While the concept of video games was first developed in the US, thanks to the pioneering work of engineer Ralph Baer in the ‘60s and ‘70s, Japan has become synonymous with gaming for decades as giants such as Nintendo, Sega, and Sony have reimagined the console landscape. It’s ironic that a nation where gaming is so engrained in mainstream culture has yet to fully embrace esports, but recent developments show there is interest from both the public and private sectors in advancing the competitive gaming market in the Land of the Rising Sun.
Esports Gym, jointly operated by transit company Tokyo Metro and esports education firm Gecipe, recently opened along Japan’s subway line, with options for experienced players to train and for amateurs to pay for professional esports coaching from Crest Gaming and Glory Be Esports. Gamers who wish to train in Valorant, League of Legends, Identity V, Rainbow Six Siege, and Puyo Puyo Champions can rent one of the facility’s PCs for a three-hour time slot. The gym also provides monthly membership starting at $50, which grants subscribers daily access to the PCs as well as optional online or in-person coaching sessions that can be added for around $25 an hour.
It’s an interesting idea to potentially boost awareness of esports in Japan, mirroring venues that have popped up in Singapore and other parts of Asia. Additionally, on the publishing side, Konami opened an esports school last year in Tokyo, which offers lectures and hands-on learning with titles Pro Evo, eBaseball Powerful Pro Baseball, Dota, and Fortnite. These private sector moves come at a time when the Japanese government has pledged to grow the esports market, with an eye to generating ¥285 billion ($2.6 billion) in economic benefits a year by 2025 from ticket sales, online viewing fees, and advertising revenue, as well as from tournament hosting and corporate equipment supply. The esports world may have an uphill battle in convincing Japanese gamers to hop aboard the train, however. Interpret data shows that Japanese gamers far prefer single-player titles (like RPGs) to competitive online multiplayer games, and according to Interpret’s Esports Replay™, only 14% of all Japanese gamers are also esports viewers, compared to 50% of Chinese, 27% of Singaporean, and 21% of Korean gamers.