When it comes to gaming, few countries can match Japan. The Land of the Rising Sun has a population of 127 million, and according to a recent study, 65 million of those can be classified as gamers. So, surely it should be considered a pillar of esports on par with South Korea? Well, not exactly.
In fact, Japan has taken an inordinate amount of time to embrace the competitive side of gaming. The main reason behind this sluggish pace comes from strict gambling laws that viewed paid tournaments as inappropriate sales promotions. But recent changes to legislation might finally bring competitive gaming to the masses—and turn Japan into an esports paradise it was always meant to be.
New Rules of Japanese Esports
Everything started in February 2018 when a group of lawmakers met with the Japanese Consumer Affairs Agency to discuss how stiff gambling regulations stunt the growth of competitive gaming. Both parties managed to reach a middle ground and agreed to lift the stiff restrictions that surround Japanese esports tournaments. Moreover, they’ve founded the Japan Esports Union (JeSU) with the goal of issuing licenses to competitive gamers.
As is often the case with these things, there’s always a but. For now, only licensed progamers can take part in major tournaments, which narrows the number of participants quite a bit. Combine that with the fact that JeSU’s definition of a progamer is incredibly vague and licenses are available only for a handful of titles, and it’s easy to see that this system has its flaws. Still, this is a big step in the right direction, and it might even let Japan catch up to esports juggernauts like China and South Korea.
What Does This Mean for League of Legends?
For now, JeSU’s list of supported games includes titles like Call of Duty: WWII, Street Fighter V, Tekken 7, Puzzle & Dragons, Winning Eleven 2018, and Monster Strike. As you can see, there’s a distinct lack of massive esports like Dota 2, Overwatch, and—most notably—League of Legends.
Still, Riot Games’ title has already taken roots in Japan. Ever since 2016, the Land of the Rising Sun has been home to the official League of Legends Japan League (or LJL). At the time of writing this article, the LJL went through six competitive splits, and its representatives have taken part in major esports tournaments like the Mid-Season Invitational and the League of Legends World Championship.
That being said, LoL is definitely not as popular in Japan as it is in other regions, so Japanese teams often looked outclassed at international competitions. On top of that, there’s been a recent scandal between Korean players Jeon “Dara” Jeong-hoon and Lee “Tussel” Moon-yong and one of the biggest LJL teams — PENTAGRAM — that reveals that Japanese League of Legends has a long way to go. With any luck, legislation changes will start a conversation on how to solve these issues and make the scene more professional in the process.
Check out also our guide to League of Legends World Championship 2018
Editorial Credit: Riot Games