For decades, Japan has boasted one of the most vibrant and diverse ecosystems when it comes to digital transformation, gaming, and pop culture. It’s a market leader where video games are concerned, and in 2022, it was reported that Japan’s ‘competitive video game market’ alone was worth some $116 million. However, it must be said that the Japan esports scene has a lot of development to do, having only really been expanding since 2018.
At an exceptional esports event in the Saitama Super Arena in Japan, all eyes were drawn to an unexpectedly electric crowd. This arena was home to the Valorant Champions Tour: Japan Stage 2 Challengers Playoff event, a relatively low-tier, low-value event. While Valorant is by far the top esports title in Japan, something about this event attracted more than 13,000 live supporters to the venue, and they made for an unbelievably energetic crowd.
It was a surefire sign of things changing in the Japan esports scene. This is a nation that has for many years favourited titles such as Street Fighter and League of Legends. Could Valorant be bringing about a revolutionary change within the confines of the Japanese esports industry?
One Punchy Tournament for Saitama
For more than twenty years, the Saitama Super Arena has played host to many martial arts bouts. It has served as a competitive ground for basketball players, boxers, and MMA fighters, but between the 10th and the 26th of June, it saw a Valorant tournament take to the stage. Under the lights of the Saitama Super Arena, eight of Japan’s finest teams fought for their share of the $14,701~ prize pool.
By the end of the show, more than 13,000 fans had piled into the arena, eager to support their favourite team. It was a remarkable crowd, even with the arena operating at half-capacity. However, this crowd size wasn’t limited to the venue itself, as online, on Twitch, a peak viewership count of more than 86,000 users showed up to check out the gameplay. This number was taken from the records of the Japanese Valorant profile, showing even further the rapidly-growing popularity of Valorant amongst Japanese fans.
In a comment posted on Reddit, one user expressed their sheer joy at the growth of this genre of game, which includes CSGO:
As a longtime CS player living in Japan, the success of this game in Japan makes me so happy that I can enjoy this genre of game without having to play on Russian or Chinese servers. Here’s to even more growth and continued leveling up of the casual and pro player base in Japan! – clevergirls_, Reddit
The Japan Esports Scene is Growing
There are several legal blockers that restrict a full and rapid expansion of esports within Japan, but times are changing. For instance, esports betting is currently illegal in Japan, which locks down a huge portion of the industry. For years, the biggest esports earners in Japan have been focused on fighting games and multiplayer online trading card games, like Shadowverse. In 2021, the Shadowverse World Grand Prix boasted a prize pool of $2.5 million.
With the undeniably growing popularity surrounding titles like Valorant (and by association, CSGO), could we be about to witness a culture shift in Japan’s esports scene?