When you think of Japanese popular culture you undoubtedly think of anime, manga, and, of course, video games.
And how could you not?
If you’re of a certain generation, you know all about Nintendo versus Sega, and you’ve probably played your share of JRPGs.
But it may come as surprise for you to learn that in Japan, the place many consider the birthplace of modern videogames, it is basically impossible to have eSports events and tournaments due to the country’s arcane anti-gambling laws.
eSports in Japan and strict gambling laws
eSports in Japan has not taken off as quickly as in other countries. Japan’s LDP Shinzo Abe hopes to change that.
Legalizing eSports in Japan is the first step in developing a homegrown eSports scene.
Some speculate this move is part of a grassroots movement to put eSports in the Olympics by 2024.
The gambling laws that prevent eSports in Japan stem from decades long campaigns against organized crime. That would be the yakuza, who are often involved in gambling and racketeering in Japan.
Negotiations over the past several months between four eSports groups and Japan’s consumer protection agency has yielded some progress. So much so that some tournaments are currently in the works.
Lawmaker Takeo Kawamura wants to legalize eSports in Japan so gamers can make a living from participating in gaming tournaments. Culturally and legally, that is impossible in the current environment in Japan.
A member of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), Kawamura wants the booming global industry to take hold in Japan. After all, why shouldn’t Japan have a large presence in eSports to match its stature in videogames in general.
It is estimated the eSports industry will generate $USD 5 billion in revenue by 2020. That’s as much or more than many major sporting leagues around the world.
eSports and the Olympics
Comparing eSports competitions to the Olympics, Kawamura said: “If we need more legal wiggle room to hold tournaments, we can use a special law or other provisions as needed…Once we have a gold medalist like, say, Daichi Suzuki, then people will begin to see.”
eSports in Japan could be as big as it is currently in China and South Korea, where tournaments regularly feature top talent and huge purses.
One work around would be to issue eSports gamers permits as a workaround, a method currently used for professional golfers, tennis players, and baseball athletes.
Support for legalizing eSports in Japan has broad political appeal as Kawamura chairs a group of opposition politicians and LDP members that both favor making gaming a viable option for professionals.
Major eSports tournaments coming to Japan
The first major videogame tournament in Japan that will use the licensing workaround will be held in Chiba at the Makuhari Messe on February 9.
Prizes are as of yet undetermined but the event has huge sponsors in Konami and Mixi, among others.
The mainstream acceptance of eSports is growing with each passing year, especially as the number of competitive titles and genres grows.
This summer’s Asia Games in Jakarta, Indonesia will feature eSports events alongside more traditional athletic events and the 2022 Asian Games in Hangzhou, China will feature eSports as a medal event.
Organizers for the 2024 Paris Olympics are open to the idea of featuring eSports events, a marked change from a decade ago when eSports struggled to gain currency. While the Tokyo 2020 Olympics will not feature eSports as a medal event, Kawamura hopes to hold major eSports events leading up to the Olympics. Helping eSports in Japan develop now will insure that the country fields a strong team should eSports become an event in the future.