New Japan, Old Japan / Game on in Tokyo as esports battle has its ‘homecoming’

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Two players battle each other during qualifying rounds for the “Street Fighter V” competition on the first day of Evo Japan 2018 on Jan. 26 in Ikebukuro, Tokyo.

By Ryuzo Suzuki / Yomiuri Shimbun Senior Photographer One of the world’s largest tournaments for fighting game aficionados made its Asia debut late last month.

Beginning in the 1990s in the United States, Evo (or The Evolution Championship Series) opened its doors in Tokyo on Jan. 26 and 27 in Ikebukuro, and then on Jan. 28 in Akihabara. There were about 5,000 entries — with about 40 percent from abroad — in what was called Evo Japan 2018.

Participants competed in seven different games, such as popular hits “Tekken 7” and “Street Fighter V” for a total of about ¥5,000,000 in prize money.

For Japan, which is said to be the birthplace of fighting games, the event served as a sort of homecoming.

Initially, Evo “was a hobby — like we had a normal job, but we played video games, and we needed to find out who the best player was,” said Joey Cuellar, 40, one of the founders of Evo. “And there was no real internet or anything like that, so you have to do a big tournament to figure it out.”

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  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

    The Ikebukuro event is packed with spectators and participants.

  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

    A woman, dressed like a character in a game to cheer on participants, at the venue in Ikebukuro

  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

    Spectators watch as a game unfolds before them on two giant screens, where they can see in detail the reactions of the two finalists, while also listening to commentary, on Jan. 28 in Akihabara.

  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

    A gamer from South Korea wins the “Tekken 7” tournament in Akihabara.

“I think [Evo Japan] is a great event,” he added. “We’ve been trying to do this event [in Japan] since 2010, and then the earthquake hit, and then we weren’t able to do it, so I’m glad we were able to get it done eight years later. So I think it’s very cool that a lot of people traveled to this event, and it was good to see what it’s like in a different country.”

Yutaro Yamamoto, 23, a freelance writer based in Tokyo’s Meguro Ward, participated in the “Street Fighter V” tournament, but crashed out of the qualifying rounds without winning a single match.

“Unlike with online games, I got the chance for the first time to actually meet and face off against people from abroad,” he said. “I got so nervous I was shaking.”

“It was hard on me to lose, but I think the whole thing is a valuable experience in Japan, and I had a lot of fun.”

In recent years, video game competitions — or esports — have taken off abroad, with more and more people enjoying both watching and participating. There are no signs of the trend stopping, either, with the 2022 Asian Games in Hangzhou set to include esports in its event lineup.

Evo Japan may also return to this country next year or later.

(New Japan, Old Japan is a series exclusive to The Japan News)Speech


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