits of it as well but just purely from a structural point of view and and this whole visa process you have a governing body. I mean, yes there are some issues with the governing body also being the IP owner um but at least you have a body to talk to who you know, whose best interest interests are at heart so we deal with RIOT as both the IP holder and the regulator and RIOT are a lot more hands on than your Valves of the world which would make the conversation with the Home Office a lot easier than it would if you were running a professional Dota or-

 

Ollie  
But does it matter that it’s a commercial entity with commercial at heart?  Does that cause issues with the Home Office?  I could imagine you look at most of the associations-

 

Maria
Independents. That’s the issue the independents.

 

Kieran  
There is issues there yeah, there is no doubt about it but at the end of the day you know, when there is someone who owns the game, that person’s going to be at the table if they want to be at the end of the day. I mean you know, with someone like Valve maybe they don’t want to be at the table but someone like Riot Games is always going to be at the table and maybe one day they have to separate their regulating arm from their, you know, IP ownership arm.  I am sure that that’s a conversation that is already ongoing but right now we certainly have a you know, we have a great relationship with them and they are really good at regulating their league because they are doing it for the benefit of you know, the longevity of the league at the end of the day.

 

Ollie
So do you think it is kind of the Home Office… do we think it is the Government being slow to adapt where we have seen it in other countries. Do you think you are going to see I assume, I mean I haven’t dealt with the Home Office personally but I assume as with most things there is probably red tape, it’s a little bit slow, everything is rather archaic.  I did do tax law in the fact that Toddy's bit has gone up to here for no reason given that half of it is literally scribbled out kind of sums up my experience with law. So yeah is that, is that kind of a stubbornness the red tape and given everything else that’s going on in the UK, I am not sure it is probably top of the agenda as well?

 

Kieran 
Yeah I mean my love affair with law lasted a little bit longer than yours but yeah I mean we as a nation are a little bit stubborn to change in general.  You know I think this is only going to get worse with the possible political situation of the UK in the future. I don’t want to go into that but…

 

Ollie
We can touch on that, we have British companies- 

 

Kieran  
Yeah that certainly will, that certain will affect, I mean how it affects is open to debate right now but that certainly will affect it. We do have some individuals, some MPs now recognising Esports, massive shout out to Ben Greenstone who has been brilliant for us and helping us navigate that whole system because it’s not something that we know well at all and he does know it very well so yeah there are now members of Parliament and members of the Government that are recognising Esports and at least having the conversation which is certainly helping when applications come in and Esports is on the list and everyone is kind of you know, what an earth is this?  At least people know what it is now.

 

Clement
Yeah and I think it is a bit of a broad bucket to classify the whole of Esports as a sport you know.

 

Kieran  
That’s the difficult bit yeah.

 

Clement
It is so diverse, it’s so global.  We don’t have a national team, we don’t have like you know, it’s this kind of really weird nebulous thing but going back to your point on League of Legends, I don’t think it was um a coincidence that the first Esports player to be offered a P1A visa in America was a League of Legends player. I mean, and all of the quotes you read around articles on that are from people like RIOT who are saying you know, how important this is and that from a um an organisational perspective, that shows that RIOT are so kind of top to bottom in their Esports stuff that they control everything from the development of the game to you know, the Esports tournaments that happen so that makes it much easier for a Government to deal with one body rather than to deal with multiple and so I think that ultimately the Government needs to kind of decide, set some criteria what is, what classifies a big enough tournament or a big enough Esports tournament to qualify for these type of visas.  We from within the Esports space need to help them to do that and to decide amongst ourselves.  Ultimately we need to sit down and have a conversation about what is an important Esports tournament?  What is one that is worth classifying… at what stage does an Esports player turn from being err an amateur to being a professional worthy of the sportsman visa right?  We need to help the Government to decide that but they need to set some criteria. I did read the American criteria which is you know, they have monetary things, they have certain references to sponsors such as Coca Cola is ones of the ones that referenced so if there is a big enough sponsor involved in an event that helps the process. So all of these things that kind of legitimise an event and legitimise a player’s err I guess, on an individual basis, them as a sports person or them as someone who qualifies for this kind of licence that… we need to help the Government to set that stuff up and I think that what you are talking about Ben Greenstone’s involvement with some of the parliamentary sessions, those are all very helpful but I think that yeah, we need to keep getting ourselves involved in that and helping the Government to understand what’s going on.

