Will Japan’s Esports Catch Up With China Or Korea?

Japan is far behind its neighboring countries of China and Korea when it comes to esports. But the country’s esports has seen a rise in popularity in recent years and is fast catching up due to the effect of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Japan is still a developing country in esports

Despite having been a gaming powerhouse, Japan is still a  latecomer in esports. Japan is the world’s third-largest game consumer and some might wonder why Japan’s esports scene is still underdeveloped. Japan has taken its own path in the development of its gaming culture since the 1970s. Console games and arcade games have long been the mainstream, while more and more Chinese and Korean gamers shifted to PC games. This explains the reason why the number of competitive Japanese pro esports players is much fewer than that of China and Korea. 

Current Japanese laws make it difficult for organizers and sponsors to offer a large pool of prize money for tournaments. Without sufficient prize money, it is not easy to support top players. Existence of the Japanese gambling law also hinders audience engagement as well as an option of sourcing funds. There are offshore bookmakers like bet365 offering an esports market to Japanese bettors. However, sports betting is strictly restricted under special laws in the country and there are no domestic esports betting options. 

The force of esports growth in Asia pushes Japan

Asian region is leading the way in esports growth, which clearly pushes Japan in its force. As a result of the coronavirus outbreak, the 2020 Tokyo Olympic was postponed to the summer in 2021. In addition, the majority of games were carried on without spectators. In order to create enthusiasm outside Japan in the challenging circumstances, the Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC) subsequently came up with the pre-event “Olympic Virtual Series”. This became the first-ever official esports event in the history of Olympics, featuring baseball, cycling, auto racing, sailing, and rowing. 

Furthermore, esports became the official competition sports for the upcoming 2022 Asian Games in Hangzhou. The addition of esports is celebrated as highlighting the innovation and inclusiveness of the largest sports event in Asia. The Asian Games are considered not just sports festivals throughout Asia, but also showing the way of thinking about urban civilization, participation from the general public, and high-tech achievements. 

Japan’s esports potential

Japan is optimistic about its development of esports in the near future, being regarded as one of the leading countries with a long history and IP in the gaming industry. The country is equipped with comprehensive infrastructure, cutting-edge technology, and a pool of game developers. According to the Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), the domestic esports market size was about 60 billion yen as of 2019 and is estimated to exceed 150 billion yen in 2023

Japan’s ambition for developing esports is clearly visible in recent investments. Tokyo Metro opened the nation’s first esports gym in Akabane this year. The gym facilitates both online and off-line learning through lessons and teaching by pros, as well as testing and certifications. In April next year, Japan’s largest e-sports stadium is scheduled to open at Tokyo Tower. The facility is to be the country’s major e-sports theme park. With the potential growth of esports in coming years, it aims at developing diversified esports businesses and driving the domestic esports market further.   

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