How will Esports in Japan develop over the coming years?

Posted on June 14, 2021

If there is one word that best describes Japan’s approach to many forms of commerce and business, it is innovation. It is therefore unsurprising that recent moves in the company to help develop Esports in Japan have been almost unique to the country.

With estimates that Esports in Japan will generate around $95 million dollars a year over the next two years, with some sources estimating that by 2023 it could be worth as much as $141 million, it is clear that Esports in Japan is big business, but what is so special about how the Japanese are approaching Esports?

One of the key differences is that in Japan there has been a greater emphasis on the social element of Esports and inclusivity across all areas of society, rather than a direct focus on Esports games themselves and that is best highlighted by some of the new initiatives that have been put into place across the country in recent times.

What initiatives have been put in place to develop Esports in Japan?

One of the most intriguing of the new developments is the opening this past Spring of the new e-ZONe Denno Kukan hotel. Denno Kukan is a Japanese term which relates to cyberspace but which literally translates as “electric mind space”.

This eight-storey building has guest rooms on the fourth through to eight floors, but the first three floors of the hotel are dedicated to Esports gaming, in the form of a massive gaming arena.

Able to allow individuals to play at consoles for free as a guest at the hotel, or to accommodate many more players as part of a larger tournament, the hotel has been specifically designed to cater for the needs of any player of Esports in Japan.

e-ZONe Denno Kukan hotel
e-ZONe Denno Kukan hotel Osaka | Image credits: ezone-osaka.com

That means super-fast internet, accommodation that also includes two computer consoles and access to the Internet so you can play in your room. Located in the famed Nipponbashi district of Osaka, the city which is home to two of Japan’s biggest gaming companies, SNK and Capcom, the new hotel boasts futuristic looking décor as well as a total of 94-beds.

One of the most interesting initiatives launched this past July in the city of Kobe in Japan was a dedicated Esports facility that is open to citizens aged 60 or over.

Newcomers to the world of Esports in Japan can take a 2-hour lesson (costing around $10), which will show them the basics of Esports gaming and allow them to get involved at a level they are comfortable with. A number of easier, slower paced games are available to play and practise their skills on before they take on the more frenetic pace of Esports gaming.

In addition to teaching older Japanese citizens about Esports and gaming in general, the Kobe center also wants to develop its teaching program to encourage older citizens to take on a mentoring role to those 60+ year olds that come through its doors who are not yet perhaps fully aware of what Esports in Japan entails.

Is Japan doing anything to attract higher level Esports gaming?

One of the most impressive aspects of this Japanese approach to Esports is that it is a multi-faceted approach. In addition to the new hotel and the over 60s center, PlayBrain has announced that it has raised $6m in funding to manage tournaments and create content specifically for Esports tournaments in Japan.

This level of investment together with the other initiatives outlined above will mean that Esports in Japan will start to grow much more quickly, as the forecasts mentioned previously show.

Most pleasing for Japanese Esports fans and players is that PlayBrain already has established links with some of the biggest Esports software producers in the world today including Activision Blizzard, EA, Bandai Namco Entertainment, Twitch, Alienware, Intel, and Riot Games.

With the foundation of the Japan Esports Union providing an initial fragmented Esports industry in Japan with a more unifying single voice, it does seem as if Japan, while perhaps lagging behind established Esports centers like South Korea, North America, and Europe, is starting to close the gap very quickly.

And with all these new initiatives aimed at the whole of Japanese society, few would bet against the Japanese making up that lost ground in the Esports industry, in double quick time.

What Esports are Popular in Japan?

Street Fighter

Having seen what Japan is doing in investing in its infrastructure, one important thing to note is that it is something of a unique market when it comes to esports.

Some of the most popular esports titles, such as CS:GO and Dota 2 are not as popular in Japan as they are in other parts of the world. Instead, Japanese gamers tend to enjoy a lot of Player V Player combat games, such as Street fighter esports and Mortal Kombat.

In terms of the most popularly played titles around the world, the most popular of these titles in Japan is Overwatch. Some of the best overwatch players in the world hail from Japan and they are developing their skills in teams such as Jupiter, who have earned $42,109 in prize money, the most of all Japanese Overwatch teams.

However, by far the most successful Japanese-based team is the League of Legends team DetonatioN FocusMe who have amassed $157,925 in earnings in that particular game, which along with Hearthstone is one of the three most popular esports titles in Japan.

The bulk of that cash came from the team finishing top of the LJL Spring 2019 Split, which earned them $88,050 in prize money.

What is the situation regarding Esports Betting in Japan?

Looking to the future, one area that is ripe for growth in the country is the opportunity to bet on esports in Japan.

At the moment, esports betting operates in a somewhat unclarified area of legality in Japan. While technically Japanese customers are not allowed to gamble, the Japanese government does not stop operators from other countries from accessing Japanese customers.

Similarly, Japanese customers that want to bet on esports, can sign up with these companies to bet on their favourite esports teams and events.

Esports in Japan – 2021 and Beyond

Looking at Esports in Japan in 2021 and beyond that time, the clarification of the legal status of esports betting in the country would certainly help develop that industry. Whether the Japanese government, which has been reticent to allow many different forms of betting in the past, will seek to clarify the situation remains to be seen.

Given the popularity of esports such as Hearthstone, League of Legends, and Overwatch in particular, plus the peculiarities of the Japanese market in terms of the esports titles that are most popular in the country, some clarity on esports betting would be very useful.

Whether that results in full legalisation of esports betting across Japan is open to question, but starting the discussion would certainly help localised companies achieve what they would want. Ostensibly that they could become specialists in offering Japanese customers the esports betting markets they want and demand.

In terms of competition, it does seem unlikely that any Japanese team in League of Legends of Overwatch is likely to challenge the dominance of teams from the likes of China, North America, South Korea, and Europe. However, the developing nature of the Chinese esports industry means that in the future, it may not be the case and we could see serious competitors emerge from the country across a wide range of esports.

I also feel a widespread increase in participation in esports such as CSGO, Call of Duty, and Dota 2 is also likely as Japan embraces its future as an esports power.

For me, this is not a question of if it will happen in Japan. It is merely a question of how long it will take.

Ian John Avatar
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Ian John

A lifelong poker fan, Ian is also well-versed in the world of sports betting, casino gaming, and has written extensively on the online gambling industry. Based in the UK, Ian brings fresh insight into all facets of gaming.

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