An article in the Daily Yomiuri that I originally thought was a Kazunoko interview, but turned out to be more about the state of eSports in Japan. Not as interesting as I thought, but still brings up some cool points. I don’t have an editor and I forgot everything I was taught in school, so there are probably a lot of mistakes, but I hope you enjoy!
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Original Article- http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/osaka/feature/CO023571/20160612-OYTAT50007.html
Pro-Gamer: The Battle Within 1/60th of a Second
Fighting, Shooting… Using Amazing Techniques to Aim for Prize Money
“Pro-Gamers, those who make a living through gaming, are enjoying life in the limelight. Overseas they are riding the wave of popularity and have formed an organization with their sights on the Olympics. The image of “Play” has been discarded and have gaming has caught up with the modern times.” – Hiroshi Iwaisako
May 28th; Akihabara, Tokyo. In a Tournament Space reminiscent of a Sports Bar, the burning enthusiasm of youth was overflowing.
“Whoa! It’s a drop kick!”
The commentator’s voice shakes the room. The characters these two men are controlling are fighting within the confines of a giant monitor 2 meters tall and 3 meters wide.
Whenever the players make a bold move, the crowd of 50 people huddled into the venue resounds. Just like watching the main event at a professional wrestling match, my body leans forward without thinking.
The venue is “eSports Square”; built in January 2014, it is Japan’s first specialty Gaming/Spectating establishment where tournaments are frequently held. The “e” stands for “Electronic”. “eSports” is the title of gaming when it is treated as a sport.
In April of last year, Japan’s first eSports league “The Japan eSports Association(JESPA)” was founded. In March of this year, the first “Japan eSports Athlete Tournament” was held in Tokyo with 350 players participating from around the country. More than 1000 spectators watched the event from the venue, while more than 13,000 watched online. In front of the crowd, the Association President, House of Representatives member Yasutoshi Nishimura, expressed his desire that, “In the future, eSports will be a part of the Olympics”.
You can’t just say that this is a pipe dream. The idea of “eSports” has already been accepted overseas, and the Asian Olympic Council (OCA) has already adopted it as an official sport. The current goal of JESPA is to affiliate with the Japan Olympic Committee (JOC) and send Japanese representatives to OCA tournaments.
At the end of May, I paid a visit to a small room in a multi tenant building in the city. This is where Ryouta Inoue (28), the pro-gamer known as “Kazunoko”, does his work. In this room, which was prepared for him by his sponsor, Inoue-san spends his days and nights researching Fighting Games. In his left hand he holds the lever, and in his right hands he controls 8 buttons. He is in a world that requires precision within the speed of 1/60th of a second. There is no smile on his face. “It’s not fun. But it’s all for the sake of becoming strong.” In one day, he spends on average 9 hours intently staring at his monitor.
In January, Inoue-san signed an exclusive contract with a game streaming company and became a professional gamer. While also doing game commentary in addition to playing, he earns a monthly salary of 250,000 Yen ($2444~). At the same time, he also aims for large cash prizes in overseas tournaments. Last winter, he won a tournament in America and received a prize of 15,000,000 Yen ($146,692~). This year as well, he is preparing for a big American tournament in July.
“By becoming a pro, I was finally freed from the feelings of guilt I had from continuing to play games.”
Born in Saitama Prefecture, he became infatuated with fighting games during his high school days; and even after graduating university, he lived as a freeter (someone who works various part-time jobs) and continued to frequent arcades. He labeled himself as “a useless member of society”.
6 years ago, he vowed “I will quit playing” to his parents who were worried about his future; but immediately after, he won a national tournament. Next he traveled to Canada where he also won, and left his foreign rivals wondering “Why don’t you become a pro?”. Around the same time, inspired by the birth of Japan’s first pro-gamer, Kazunoko decided to take the plunge and go all-in.
According to JESPA, there are about 10 pros in Japan who are making a living off nothing but fighting games. Even in other team-style games, pro teams are being formed; and this March the Ministry of Justice issued a “Professional Athlete Visa” to one foreign member of a Japanese eSports team. “The country has accepted video games as a professional sport,” became a widely talked about topic.
Inoue-san hopes, “Ideally, in the future gaming will become like the J-League(japanese soccer) or professional baseball.” However, the realization of that ideal is still far. Negative impressions of gaming such as, “Gaming is for children” or “It’s a hindrance to studying” are still firmly rooted in society; and there are strict laws in Japan regulating the amount of prize money that can be awarded at events. An official system for qualifying players as professionals has also yet to be implemented.
But even in an uncertain world like this, a flood of over 10,000 people aiming to become a part of the professional gaming world rushed to inquire about Japan’s first “eSports Program” at a technical school in the city this spring. The school had to quickly expand their facilities and staff by 5 times to meet the demand.
The sudden rise in popularity being enjoyed by eSports is not uncommon, but will it be able to hold from here on out? Tokyo University Professor, Banba Fumio, predicts-“Gaming takes the physical aspect from sports like Soccer as well as the mental aspect from sports like Chess to create a new genre of sport that requires both aspects. If you look at it’s spread around the world, I think even in Japan if will gradually permeate and take hold.”
The 100,000,000 Yen Player
There various genres of gaming, such as Fighting, Shooting, Soccer, etc. In particular, Fighting Games where you control a character and fight using special moves are especially popular in Japan. Series such as “Street Fighter” and “Tekken” are famous.
PC Games have led the evolution of professional gaming in the West and Korea. By establishing an online infrastructure, they make playing and spectating online simple; and as the fans grow, so do the prospects and businesses entering the market.
In the late 1990’s, tournaments with cash prizes became commonplace, and throughout the years the scope has magnified enormously. Last year in America, a tournament was held with a 2,200,000,000 Yen ($21~ million) prize, and there are players that make an annual income of over 100,000,000 Yen ($1~ million). There are also Professional Leagues in various countries such as America, Korea, Sweden, and so on.