 

Ollie  
We need to be careful not to give Ben too many shout outs. [Laughter]

 

Kieran
No that’s true.

 

Ollie  
It might go to his head.

 

Kieran
It will go to his head.

 

Ollie  
It will go to his head and I think I have to see him in Birmingham in a few weeks so.

 

Clement
There will be more shout outs if he sorts this visa stuff. [Laughter]

 

Ollie
Yeah exactly.

 

Kieran
I mean we had a conversation just before this Ollie about what is a tier 1 Esports and how an earth you even classify that you know, um there’s tier lists going on around social media at the moment and everyone is arguing, no my Esport is better than your Esport…

 

Clement
It's very subjective.

 

Ollie 
Yeah, yeah yeah.

 

Kieran
…but this is where the danger is for me for Esports such as Dota and Counterstrike and things like this that are so heavily unregulated and uncentralised is that, or decentralised, perhaps that is going to affect the competitive integrity of those Esports going forwards because if it is that the top players can’t get visas to play in the big tournaments, that massively harms competitive integrity so even if it’s just from a structural point of view maybe these Esports do need to be looking at centralising the model, partnering with teams a bit more if they are serious about the longevity of their Esports.

 

Ollie
Yeah I mean I think it is very, very odd from the… I mean we can do this debate separately and completely because Dota and Counterstrike are theoretically two, if not the longest standing Esports…

 

Kieran 
Exactly, yeah, yeah.

 

Ollie
…but the fact that it is a complete free for all I can imagine from a legal stand point.

 

Maria  
I think what you were saying before about collaboration and sitting down with the Home Office is the key because I think there is a big misunderstanding around Esports and yes some people do kind of get it but most of them don’t and I think because there are so many different types of sports and games out there then it is hard to get your head around it and I think comparing it to the current sports regulations that we have for sports people it doesn’t fit into that square box so there is no way you are ever going to fit into that box because what you classify is being regulated what about FACEIT's tournaments?  That’s separate, it doesn’t work. So where is the regulator? It is not an independent person or independent body rather like we have with the ER FA or like we have with all the other sports. So it has to be a different model, a new model that works for you guys but also works for the Home Office so it is about sitting round the table and flashing it out.

 

Ollie
Have you seen any kind of I guess lower, like lower tier in terms of viewership sports with…

 

Maria
Yeah.

 

Ollie
…where they’ve had similar?

 

Maria
Yeah so I- we’ve seen it with kind of lower level driving so…

 

Kieran
Okay.

 

Maria  
…whether it’s kind of pre-parting Formula 3 kind of that level where basically the Home Office have delegated to the sponsors, to the governing bodies um the idea of determining what is an elite player and as you said before, who determines what’s the top game and player so they do that by identifying a governing body and then they make them write the rules okay.

 

Kieran
That makes sense.

 

Maria
So- yeah exactly, so they are the experts. So we’ve had this with one of the lower kind of driving regulators and we helped them kind of you know, prepare the guidance and we had to sit around the table with the Home Office, it was a collaborative affair um you know that they wrote the guidance, that office came back, it was kind of toing and froing and I see that’s how this can move forward, it’s the only way at a sit down round the table um with the Home Office and you know, explaining the intricacies. This also happened with, um I am sure everyone is aware, I don’t want to talk about darts all the time but it is a good example with a split in darts where two different kind of bodies as it were er occurred there. Now the Home Office only recognised one of them and that was the problem so we had both of the representatives sitting round the table with the Home Office trying to thrash that out.  That wasn’t resolved because the Home Office say there is only one governing body per sport, so how do you work that for Esports?

 

Kieran
Well it has to be per Esport right? So it has to be one governing body per Esport like it is per sports. So therefore it’s going to be, it’s going to lean heavily on the publishers to sort their act out in this vein because they are the only ones that can and they are the only ones that actually have the right to go and do it and it doesn’t seem to be a problem in Germany with the Home Office there working very closely with RIOT Games out there in order to sort visas for their you know, for their competition so I don’t see why it should be a problem here when you know, RIOT Games also have an office here in the UK for them to go and write the criteria for what is an elite League of Legends player. It does nothing for the Esports industry as a whole but it does a lot for that specific Esport.

