On March 14th, the Japanese government (METI, 経済産業省) threw probably the very first official seminar on eSports and here is the official announcement.
The main theme was to share the eSports industry and scene in the North East Asia region (namely Japan, China, and Korea) I was invited as one of the speakers for the Korean side of the story.
While Japan and China side of the stories were mostly based on quantitative analysis, e.g., market and user growth, revenue of the industry leader and etc., my talk was more qualitative-based focusing on the historical milestones from the ’90s through ’10s and I tried to narrow the story down to a few KSFs such as PC-bangs, OGN, and Korean government support. But the real punchline came in the end which was about eSports governance.
The Korean esports industry showed extreme growth in the ’00s, it was hit by a major scandal in 2010 (Starcraft) that shook the entire industry that effectively decreased the market size half-fold (rough estimate based on the number of broadcasting agencies and professional teams). The aftermath was pretty disastrous as it turns out the scandal wasn’t entirely by some personal player’s misbehave (as you could imagine pro esports player being very young with very limited social responsibility experience), but rather malicious, purposeful, well-planned, and above all organizational involving some Korean mobs in the back as well as a professional soccer player (K3). The key person in the scandal was a Zerg user who was in the top of the league and was being hailed as becoming a new legend.
The entire country was in shock, but most of all it was the founding fathers of the Korean esports industry such as the legendary players, teams and casters (mostly who have reached the level of K-pop celebrity) who showed their rage towards the mishap. I remember one famous esports caster being especially outrageous, stating openly in an interview towards the misconducted player “How dare you put a shame on our beloved industry which took a decade to grow this far”… something along that line. Well, I can totally understand the guy.
What’s even worse is that another scandal happened again in 2015, this time with Starcraft 2. In my opinion, I think it has at least some contribution towards the fact that the Starcraft 2 pro league in Korea did not really take off (but of course the cacophony between Blizzard and KeSPA on the broadcasting rights had more take on this matter).
So as I look back now… we never learned, have we?
My point in my talk was that if Japan is being a slow starter for esports, they should take full advantage of the use cases of other neighboring countries, both good and bad, and try to make the best practice out of it. For instance, learning from the Korean scandals, Japan should understand that to support the upcoming growth of the esports market it is critical have a solid esports governance and compliance infrastructure established that can significantly decrease the probability of esports scandal happening. Just like professional sports has regular doping test to assure that their players are in fair state, just like the casinos in Las Vegas go through a very strict compliance check for their slot machines and background check for the business owners and stakeholders with constant surveillance onsite to make sure the game itself is unbiased, esports would need somewhat similar process/infra of their own to make the market more faithful to all the stakeholders within the esports eco system including the sponsors, game publishers, and the fans.
Thankfully, the main topic of the panel discussion that followed became esports governance and I think at the end of the seminar, the folks at METI took this matter seriously. Hopefully we will see some actions in the following months that will pave the way to more sustainable esports business in Japan.