Something About Japan: introducing JCG, Japan’s new e-sports business

League Of Legends, one of three leagues JCG operates.

In April, Milestone, a company that retails gaming devices for PC as well as computer cases and parts, launched its new e-sports business, Japan Competitive Gaming. The company’s services include video streaming of matches as well as conventions. Japanese game news site 4gamer.net recently interviewed Milestone president Kuan Yew Lee and JCG director Junichi Matsumoto about their plans for their PC gaming league.

Lee explained that Milestone’s motive for starting its e-sports division was to promote its gaming devices. “Demand for gaming devices for PC has increased a great deal in Japan,” he said. “Up till now, the evolution of PC gaming has relied on specs, but looking at the trends now of companies like Microsoft, Intel and Nvidia, I felt that that direction has reached its peak. With PC gaming, it’s no good just to pursue high specs; balance and stability during play are very important too. So we deliver PC parts and devices that are optimised to deliver the most for each title.

“Rather than having a PC that is powerful enough to run a game well, it’s about increasing your chances of winning by even 0.1 per cent.”

PC gaming still takes a backseat to handhelds and consoles in Japan, but it is gaining popularity. Lee explained that JCG will at first focus on a genre that has yet to gain popularity in Japan.

“In terms of online gaming, FPS games are popular in Japan, but around the rest of the world RTS and MOBA games are strongest,” said Lee. “If Japan has a local service then popularity of RTS games will grow. To take Taiwan as an example, League Of Legends had about 200,000 players before the local service launched, and now it has around two million and counting. I think the same will happen in Japan.”

Lee said that Milestone has adopted a three-point plan for competing in the PC gaming market from this month, with JCG being the all-important third pillar alongside the convenience of its online store and the quality of the products it sells (some of which it produces itself in collaboration with outside companies).

“If we don’t provide something for those pro gamers or would-be pro gamers to aspire to, then they won’t need our pro-quality products in the first place,” he laughed. “I had the idea for JCG a year ago, in July 2012. I wanted to see a situation where Japanese players were among the world’s best. Even though Japan should be no different than anywhere else, for some reason this country has failed to produce a pro team. That’s a sad story. So in November or December last year I got in contact with Matsumoto, who was the top proponent of e-sports in Japan.”

“Actually, at that same time I had received offers from a number of e-sports-related companies along similar lines,” recalled Matsumoto. “Many of them simply wanted to leverage my energies within their existing company mechanism. But Milestone was different because its goals were the popularisation and development of e-sports in Japan.”

JCG also operates a StarCraft II: Heart Of The Swarm league.

Matsumoto explained his plan for spreading the gospel about e-sports in Japan:  “The heart of e-sports is simply playing games; beyond that, how far you can expand it depends on how seriously the gamers are about playing, and the number of players who are serious,” he said. “Like a pyramid, as the base layer gets wider, the apex grows ever higher.

“You can’t create a pyramid from the top; it’s better to start at the base. So rather than looking to recruit people who are amazing at games, we’re looking to introduce this to people who play because they enjoy games as a hobby. Additionally, you show them a layer at the top in which you provide a forum for professional players, as something to aspire to.”

To this end, JCG operates three divisions in which players can compete: open class, master class and premier league. With JCG in operation for just a couple of months, Matsumoto said it has already taken unforeseen turns, with the demands of real-life players proving a little different than what his team had envisaged.

“We’ve poured a lot of time into these difficulties to make course corrections,” he said. “I’ve learned that not every player wants the same things. For example, some want to polish their skills against other players of a similar skill level, while others want to gain experience from fighting a champion. It would be impossible to fulfil the needs of absolutely everyone, but still we must create a mechanism so that as many people as possible can participate. That balance is difficult to find. Rather than satisfy 70 per cent of the players, I’d rather satisfy 80 per cent or 90 per cent.”

JCG currently operates leagues for three titles: League Of Legends, StarCraft II: Heart Of The Swarm and Chaos Heroes Online, all of which are RTS and MOBA games. There are no FPS titles, which Lee had said are Japan’s dominant genre for online tournaments. Matsumoto explained that this is the very reason JCG is avoiding the genre for now, since the FPS scene is already well established. “We want to create a scene in which Japan plays an active part on the world stage,” added Lee. “Since RTS games are played all over the world, the potential is higher.”

Lee and Matsumoto went on to explain that they are in the process of finding sponsors for the top players, and promised an announcement sometime this month.

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