 

Clement
But then I guess what you are doing is you are… in that situation you are asking the Home Office to recognise each individual game when they’ve only just recognised Esports.  

 

Kieran
They’ve got to get there.  It’s got to get there.

 

Clement
So-

 

Ollie
Nothing moves at quite the pace of Esports.

 

Kieran
No of course, of course. But that’s where it has to get to right?

 

Clement
Yeah of course, no I think that that’s you know, where ideally we are going to get to where people are recognising individual players and by the time the Government catches up, these people will already be kind of mainstream right.  So there will be a public recognition before there will be a Governmental recognition probably so I think ultimately it will come down to money right.  If a tournament is offering more than five hundred thousand dollars in prize pool, does that qualify as an elite tournament? Um you know, you hear all the time about um, sorry to refer back to football but they, a young player who’s had a cap for the national team is more likely to get a visa to go and play football in England than a player who hasn’t. Um so your, you would end up having either a system of qualifying tournaments or sort of tournaments of a sufficient scale that are recognised.  It is like if you have played in a major or you played at worlds or you played at the international you are more likely to be granted a visa – that would again require the Government to recognise these tournaments as individual things rather than talking to publishers because as soon as you know, we’ve all heard these stories of people who’ve sent emails to Valve and just heard nothing but silence, nothing but tumble weed sorry and that happens and they are a lot more hands off than RIOT are and so you would end up with this kind of first tier sport, second tier sport stuff where League of Legends players are getting visa’s left, right and centre because RIOT is a lot more engaged than Valve and you know, for better or for worse in different scenarios you might not get some sort of development…

 

Ollie
It is also, it also people give Valve more of a bad rap because they are very, very bad at public facing like if you talk to FACEIT and the guys that deal with Valve, Valve are super responsive to FACEIT especially when you are submitting RFPs.

 

Clement
Yeah, I mean…

 

Ollie
Commercially they are very responsive but…

 

Clement
…they are developers you know that’s…

 

Ollie
…they say, they say we are a game development company and we don’t care which is why they have had issues with seize and desist orders on skin gambling sites and that is another whole legal like minefield we jump into um but I guess kind of to the last topic that I really wanted to touch on is kind of when you look at the ever growing kind of, I was about to call them accessories, they're definitely not accessories but staff that you have on your team, so you have not only you have your coaches, you might have a nutritionist, an analyst, does that (a) does that pose difficulty because you are like oh they are a nutritionist but then they are nutritionist for an Esports teams and they are like hang on a second you need a physio for a team that’s competing on computers? God knows how that conversation is going to go and also then my last thing was from a tournament operator perspective and also I guess lending on your… we have a lot of commentators that especially when it comes to Valve tournaments they are literally travelling and commentating for money on an Esta which I am sure is completely wrong but from a tournament operator perspective you also have that aspect to think about so yeah, let’s just take it away.

 

Kieran
So the answer to the first question probably informs the second question as well in that it extremely difficult if you are, let’s use the nutritionist example, um thankfully we have enough experts in the UK that we don’t need to be bringing nutritionists in from outside of the UK so that hasn’t been a problem we’ve come across however coaches, you know we don’t have a massive wealth of ex professional Esports players who are now doing their coaching badges, in inverted commas [laughter], sorry for those that are listening.  Because you know, because we don’t have that many professional players who have come from the UK so now we are looking at North America, we are looking at Korea for coaches and we are having to get them visas and that’s going on right now with Excel and it has been one of the biggest issues um and if it’s back room staff, if it’s an analyst it is almost nigh on impossible because they are not recognised, you know their role is not recognised and they are not entertaining at all, they are not streaming, they are not on the screen talent ever. If they are a head coach it is a little bit easier because they are always on screen when the players are on screen, they are also streaming in their spare time. They're an entertainer as well as what they are doing for the Esports team but that’s much… that’s an easier bridge to cross which I assume for the talent side of things, is also easier but yeah if we wanted to hire a Korean head analyst who is going to crunch the numbers and smash spreadsheets out day-to-day it is almost impossible at the moment.

