Esports Give Japanese Employees a Way to Connect

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Toppan Printing Co. employees and others participate in the company’s esports event in Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo, on Jan. 24.

Company employees have found a new way to connect with each other even as people are asked to refrain from going out – through esports, a form of competition using video games.

Esports allows a large number of people to compete even if they are not in the same location using the internet. As its popularity grows, various groups have launched full-fledged research into the mental and physical effects of esports.

On a Sunday in late January, employees of Toppan Printing Co. and others were gripping the controllers of game consoles and staring at their screens in the company’s office building in Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo. They were moving the sticks aggressively from side to side and hitting buttons in rapid succession, immersing themselves in a gaming battle as if competing in a real athletic event.

These people were participating in an in-house athletic event featuring esports. Employees and others across the nation who had won the qualifying rounds competed in fighting games and other types of online games.

Since 2010, the major printing company has held an athletic event for its employees and their family members to promote in-house interactions. However, the event was postponed last year due to the coronavirus. This year, it was held with esports for the first time.

“It was fun as I could interact with employees in regional areas,” said a Toppan Printing employee in his 40s who took part.

Esports are also used for intercompany exchanges. A subsidiary of NTT East Corp. has hosted intercompany competitions since last summer, and participating companies have included Hitachi Ltd. and Tokio Marine & Nichido Fire Insurance Co. Esports have drawn attention as a new way of communicating in the current circumstances, in which it is difficult to build relationships through meetings and meals.

The popularity of esports has grown rapidly, to the extent that there are now professional players. The domestic esports market involves income from sponsorship of professional teams and sales of broadcasting rights for tournaments. According to Kadokawa Game Linkage Inc., which publishes game information magazines, the market was worth about ¥4.8 billion in 2018 but is expected to exceed ¥15 billion by 2023.

Research on health effects

In January this year, the University of Tsukuba signed an agreement with the Ibaraki prefectural government and NTT East to launch full-scale research into the effects of esports on health. Using methods taken from fields including brain science and physiology, the physical effects and fatigue caused by esports are being analyzed scientifically in order to explore ways to maintain good health.

Last year, the Kobe city government began a project to study the effects of esports on the cognitive functions of elderly people. As popularity of esports expands, consideration must be given to addiction and other possible problems.

“Amid the coronavirus pandemic, it is highly likely esports can be used for multigenerational interactions between people from children to the elderly,” said Takaaki Kato, an associate professor at Keio University who is well-versed in esports. “To dispel the negative image of ‘games,’ it is necessary to clearly specify their scientific effects.”