Esports Law in Japan: An Introduction
July 14 2018
Japan has long held the title of gaming mecca. With big names like Nintendo, Sony, and Sega it's hard not to think of Japan when you think of gaming. Considering its legacy, you’d expect Japan to be a perfect breeding ground for eSports, right? Truthfully, not so much. Esports has had a bit of a slow start in Japan. Despite being the birthplace of gaming Japan has had an “esports desert” image for years. The reason? Laws meant to restrict gambling in Japan ended up restricting esports as well. Recent changes, however, have opened the flood gates to further allow the growth of Japan’s esports scene. With the addition of John Takeuchi and Nemo to the Team Liquid family, we thought it was important to keep our fans, and ourselves, up to date with the current state of Japanese esports and the laws that govern it.
An Abridged History Lesson
Japan has a set of laws that govern the business of enjoyment. These laws are meant to promote good morals and keep children safe from “bad influences” (think alcohol, gambling, etc.). As such, all forms of gambling have been illegal in Japan for a very long time. It wasn’t until game-like forms of gambling and “excessively violent” video games became popular that this law, and the restrictions that come with it, was applied to gaming as well. Once applied to gaming, no gaming or esports tournament prize could exceed ￥100,000 (around $900). As you might expect this stunted the growth of Japanese esports. Gaming championships with larger prize pools became unable to hold their major tournaments in Japan while most Japanese pros were forced to have day jobs to support themselves.
To read more about the Japanese laws that govern gaming and esports, you can read more about it (in Japanese), here.
The Revised Plan
Not to worry though, the Japanese Government is on it! With the recent creation of the Japanese eSports Players Union, or JeSU for short, and its brand new pro licensing system, the Government is looking to expand Japanese esports in a major way. This licensing system creates 3 specific licenses — Pro, Junior Pro, and Team — and requires that anyone competing at JeSU sanctioned tournaments be covered by at least 1 license. It can be your own or your team’s. The first of these JeSU sanctioned tournaments, Tokaigi 2018, awarded JeSU pro licenses as a prize. Those who won the special brackets held in the Street Fighter V and Tekken 7 events became Japan’s first ever licensed pro gamers. Since Tokaigi, 81 pro licenses, 8 team licenses, and 1 junior license have been granted.
To learn more about JeSU, you can check their website (in Japanese), here.
The Community’s Opinions
For the time being these licenses only really seem to have affected the FGC. Of the 81 individual licenses issued 24 of them went to Street Fighter V and Tekken 7 pros. Despite JeSU’s promises of a better industry the Japanese side of the community is torn. While most Japanese pros agree that some sort of system is necessary for Japanese esports to grow and flourish, some rather prominent voices are concerned. The chief concern is that the Japanese government is blinded by the economic and Olympic implications of a strong esports industry and are ignoring the heart and soul of the FGC: Anyone can show up, sit down, and play. The negativity towards this new system already runs so deep that some pros have refused to get licenses despite being invited to receive them.
As a holder of a JeSU pro gaming license himself, we decided to ask our very own Liquid Nemo his opinions on this system and its less than warm reception in the community.
Regarding the license itself, Nemo said “Personally, as long as the system works the way it's supposed to and some good prize money comes out of it, I don’t think the license is bad at all.” Nemo continued to say that to him this system seemed like a good first step in the right direction. He also seemed hopeful that naysayers would soon change their tune. “I think that since the license has just come out, I am hearing a lot of negativity towards the system. Ultimately, I think that if we put our faith in this system getting more and more press, thereby getting more and more people interested in gaming, then those voices will eventually disappear.”
Nemo expressed that while this system is likely not perfect and will take time to work, it is important to give it time before killing its chances.
Overall, there have been many strides that esports has taken in Japan. Just this year, the world's biggest fighting game expo, Evolution Championship Series or EVO, was held in Japan for the very first time. Nemo's Liquid teammate, John Takeuchi, earned an impressive second place at the inaugural EVO Japan ahead of luminaries like Japan Daigo Umehara and Hajime "Tokido" Taniguchi. With such a large and passionate gaming community, Japan's esports scene finally has the support to flourish, and we'll be bringing you the news whenever Nemo and John compete at their locals.
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