 

Clement
Yeah I mean from a tournament perspective, pretty much most of the people that work on our events are contractors or full-time staff to some degree and we primarily operate our tournaments in Europe and North America so speaking from that perspective you can go and work very easily in other countries if you are working on a certain thing you know, Esta's can be- you can work on an Esta as a contractor, as a freelancer, as someone working for a company. You can do that, that’s you know perfectly legal so we don’t have many problems with that. I think that from a team perspective we do help to try to get as many of their staff or whoever they like to come over and work with us. That tends to be much more difficult with Asian players, Asian teams, CIS, so from that perspective if you know we won’t ask too many questions, if they have an extra couple of staff over, we will make sure that we’ve got the players, the key people all completely covered and if they have a couple of extra people with them then that’s their responsibility to sort out ultimately. What we will do is as much as we can to help them kind of get that stuff working. Um I think from you know, a lot of the guys that are the main talent in many esports games will be travelling a lot.  They will be travelling you know, most weekends of the year to do one event or another so they will have a fairly sensible system worked out that usually they all have their own personal lawyers and their own, you know, travel agents that will help them book things like that.  So those guys can often take care of themselves at the highest level.  It is I guess the people that are at that kind of mid-level or lower level who are wanting to go out and work let’s say a tournament in Shanghai and they have to go through a whole separate process. So it can be tricky from those kind of events but mainly North America and Europe are okay.

 

Maria
I can see that’s an issue and we help with visas for software developers and people working on the tournaments and things like that but when it comes to all the staff around it, like you say, the managers, the nutritionists, other people around the players, that can be trickier because again with the visas for sports people it is the same visa kind of categories and criteria for their kind of team so it’s the same gap or hole that exists for the Esports players as it does for their team.

 

Clement
Yeah I think just in general on visa issues there- if there are- usually when there are these issues you are thinking about kind of how does that look for us as tournament organisers and how does that look to um you know, team owners to the fans of a team or the community of a certain game. Usually people are very understanding of you know, all the fans are very disappointed obviously but they are not disappointed or annoyed at the company that’s putting them on or at the team, it’s very much a kind of sympathetic sort of thing. If you have a team that has failed to get a visa you won’t get fans shouting at them or shouting at the tournament organiser, it’s a kind of one of those you know, Act of God kind of out of everybody’s hands sort of things so the only real situation that you know, the only real kind of fault there is with the country that the tournament is in or the event they are going to so it- that’s where the usually the kind of anger of the community is directed to say we shouldn’t have any more tournaments in X country because half the best teams in the world come.

 

Ollie
It happened last year, ESL literally cancelling a tournament.

 

Clement
Exactly.

 

Ollie
I think Manila is probably... Philippines is quite extreme.

 

Clement
Yeah.

 

Ollie
Because it was partially drugs, partially I think there’s a couple of Israeli players and it was something to do with Israel and Philippines and relationships.

 

Clement
Yeah it gets political.

 

Ollie
A whole other layer.

 

Kieran
The Yoppa example I mentioned earlier, that was an interesting one because the community didn’t know where to turn. It was an event in the UK, the UK isn’t seen as a you know, difficult place maybe Brexit will change that but you know it is not seen as a particularly difficult place to go and work and Yoppa couldn’t come and compete so then the community were like well where do we direct all this anger, we’re fuming about this, we don’t know where to go.  They are like do we tell ESL off or do we tell his team Mad Lions off.

 

Ollie
If in doubt blame ESL. [Laughter]

 

Kieran
So they, well they, there community went all ESL and then ESL kind of put out a statement like we did everything we could to help so then they turned all their anger at Mad Lions, the team and were like you clearly didn’t do this in time and they were like well we only found out we qualified here, it takes this long to do it, you know but then it was like well should you have pre-empted it and should you have you know, and it’s tough, it is a tough one but yeah the community didn’t really know where to direct their anger but everyone got a piece of it that’s for sure so. [Laughter]

 

