Germany is the home of and venue for internationally renowned esports competitions. It should therefore be possible for professional esports players and their training staff to travel to Germany to compete in tournaments and leagues and to train, and to remain in Germany for the duration of the training and the event, with the minimum of red tape. Because of appearance fees and prize money, citizens of non-EU countries generally require a residence permit in order to undertake gainful activity (section 4 (1) German Residency Act). Visitors’ visas for business or tourism purposes are not sufficient. Before autumn 2018, a residence permit of this type could only be issued with the approval of the German Federal Employment Agency (BA). Since that time, it has become easier for esports players and their coaching teams to travel to Germany for short stays and longer periods.
Short-term stay in Germany
In accordance with the Visa Handbook of the German Federal Foreign Office, esports are classified as an ‘event of a sporting nature’ pursuant to section 22 (1) no. 1 German Employment Regulations. Accordingly, esports players and their support staff do not need any approval from the German Federal Employment Agency in order to be issued with a residence permit, provided the stay does not exceed 90 days within a twelve-month period:
No approval is required for the issue of a residence permit to […] persons including their support staff who, while maintaining their normal residence overseas, take part in presentations or performances of particular scientific or artistic value or in performances of a sporting nature in Germany if the duration of the activity does not exceed 90 days within a period of twelve months.
Long-term stay in Germany
Long-term residence is also regulated under the Employment Regulations. Since April 2020, it has been easier for esports players to obtain the necessary residence permit. Esports participants do not need any approval from the German Federal Employment Agency in order to be issued with a residence permit, provided certain conditions are met. These conditions are described in section 22 of the Employment Regulations:
No approval is required for the issue of a residence permit to […] persons who engage professionally in esports in the form of a competition between persons and who are intending to compete at German clubs or comparable esports institutions that participate in competitions, if
a) they are 16 years of age or older,
b) the club or institution pays a gross salary that totals at least 50 per cent of the income threshold for statutory pension insurance, and
c) the central German association responsible for esports confirms that esports are being exercised on a professional basis and that the form of esports being exercised is of significant national or international importance.
On the national level, esports in Germany is represented by the eSport-Bund Deutschland e.V. (ESBD) and game esports – members of the association of the German games industry. As a national sports federation, the ESBD represents both professional esports teams and amateur clubs as well as esports athletes nationwide. The members of game esports include game developers, publishers, platform providers and service providers. Tournament Organizers are represented in both associations. In order to address esports in its entirety, both associations work together closely on a basis of trust. This also applies for providing the requirements in esports set by the German Employment Regulations. Both associations did form a joint working group in order to jointly determine the procedure for confirming “professional practice” and to define the “considerable national and international significance” of competitions. The joint working group entrusts the implementation by the ESBD, which serves as the central point of contact for the responsible ministries and applicants.
Esports Visa FAQ
What is the purpose of the visa?
The long-term esports visa (Section 22 (5) BeschV) gives professional esports players from non-EU countries the opportunity to receive a residence permit without approval from the German Federal Employment Agency (BA) so that they can accept employment with a professional team based in Germany.
How long is the visa holder entitled to stay in Germany?
The long-term visa is for stays that exceed a period of 90 days. The short-term visa is for stays of up to 90 days (Section 22 (1) BeschV). The permitted duration of a long-term stay is based on the term of the esports player’s employment contract.
Where can applications for esports visas be submitted?
Applications for esports visas can be submitted to the foreigners authority responsible for the professional esports team that the potential visa holder is joining; jurisdiction is determined by the team’s corporate address. The foreigners authority is solely responsible for the decision regarding whether or not to grant a long-term or short-term visa.
What criteria do applicants need to fulfil?
In order to apply for a long-term visa, applicants must fulfil three criteria:
1) Professional esports players must be 16 years of age or older.
2) The contractually agreed-upon salary must be at least 50 per cent of the contribution assessment ceiling of the German statutory pension scheme (in 2021: at least 3,550 euros/month or 42,600 euros/year in western Germany and 3,350 euros/month or 40,200 euros/year in eastern Germany).
3) The ESBD must have confirmed that the esports player is participating in esports in a professional capacity and that their participation is of considerable national or international relevance. Both factors are considered to be confirmed if esports players participate in a qualified competition and the organiser in charge confirms their participation.
Where can I find support during this process?
In individual cases, the ESBD offers targeted support for esports players. This support is provided free of charge to members of the ESBD. However, support from the ESBD is not a replacement for qualified legal advice.
What is a qualified competition?
A qualified competition is a league or tournament series with national or international relevance. The ESBD coordinated closely with game esports on developing a list of criteria to meet these and other requirements laid out by legislators.
A qualified competition fulfils the following criteria:
1) It is a league or tournament series with one or more dates in Germany per year.
2) USK (Entertainment Software Self-Regulation Body) rating: the league or tournament series includes one or more games that have received a USK age rating in accordance with the German Protection of Young Persons Act. If the tournament is entirely online with competitors participating remotely, USK labelling in accordance with IARC procedures is sufficient. The organisers of the league or tournament series are responsible for ensuring that all competing esports players are of an age compatible with the USK rating.
3) Compared to other events held for the game in question, the league or tournament series must be one of the three event formats with the highest audience numbers at the national level (metrics used: peak viewer or average minute audience or hours watched), or one of the 10 events with the highest audience numbers at the international level. A publisher licence granting permission to use the esports title is required.
4) The event organiser must safeguard the integrity of gameplay and be able to prove that measures and/or rules have been implemented to prevent fraud. In particular, this includes rules against cheating, doping, match-fixing and illegal betting on matches in which the perpetrator is involved.
How can event organisers have their tournaments and leagues recognised as qualified competitions?
The ESBD has made available an application portal where proof of the above criteria can be submitted. After a thorough review of the documents, the ESBD will inform the applicant of the results in writing. The list of qualified competitions is available on the website of the German Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs.
The rounds of applications to have a league or tournament series recognised as a qualified competition are held every six months. The next round of applications starts in October 2021. The ESBD and game esports will provide advance notice when a new round of applications is about to open up.
What if esports players want to participate in a league or tournament series that is not (yet) recognised as a qualified competition?
In such cases, the ESBD will evaluate whether the league or tournament series fulfils the list of criteria laid out by the ESBD and game. If all criteria are met, the ESBD will issue individual confirmation.