The new epicentre of esports? Japan

For a nation that has given us video gaming powerhouses like Nintendo, Sony and Bandai Namco, Japan has proven to be remarkably resistant to joining in the competitive gaming phenomenon. But thanks to new legislation it looks like esports and Japan are set for a brave new future together as the first wave of professional gamers in Japan get the green light to compete for prize money.

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The new legislation that could make a success of esports in Japan

In early 2018, Japan’s huge gaming population was given the great news that they would soon be able to start playing video games competitively. This was the result of a minor change in Japan’s gambling laws that previously stopped paid esports competitions from taking place in the nation.

Now it looks like a new generation of Japanese pro gamers will emerge, as a new organisation has been set up that can issue licenses to those individuals who are willing to take a written pledge to demonstrate that they will show self-awareness and sportsmanship whilst pushing the Japanese esports scene forward. The gaming licenses last for two years and will only be granted to those gamers who have shown that they can compete at a top level.

The history of Japan’s illustrious gaming culture

Japan is deeply linked to the history of video gaming. According to a recent study, there are now over 65 million gamers in Japan. And whether it’s playing at home on a Nintendo Switch, or visiting one of the legendary gaming arcades like Taito HEY in Tokyo, it’s clear that video games are now an intrinsic part of daily life for many people in Japan.

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Most of us will be familiar with Nintendo’s iconic characters. Even if you aren’t into the cute and cheerful charms of Mario, Zelda or Yoshi, characters like Street Fighter’s Ryu and even the zombies of Resident Evil have become indispensable parts of global gaming culture. And whether you are playing Sonic the Hedgehog on your smartphone, or are keeping it retro with some classic arcade titles like Space Invaders or Pac-Man, it’s clear that Japan has stamped its mark on the way that we play video games.

What stopped the development of Japanese esports organisations in the past?

Recent reports suggest that Japanese people spend a total of $12.5 billion on video games. This outstanding fact makes Japan the third largest market in the world in terms of gaming revenues, and so the move to legislate esports in Japan couldn’t come too soon.

The global esports market is expected to be worth $5 billion annually by 2020, and for a gaming crazy nation like Japan, it seemed unfair to stop gaming fans and companies from enjoying the benefits of this global phenomenon. Whilst the pre-existing laws existed to stop the profits from illegal gambling being used to fund organised crime, it looks like the new legislation should help a select group of the nation’s gamers compete on a global stage.

Why JESU officials hold the key to Japan’s professional gaming future

Whilst gaming events like Game Party Japan have already existed in the country, the recent moves to set up the Japan Esports Union (JESU) will certainly take esports in Japan to the next level. The organisation’s vice president, Hirokazu Hamamura, has been given the task of promoting esports in Japan with licensed players being allowed to take part in the fledgling Tokaigi 2018 competition that aims to show how this change in gaming attitudes will work.


There’s still some way to go before we see how the organisation will split professional gamers from casual fans, and as there will just be a few dozen gamers who get the licenses, it’s clear that there will be plenty of competition.

This approach has previously helped Japan’s top golf, baseball and tennis players become professional, and it’s hoped that it with lead Japan’s gamers join the ranks of famous gamers in neighbouring Korea and China. And with talk of esports becoming an official sport at the 2024 Olympics in Paris, it seems that Japan’s legislators are suddenly taking video gaming much more seriously.

What kinds of video game can you expect to see in the Japan Esports Union?

There have been plenty of reports that suggest that people in Japan play video games in a different manner from the rest of the world. But whilst a market researcher might state that Japanese people prefer to play solitary RPG games rather than the contest titles that make up the bulk of esports tournaments, it seems that there’s still plenty of scope for Japan’s budding esports stars.

The JESU organisation recently published their list of the video games that would qualify for legal competitive gaming. These include combat games like Street Fighter V and Tekken 7, as well as the first-person shooter Call of Duty WWII. Just to prove that Japan does gaming a little different to elsewhere, they have decided to not include iconic esports like Counter Strike Global Offensive, League of Legends and Dota 2. Instead, Japanese gamers get to compete on unusual puzzle titles like Puzzle & Dragons and Monster Strike.

So do these moves mean that we can expect to see Japan becoming another esports powerhouse like Korea, or even China or Sweden? Whilst this seems unlikely in the first few months of this exciting project, it looks like we can expect to see the first Japanese esports stars on our screens soon.

Read also: Esports Betting in Japan

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