Blizzard's Heroes of the Storm enters Japan as esports heats up in the region

Japan only legalized paid esports this year, and it's going to be huge for the industry.

Esports is on a trajectory to hit about $1.4 billion by 2020, according to Newzoo (some estimates are even higher), but it wasn't until this year that it even became a legal phenomenon in Japan, which is interesting given how Asia has been a home for esports since its inception. Laws that had been implemented meant to prevent illegal gambling made it impossible for paid tournaments to take place in Japan, but now esports is beginning to take off.

The qualifiers for Blizzard's popular esports title Heroes of the Storm are now open for registration through July 25. As noted by Dailyesports.tv, the Horizon Clash tournament has now added Japan as a minor region, allowing the country to join Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau. "Having watched JP fans work their butts off to build a community around Heroes over the past few years, it makes me really happy to see them get the opportunity to compete. I look forward to seeing some good matches!" Lead Hero Designer, Matt Villers, commented on Reddit.

This is a big deal for Japan and the esports industry. According to Statista, Heroes of the Storm is the fifth most lucrative esport title as of May 2018, and there a numerous players in the country who are eager to show their skills and become pro players.  Forbes, reports that over half of esports fans are in the Asia-Pacific region, and esports will be an official sport at the 2022 Asian Games to be held in Hangzhou, China. The timing couldn't be better for Japan to start ramping up its esports industry.

"Japan's inherent gaming culture provides the perfect conditions for the successful development of esports, now that obstacles to its growth have been lifted by the government," remarked Jurre Pannekeet, senior market analyst at Newzoo.

SuperData's Joost van Dreunen told GameDaily, "Over the past few years China has managed to grow into an important competitive position globally, and so if Japan seeks to maintain its historically strong role in the global market, it needs to enable its marque game publishers to make the most of new trends in the marketing and consumption of interactive entertainment."

Major Japanese publishers like Konami, Capcom, Square Enix and Bandai Namco recognize the value of esports. Konami representatives told Bloomberg earlier this year that esports would be great for advertising while Bandai Namco is exploring how to expand its business with competitive gaming. Last November, lawmakers formed a colation called JeSU to handle esports activities. It essentially exempts top gamers from the country’s gambling laws, which is similar to how Japan handles its professional golf, baseball and tennis players.

It's early days for esports in Japan still, but things could take off quickly.

"Give it 12-24 months, and I think we could see Japan become one of the main hosts of these tournaments,” Pelham Smithers, owner of a London-based firm that researches Asian tech companies, told Bloomberg.

Editor-in-Chief

James has been covering the games industry since the early 2000s and was most recently the editor of GamesIndustry.biz. He loves Zelda, Metroidvania-style games, action adventure and single-player narratives. He's also the proud father of twin boys and is obsessed with good coffee and Yankees baseball. You can reach him @bright_pixels on Twitter or you can email him at james.brightman@gamedaily.biz.