Clement
Yeah I mean for us as tournament organisers our kind of reputation lives and dies with the community right, we need people to be on our side and the same goes for team’s right.  You need the fans to be on your side and so ultimately if we are hosting a tournament we won’t go and do it in somewhere that is notoriously difficult for visas even if that presents the best you know business case or the best kind of opportunity for us or even if that’s where most of the fans are because we can’t get the teams there and that is a risk for us that we can’t take.  So you know, what we ultimately don’t want to do is have the UK especially after Brexit because no one knows what’s going to happen there, we don’t want it to be, to start getting that reputation of we don’t want it, we don’t want to announce a tournament in the UK if half the teams can’t be there so yeah it’s a really tricky one for us to tackle and something that is really fundamental to making a successful event.

 

Ollie
Yeah. I was going to ask Maria a kind of almost conclude is, I would assume you’ve had a lot of talks around, from a sports side as well, around Brexit, the potential implications a lot more so than me who tends to blindly just walk in the hope that I don’t head-butt Brexit but what have you been advising sports? Do you think there is going to be, I would assume that at the top tier it is probably not going to see a massive, a massive ramification but do you think we are going to see a big change in attitude towards lower down?

 

Maria
I think there is going to be a big change all round actually.

 

Ollie
Okay.

 

Maria
Yeah I think Brexit although everyone hates it, most people hate it, and I certainly do.  Is awful in many ways. The one way it is good is that the Government are listening for a change and they are thinking about making changes and they are happy to make wide spread changes.  So for example in football we are going to see some big changes going forward. The FA, the premier league and the Home Office have all sat down and discussed various kind of quite wide ranging things which I think we are all going to be quite surprised about and as a result of if that is happening at the top level then why not that it trickles down to other sports so I do think that positive change can come about from Brexit.

 

Ollie
Okay.

 

Clement
Yeah I mean there is you know a reasonable amount of you know, with Brexit, of kind of you know, throw it all away and start again. Let’s start from the ground up, re-examine what our priorities are in terms of immigration law and that sort of thing but you know, the bottom line is that you losing EU membership means that a lot of European Esports players will lose that opportunity to come and play in the UK immediately overnight and um I think you are right that there can be this really good opportunity to go in there and say, right seeing as we are starting afresh now, this is what we want. So if that’s the only positive we can kind of-

 

Kieran
I bloody hope not Clem, that’s all I am saying. [Laughter]

 

Ollie
Right we are almost out of time so I am going to throw a random awkward question out to wrap it up because I like doing that. So put a year on, this will be like a sportsman’s bet. A year on when in the UK the Government recognises Esports on par with let’s say a darts, we'll go with a darts.

 

Kieran
Darts.

 

Ollie
Yeah

 

Kieran
It was 2005 for darts wasn’t it?  When did that start? I am trying to be tactical about my answer.

 

Ollie
When did people start throwing darts at a dart board.

 

Kieran
I am trying to be tactical about my answer.  What are we now 2019 er 2021.

 

Maria
That’s what I was going to say.

 

Clement
I’ll give it three years, I go 2022.  And that way if it’s higher…

 

Kieran
We should probably go like early or late. I am going to go bold and go early.

 

Clement
No I think it-

 

Maria
Definitely late.

 

Clement
I think it will be er late 2022.  I think there will be a few years of messing around before we get anywhere like that. We’ve already had a few, quite a few big UK events here. I think it will take another one or two wanting to come to the UK and making a big enough splash to make people sit up and listen.

 

Ollie
Awesome well thank you all for joining me, it’s been absolutely wonderful. I’ve been your host Ollie on the ESI podcast in partnership with Mishcon de Reya . We will see you next time.

[Music plays]

In the final episode of the esports podcast in collaboration with Esports Insider we contemplate esports' international appeal. What can we learn from offline sports in their approach to going international? What barriers do esports have to overcome? One clear difference relates to immigration status – esports players are not recognised as professional athletes when applying for visas, but as entertainers.

Featured in this episode are:

  • Maria Patsalos, Partner – Mishcon de Reya
  • Ollie Ring, Head of Business Development & Media – Esports Insider (host)
  • Clement Murphy, Marketing Manager – FACEIT
  • Kieran Holmes-Darby, Co-Founder & Managing Director – Excel
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