Persistent infections are subject to constant surveillance by CD8+ cytotoxic T cells (CTL). Their control should therefore depend on MHC class I-restricted epitope presentation. Many epitopes are described for γ-herpesviruses and form a basis for prospective immunotherapies and vaccines. However the quantitative requirements of in vivo immune control for epitope presentation and recognition remain poorly defined. We used Murid Herpesvirus-4 (MuHV-4) to determine for a latently expressed viral epitope how MHC class-I binding and CTL functional avidity impact on host colonization. Tracking MuHV-4 recombinants that differed only in epitope presentation, we found little latitude for sub-optimal MHC class I binding before immune control failed. By contrast, control remained effective across a wide range of T cell functional avidities. Thus, we could define critical engagement thresholds for the in vivo immune control of virus-driven B cell proliferation.