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.
Further information on how to submit applications to qualify their leagues and tournaments for the esports visa process can be found in the application hub of ESBD.