Laws aimed at illegal gambling have long prevented Japanese esports events from offering cash prizes, but the country is looking to change that through a licensing program that exempts some players from those very laws.
As Bloomberg reports, this is both a shifting moment for Japanese esports competitors and for game companies themselves. Developers and publishers in Japan stand to make a significant amount of money by selling tickets, advertising, broadcast rights, and merch for major esports competitions. Until now, Japan was closed off to those opportunities.
The Japanese government will issue a select few licenses to a “few dozen players” that rank well in an esports event this weekend. Those licenses then permit those players to compete in paid video game events in the future.
This weekend’s event will see players will compete for professional licenses in Winning Eleven 2018 (AKA Pro Evolution Soccer 2018 in the West), Call of Duty: WWII, Street Fighter V: Arcade Edition, and Tekken 7, along with the smartphone games Puzzle & Dragons and Monster Strike.
Lawmakers formed an esport-centric coalition last year called the JeSU to handle matters relating to Japan’s esports industry late last year, following rumblings that competitive video games could be featured in future Olympic events. The licensing program in the fruit of that committee's efforts, and mirrors programs in place for professional golf, baseball, and tennis.
“This is the first big step,” JeSU vice president Hirokazu Hamamura told Bloomberg. “What’s really important for the esports movement is whether our players can become stars. And I think that’s coming."