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Esports club members at Japan girls' high school train hard to reach lofty goals

Esports club members at Jin-ai Girls' High School practice at its public relations office in the city of Fukui. (Photo courtesy of the school)

FUKUI -- Esports club members at Jin-ai Girls' High School in this central Japan city are undergoing intensive training playing the popular shooting game "Fortnite" in a bid to achieve their ambitious goals.

    An increasing number of high schools across the country have recognized esports as an extracurricular activity, but it seems rare for girls' high schools to have such a club as an overwhelming majority of participants in the All Japan High School Esports Championship have been boys.

    There are currently 12 members of the esports club at Jin-ai Girls' High School. After classes, they gather at the public relations office on the third floor of the school building to practice. Teacher Hiroyuki Shimono, 51, who is in charge of public relations at the school, became an adviser to the club following its launch in October, and his office has been used as the club room. Shimono said with a laugh that he "can no longer back out" as "the number of the club members is growing," and optical fiber will be installed in the room for the players to utilize.

    Esports club members at Jin-ai Girls' High School, who aim to win national-level competitions, pose for a photo. (Photo courtesy of the school)

    The upbeat club is always full of smiles, often centered around captain Miyu Mura, a senior student, and practice scenes are more like a party atmosphere. However, behind the laughs the girls hold serious discussions in a bid to improve their skills.

    "We frankly instruct each other equally despite age differences," said vice-captain and senior student Koharu Hirohama, who pairs up with a second-year student to play Fortnite. "I feel the club members' communication skills are improving."

    Teacher Shimono is also surprised by the members' enthusiasm, saying, "On the surface, there's an atmosphere of a casual circle of people with similar interests, but I know they are serious."

    Despite the positive vibes, the girls do face some hurdles. There are only six computers available for playing games in the room, so it is difficult for all 12 members to practice at the same time. This reflects the gap in the state of facilities between Jin-ai Girls' High School and esports powerhouse schools, which have the most advanced computers available for each club member. Despite the limitation, Jin-ai members practice hard in creative ways, such as alternatingly using computers. During time not spent on practice, they study by watching videos of battles between professional players.

    What led to the esports club being started at a girls' high school in the first place?

    The Fukui Esports Union, which has been working on promoting esports in Fukui Prefecture, called for high schools in the prefecture to launch esports clubs last year. Jin-ai Girls' High School called on students to join the new club, and eight including Mura joined, followed by first-year and second-year students in April.

    "At first, there was an uncomfortable feeling about children playing games at school," Shimono said. "But as I learned about esports having been adopted in the cultural program of the National Sports Festival in Ibaraki Prefecture (in 2019) and about the existence of large-scale international competitions, I began to think, 'The times have changed.'"

    One of the appeals of esports is that physical strength is not a factor. Second-year student Sara Urushizaki said: "I played badminton for six years, but we use our head more when playing esports. There's not much difference in capacities between men and women." Mura added: "Ability is more important than one's sex. There are also female players in professional teams."

    The club members' goal is to win national-level competitions such as the All Japan High School Esports Championship. A time may come in the near future when female gamers with grand ambitions will dominate esports competitions.

    (Japanese original by Shusaku Sugimoto, Sports Project Department)

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