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Popularity of eSports soars in Japan

Asia's love of eSports has been clearly evident over recent years, with bumper attendances at tournaments in South Korea and high playing numbers in China. One Asian country that has taken its time to embrace eSports, however, has been Japan; something of a surprise considering the country's passion for video games. But things are beginning to change, with Game Party Japan 2016, held earlier this year, demonstrating just how big a leap is being made by the country’s gaming community. In addition to the number of fans that turned up to watch the event, the prize money of around ¥100 million highlighted just how serious Japan is getting when it comes to eSports. 

Japan's new age of eSports

Founded last year, the Japan eSports Association has wasted little time in trying to grow the industry in the country. A nationwide tournament earlier this year was followed by the country issuing athlete visas to eSports stars. While Japan has leant towards console gaming rather than the PC titles, such as League of Legends, that eSports has gravitated towards, the tide appears to be turning, and a number of full-time professional gaming teams have sprouted up to join FocusMe, the country's first professional outfit which has participated in tournaments such as the 2015 International Wildcard Invitational. 

It's not like people in Japan aren't interested in gaming. Take online gambling for example, an industry worth $79.2 billion last year in the Asia-Pacific region, which has been helped by leading online casinos such as 32Red and 888casino - both of which offer dedicated Japanese websites. Combining Asia's long-standing love of technology with their new interest in betting, people are flocking to http://www.32red.com/jp/ to gain access to traditional games as well as the latest video slots such as Mega Moolah and Jurassic Park, or the likes of Millionaire Jackpot and Game of Thrones available at 888casino and 138bet. 

As both online betting and esports grow in popularity, gaming is becoming a big business in Japan. The huge money involved in eSports, not to mention the fame and adoration that go hand in hand with being a professional gamer, is certainly starting to make it an increasingly attractive prospect for the country’s youth. 

"esports" (CC BY 2.0) by  sam_churchill 

Gaming's growth in Asia

Another country that has taken its time to jump on the eSports bandwagon has been Malaysia, but, again, this appears to be changing. The country recently played host to the inaugural Republic of Gamers (ROG) Champions Cup 2016 event. Attended by over 1,500 League of Legends fans, the event was the culmination of a tournament that saw 149 teams competing to make it into the grand final, where the two best teams battled it out over five rounds for the League of Legends title.

Missing in Action met Raiding Squad in the final after coming out on top after two months of qualifying. In what was an exciting final, Missing in Action took the title with a 3-1 scoreline, with the five-player squad winning around $19,940 each and five units of gaming equipment. The runners-up, Raiding Squad, didn't walk away empty handed either, earning $11,964 as well as some GX1000 gaming gear. The ROG have been behind much of eSports' growth in the region, sponsoring events such as PAX, BlizzCon and Dreamhack. 


Japan's future

Japan's interest in eSports was highlighted recently when DetonatioN, a leading Japanese gaming team, revealed that the central government had issued professional athlete visas to two South Korean gamers. While it might not be a massive story in the country's mainstream news, in terms of competitive gaming in Japan, it's a sizeable advancement, with it marking the first time such visas have been issued to professional eSports players. The hope is that competitive gaming now follows the same growth that football did in the country 20 years ago. 

In 1993, Japan saw the formation of its first professional football league, the Japan Professional Football League, or J-League. From that first season, the sport has enjoyed a rapid growth in popularity, with 40 professional clubs now competing in the top two leagues.

Much of football's growth came thanks to the arrival of foreign superstars such as Gary Lineker playing in the league, and it may be a similar story in the world of gaming. As established eSports stars from overseas begin to compete in tournaments in Japan, and even join teams based in the country, eSports is only going to continue to grow.