The Japan Football Association (JFA) and the Japan Esports Union (JeSU) have partnered to co-host an esports competition in 2019 around the National Sports Festival in the Ibaraki prefecture.
The Inter-Prefectural eSports Championship will consist of 3v3 matches of Konami’s Winning Eleven, known elsewhere as Pro Evolution Soccer. The format for the championship will focus on establishing esports for a younger audience as it will be split between two divisions, one for high school students and the other opened to anyone. Pro Evolution Soccer was also featured at the recent esports demonstration at the Asian Games and gold medal winners Naoki Sugimura and Tsubasa Aihara are alleged to be joining the competition.
Hideki Okamura, JESU Chairman, said: “We first heard in March that the committee for the Ibaraki Sports Festival intended to introduce esports. 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.”
JFA began its own esports department in late 2016 due to the progressive esports movement in traditional esports games like FIFA and support from other football clubs around the world.
Kozo Tashima, JFA Chairman, sees this partnership as a way to expand esports in Japan: “The idea of a competition in which anyone can participate regardless of age, gender or physical disability resonates with our philosophy. I believe that through connecting with participants and fans of esports we can further carry out our mission as an organization.”
Qualifiers will be managed by prefecture football associations and the hope from the JFA is to increase the interest in traditional football as well: “We have one million players and five million members of our soccer family registered to the JFA,” Tashima said. “We want to increase the number of people involved in soccer to five or 10 million in the future, and one of the ways in which we can do that is by getting involved in esports.
Esports Insider says: The JESU has made several pushes for esports in Japan and this partnership with the JFA is a big step for Japanese esports. Co-hosting a major tournament that’s also attached to a major traditional sports festival will not only further legitimize esports in the region but bring more eyes to competitive play in a positive way.