Introduction of Esports to Tokyo Companies and Schools Leads to Rapid Growth

Okayasu Manabu (esports writer)

[CONTRIBUTED ARTICLE] As esports gains momentum around the world, it is attracting attention from diverse industries, especially because of its popularity among young people.

"RAGE VALORANT 2022 Autumn" was held in October 2022 at the Tokyo Garden Theater in Ariake, Koto City, Tokyo. Tickets ranged from 5,500 to 9,500 yen each, sold out immediately. Photo: Okayasu Manabu

Esports Attract People from Around the World

It has been said that Japanese esports lags behind the rest of the world, but with the country's rapidly growing esports community, it is now competing on a global level. Tournaments have been increasing in scale every year, along with a steadily increasing player population and fanbase.

There was a particularly significant increase in the number of spectators over the last year. "RAGE VALORANT 2022 Autumn," which was held at the Tokyo Garden Theater in October 2022, attracted more than 13,000 people over two days. The event was also streamed online, with 410,000 simultaneous viewers, which is on par with major international sporting events. Meanwhile, "EVO Japan 2023" was held at Tokyo Big Sight (Koto City, Tokyo) from March 31 to April 2, 2023, attracting more than 1,500 participants from about 80 countries, with 35,000 visitors over the course of three days.

Optimal Content for Engaging Gen Z

Times are changing for the operation of esports teams, which until recently have been supported by sponsors. Teams are now starting to brand themselves and are proposing a variety of business models. Crazy Raccoon, a popular esports team, has a base in Shibuya, along with a gaming space and a store that sells original merchandise. The store boasts an appearance and product lineup comparable to apparel brands, and sells more than just fan merch.

Because of its popularity amongst the younger crowd—who have proven difficult to attract—esports has assisted in the development of new customer bases for restaurants as well. HUB, a British style pub, trialed a venture into public esports viewing from January to March 2023. The viewings were held over 12 days at the pub's Takadanobaba and Seibu Shinjuku locations, and both venues were filled to capacity every day. HUB's clientele has always been on the older side, but when these public esports viewing events were held, the majority of patrons were in their 20s, which reaffirms the high engagement amongst young people.

A public viewing of "VALORANT Challengers Japan" held at HUB in March 2023. There were so many visitors that entry had to be restricted. Photo: Okayasu Manabu

An example of how accessible public esports viewing events have become over the past few years is the dramatic increase in the number of esports facilities themselves. Karaoke boxes and Internet cafes have a strong affinity with esports, and these venues are beginning to attract new customers by enhancing their gaming PCs and streaming facilities. Meanwhile, some businesses are entering the market from completely different industries. Tokyo Metro opened an esports facility called "Esports GYM" in Kita City, Tokyo in 2021 in order to utilize unused land. It is advertised as a training gym where visitors can not only play games, but also receive instruction from professional teams and receive English conversation lessons through games as well.

The Number of Schools Incorporating Esports as a Club Activity

The expansion of esports into the field of education is also remarkable. There have been a number of competitions held for high school students, such as the "All Japan High School Esports Championship" and "STAGE: 0," with many high schools from across the country competing against one another. In 2022, 6,728 students from 2,060 schools participated in "STAGE: 0."

N High School won the "League of Legends" division at the 5th All Japan High School Esports Championship held at LFS Ikebukuro Esports Arena (Toshima City, Tokyo) in February 2023. Photo: Okayasu Manabu

Of particular note is the presence of distance-learning high schools. The distance-learning environment makes regular club activities difficult, but esports makes for an ideal club activity as it allows for online practice and participation. Today, there are more than 200,000 students (about 7.5% of all high school students) attending distance-learning schools (Source: "School Basic Survey," Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, 2022). More and more regular high schools are beginning to incorporate esports, and esports clubs are being established, especially at private high schools.

Some organizations are also attempting to link esports with the regular curriculum, such as the Japanese branch of the North America Scholastic Esports Federation (NASEF JAPAN), and the Japan High School Esports Federation (JHSEF). The "GIGA School Concept" is an initiative launched by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology in 2019 to provide one computer per student in addition to a high-speed network. This initiative also works well with esports and has the potential to bring esports into the school curriculum.

Esports is able to significantly impact and enhance both culture and business from various perspectives, and is definitely one of the most effective ways to understand and connect with the younger generation in particular. These benefits are becoming more prevalent on a national scale, with Tokyo leading the way. Governor Koike Yuriko serves as Honorary Chairperson of the Executive Committee for "Tokyo Esports Festa," which has been held annually since 2020 (online in 2021 and 2022). This event has provided backup for small and medium enterprises in Tokyo and the esports community, actively working to eliminate barriers to entry into the esports industry.

Okayasu Manabu

Esports writer. Became a freelancer after working as an editor of a gaming magazine. He is active online and in magazines, focusing on stories related to esports and digital devices. He is also the author of The Illustrated Guide to the Game Industry - A Textbook that Explains the Structure and Work of the Game Industry in a Single Volume (Gijutsu-Hyohron Co., Ltd.).
Translation by Amitt