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Konami, Japan firms banking on booming esports market

Fans of video game Pro Evolution Soccer play its latest version at an event organized by Konami Digital Entertainment Co. at Plaza Senayan in Jakarta, on Aug. 31, 2018. (Kyodo)

JAKARTA (Kyodo) -- Konami Digital Entertainment Co. saw the Asian Games, the world's second-largest multisport tournament after the Olympics, as a prime opportunity to boost demand for its game title Pro Evolution Soccer, which was used in the Asiad's esports competitive video gaming tournament.

Not only firms in the gaming industry like Konami but an increasing number of other Japanese companies are making a belated entry to the attractive esports market, in which 380 million people are estimated to watch live streaming globally, generating potentially enormous revenues for advertisers, automakers and the like.

Promoters say esports is "universal" since it is open to people of all ages, physical abilities or gender, while people can also enjoy it by just watching the competition.

"I confirmed my conviction about the popularity of Pro Evolution Soccer among the people of Indonesia and their high level of play," Naoki Morita, Konami's general manager of production, told a crowd of about 100 people who had gathered at the posh Plaza Senayan in Jakarta.

"The latest version of the game has been devised so that it will suit esports tournaments. I hope more of you will enjoy it," Morita said, referring to the recently released 2019 version of Pro Evolution Soccer.

According to research company Newzoo, the Asia-Pacific region is set to account for 53 percent of 165 million esports enthusiasts in 2018.

Konami's Pro Evolution Soccer was among the six titles that have been used for the esports competition at the Asian Games, held as a demonstration event for the first time before being included as a full medal event in the 2022 Asian Games in China.

Konami said it hopes to organize more esports tournaments using its titles, including the Yu-Gi-Oh trading card game and Powerful Pro Baseball series, and develop more games that are suited to esports tournaments.

Ilham Muhammad, 21, a hotel worker and avid fan of the soccer game since he was 12, said, "I came to the event to share knowledge about the game, build networks and see the skills of other players. Pro Evolution Soccer is easy to play and such fun."

"I also often watch esports tournaments online," said Muhammad, who said he plays the game every day for two to three hours, and sometimes all day until he gets tired, at his friend's house.

While esports is already popular in the United States, China, South Korea and other Asian countries, it is slowly gaining recognition in Japan, prompting industries, ranging from IT companies, automakers and communications firms, to tap into the potentially lucrative market.

"The attention to esports has been growing fast since last year, and also in the stock markets, with the spread of online games," said Eiji Maeda, senior analyst at SMBC Nikko Securities Inc. "Many industries are setting their eyes on the merchandise, licensing and advertising revenues of esports."

"With the adoption of esports as a demonstration event at the Asian Games, it is also likely to draw interest from the public, who until now saw games as something for kids. The focus is now on whether games will be accepted as one type of culture in Japan," he said.

Toyota Motor Corp. sponsored for the first time in Japan an esports tournament of the game Monster Strike in July held at Makuhari Messe convention center in Chiba Prefecture near Tokyo and offered its Corolla Sport hatchback, released the previous month, as a prize to the winner of the event.

Toyota said it hopes its involvement in an esports event will "expand channels to the younger generation as the Corolla Sport vehicle targets customers in their 20s and 30s." The automaker said it will continue to engage in esports, by organizing events at its Corolla shops nationwide.

The Japan esports Union, an entity set up in February this year to promote esports, also earned the sponsorship of six companies, including convenience store chain Lawson Inc., beverage maker Suntory Holdings Ltd. and mobile phone operator KDDI Corp., for the first time in August.

KDDI said it made the decision to sponsor given the increase in game players using smartphones in Japan, which would boost demand for high-speed, high-capacity communication networks.

According to data published by Gzbrain Inc., there were 49.22 million game players in Japan in 2017, of which 18.55 million did so on smartphones, 3.45 million on computers and 7.41 million on game consoles.

Smartphone advertising and marketing firm CyberZ Inc., which offers game streaming platform OpenRec.tv, organized with Avex Entertainment Inc. one of the biggest esports tournaments in Japan in June, with total prize money of 20 million yen ($180,000).

The event attracted more than 35,000 spectators and was watched online by 970,240, CyberZ said.

"What's unique about an esports tournament is that it is entertainment and a sport at the same time. It also connects with people around the world by streaming online," said CyberZ CEO Takahiro Yamauchi.

"With the spread of smartphones we expect to see more esports tournaments," he said. "We want to make it not just a game tournament but like a music festival with cool lighting, celebrity performances and attractive presentation of the players."

"We have an image that games are only for men but by organizing an entertaining event we hope to diversify our fan base so that women and families with children are also included. We have already seen signs of it," Yamauchi said.

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