Tokyo >> The Japan Football Association has taken its biggest step yet in the country’s burgeoning esports scene. It has joined the Japan Esports Union as co-host of the newly established esports competition at the 2019 National Sports Festival in Ibaraki Prefecture.
The inaugural Inter Prefectural eSports Championship will consist of three-on-three matches of the popular Konami title Winning Eleven (known overseas as Pro Evolution Soccer). The championship will have two divisions — one open to all participants and one for high school students.
The tournament had initially been announced by the Japan Esports Union and the 2019 National Sports Festival planning committee in May.
“We first heard in March that the committee for the Ibaraki Sports Festival intended to introduce esports,” said Japan Esports Union chairman Hideki Okamura. “We considered this to be an incredibly brave decision and wanted to support them, especially as esports in Japan is still in its infancy.
“We hope this can become the first step toward our goal of establishing esports as a club activity in junior and senior high schools.”
Japan Football Association chairman Kozo Tashima cited progressive involvement in esports by FIFA and other soccer leagues and clubs around the world, noting that the association had established an esports department in late 2016. He hopes the collaboration will help expand his group’s reach across Japan.
“The idea of a competition in which anyone can participate regardless of age, gender or physical disability resonates with our philosophy,” Tashima said. “I believe that through connecting with participants and fans of esports we can further carry out our mission as an organization.”
The groups will hold qualifiers for the National Sports Festival from April to July, using prefectural football associations to coordinate the events. Tashima believes that increasing the number of tournaments will be key to legitimizing esports in the country.
“By creating local and national tournaments, you give players something to aspire toward,” Tashima said. “Holding this tournament at the National Sports Festival will expose many people to esports, and perhaps allow them to discover a new way of enjoying esports by joining teams.
“There are lots of esports players who play soccer, and lots of players, including members of the national team, who play esports. I hope we can promote interaction between these groups and get more people involved in (soccer) itself,” he said.