-Each team trains for eight hours a day, and then the individual players train for countless hours. Among these there are those who once aimed to become players of real soccer, but who have now become players of digital soccer. The entire world is a playing field waiting for them. They are professional e-SPORTS competitors-
This last 22 of January the JAPAN e-SPORTS LEAGUE 2016 winter finals were held. This is a report about these exciting finals, and a discussion on the current state and future of the JAPAN e-SPORTS LEAGUE. This is the first half of our report about these exciting finals, and a discussion on the current state and future of the JAPAN e-SPORTS LEAGUE.
The JAPAN e-SPORTS LEAGUE finals
■ e-SPORTS are spreading across the globe
The word “e-SPORTS” refers to a type of sports match which uses computer games and video games as its way of holding a competition. It is very popular in the West, as well as in China and Korea.
According to Mr. Seiichiro Kakehi, head of the secretariat at the JAPAN eSPORTS association, the main genres are FPS (first person shooters) and MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena games where players get divided into 2 teams and battle each other in real time by controlling their characters). Apart from these, fighting games are also popular. Among FPS games, a representative title would be “CALL OF DUTY” (*1), and among MOBA games it would be “League of Legends” (*2). These games have a lot of players worldwide. The number of total players of e-SPORTS around the world is at least one hundred million people.
If we take a look at the number of actual soccer players it rises up to 265,000,000 people, in basketball it is said to be approximately 400,000,000 people, so the world of e-SPORTS is almost expanding to the point where it surpasses these popular sports.
In fact, the 2014 tournament of the League of Legends World Championship drew an online audience of 11,200,000 spectators. These figures are larger than the audience of the Superbowl, the biggest sports event in the US (the grand tournament of pro American football). The way e-SPORTS has used its online presence is very favorable, says Mr. Kakehi.
Its market scale is said to be among the 40,000,000,000 to 50,000,000,000 yen figures, some of the largest prizes handed out at grand tournaments reach 2,000,000,000 yen figures, and if we include the sale of game items and ad revenue, the actual market scale would be much bigger according to Mr. Kakehi’s conjectures.
This shows us just how widely e-SPORTS has expanded around the world. And yet, in Japan these kinds of events and associations have only just started to appear.
■The Japanese e-SPORTS begin!
The first competition of this type, JAPAN e-SPORTS LEAGUE, started this last November and 6 teams from all over the country (Hokkaido, Tokyo, Aichi, Fukuoka, and 2 teams from Osaka) competed against each other. Each of these league matches were held once a week online from these different locations, and as a result, CYCLOPS OSAKA athlete gaming (from now on, Osaka) won 1st place, with Tokyo Verdy (from now on, Tokyo) winning 2nd place.
Osaka, in the 1st position, are a pro team from Osaka city but managed by “e-SPORTS Connect” (Tokyo, Shibuya).
Tokyo, in the 2nd position, are a team whose players are a mix of those who have other side jobs, and those who are entirely specialized in what they’re doing. They are managed by the soccer J2 club.
Each day these teams train for 8 hours, and after that, each individual player spends countless more hours training on their own. It’s the hard work required for beating the finals.
The venue for these finals will be the “TOKYO SCHOOL OF ANIME”, located in Tokyo’s Edogawa district. It’s the only specialist school in Japan dedicated to training people to complete in this world of e-SPORTS.
TOKYO SCHOOL OF ANIME
On the actual day of the event, a webcast of it was broadcast
There are 3 matches, the soccer game “FIFA17” (*3), the fighting game “BLAZBLUE CENTRALFICTION” (*4), and the FPS “Overwatch” (*5).
The winner will be the team which beats 2 of these matches.
■ The first match: FIFA17
FIFA17, the soccer videogame, has two modalities of match: Home, and Away. The sum total of points earned in these two modalities will define who wins. Kuromame, one of the players in the Osaka team, chooses FC Bayern Munich as his team. KEN, one of the players in the Tokyo team, chooses Real Madrid as his team.
In this first game KEN takes the initiative, but just before the end of the game Kuromame reaches a draw, and afterwards continues gaining even more points and reverses the score. In the second game Kuromame’s team characters took an unfortunate injury due to his lack of defense, but afterwards continued attacking vigorously until he won. The Osaka team has won the first match.
In his school days, Kuromame used to play real soccer. He was only a goal keeper and, so he was always envious of how his team mates would take the important points. That is why he started playing digitally. The more he played the better he became, and suddenly he had become a professional soccer gamer.
Kuromame told us that “both in real soccer and in digital soccer, the strategies are the same.”
During a pause in between matches, I had the opportunity to talk to one of the teenagers watching the game. He was in high school and was aiming to enter university, but he was resolved to “definitely become a pro gamer”. At the moment he was still roaming around, trying to get into a specialized academy. His dream for the future was to become a major e-SPORTS player in Japan.
■ The second match: BLAZBLUE CENTRALFICTION
BLAZBLUE CENTRALFICTION is a 2D fighting game. The team which beats 10 fights will be the winner. Dogura, one of the Osaka team players, had a great start and took the lead with a 6-2 score. Afterwards, Souji, a player from the Tokyo team, caught up to him but Dogura eventually won with an overwhelming 10-7.
At this point, the Osaka team had already won, since they had beaten 2 of the matches.
■The third match: Overwatch
Overwatch is a game which was only just released last year, but its high sense of tactical gaming has made it popular among people, and it now has 20,000,000 players worldwide. It is a FPS game where each team has 6 players.
In this tournament, the rules state that whoever beats 3 games will be the winning team.
Usually, one would think that since the winner had already been settled, this 3rd game was a throwaway match. But in fact, this was not the case.
The Tokyo team was considered by everyone in this league as the strongest team, since in the preliminary games they had not lost a single match. The Osaka team were aware of this, and had practiced very hard to try and counter them.
This was the sense of tension which you could feel in the venue.
It was impressive to see both teams as they formed circles of 6 people in order to motivate each other.
The Tokyo Verdy Overwatch team forming a circle
The CYCLOPS OSAKA athlete gaming Overwatch team forming a circle
We spoke to Vader, the leader of the Tokyo Overwatch team.
Vader started participating in PC gaming tournaments when he was 16, and at 19 he was competing worldwide. That’s when he viscerally felt just how amazing the international players were, and started to get serious about becoming a pro gamer. He then continued to play while also working at a games company, and in November of last year he quit his company in order to become a pro.
When asked about his daily life he frankly tells us that “he feels a lot of anxiety”.
This Japanese e-SPORTS community is showing a lot of promise, it could be described as the “dawning of a new era”. But there are still many problems left…
In the second half of this article we will talk about the problems faced by the Japanese e-SPORTS world, and tell you how this tournament ended.
JAPAN e-SPORTS LEAGUE
(*1) CALL OF DUTY
(*2) League of Legends
(*4) BLAZBLUE CENTRALFICTION
>>Continuing onto the second half
(Article by: Kenichi Nakamura)
Fields Research Institute (FRI) conducts research in entertainment.
This article was written by a member of FRI, through the original coverage of his/her interests observed in their daily lives.