Japan is proof that video games don't equal esports - and that not all esports were created equal.

Around the World: Esports in Japan

Japanese esports characters

Japanese esports characters - the Mario brothers and Yoshi from Nintendo's Super Smash Bros.

Esports in Japan look different from those in the West – a tradition started long ago, when Japan dominated the worldwide gaming market. A lot of incredibly popular franchises found their start in Japan and was exported later – even in the esports world.

A unique culture

Japan has always shown a strong preference for content created in their own country – video games were no exception. While the West often responds incredibly well to Japanese (and other Asian) content, the reverse isn’t necessarily true.

The list of the most popular esports in Japan is quite different from those in, for example, the US. The most popular genre is that of fighting games, as far as Japanese esports are concerned. Titles like Tekken, Super Smash Bros., Under Night In-Birth, BlazBlue, and more are incredibly popular and make up a majority of the esports scene there.

That’s easy – esports in Japan are comparatively tiny. While the video game industry itself is booming, esports are not – they remain a niche hobby and find little recognition from official sides. In fact, Japanese gambling laws have a negative impact on Japanese esports too – they affect the way prize money can be paid out and limit tournament organizers quite badly.

Esports tournament

A small esports tournament

A dichotomy

Despite the popularity of video games, esports is generally viewed in a negative light and presented as such in the media. It wasn’t until 2015 that the Japanese esports union was founded in order to support esports in Japan. They have since seen success in promoting the industry, but Japan still lags far behind – even though video games themselves are a popular hobby.

Video credit: Mr Star via YouTube

It’ll likely be some years before Japan can really catch up here – and with officials and media blocking the way, it’s a long way still to go. At the moment, esports competitions are generally decentralized – small, local competitions with minimal amounts of prize money are the norm, rather than the huge events spanning multiple weeks or months that are popular in the US.

Japanese esports are for now also focused on 1v1 type tournaments – organizations, groups, and teams are the exception rather than the rule, in no small part because of the games that are most popular – fighting titles tend to follow a 1v1 setup after all.

That's it for Japan's esports scene. This Sunday we are looking at esports the US, so stay tuned.

For more esports and gaming content, keep it here, at EarlyGame.

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