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Yusuke Azuma: Influential teenage game-changer

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Teenage video game trainer Yusuke Azuma

At the tender age of 18, Yusuke Azuma joined baseball star Shohei Ohtani and other notables on Forbes Japan magazine’s “30 Under 30” list of influential young people for 2021. Azuma currently juggles life as a high school student with a job as a professional video game trainer.

“My earliest memory is playing ‘Mine Sweeper’ on my father’s computer when I was around 2,” Azuma said, referring to his first encounter with a computer game. Once he got a bit older, he began playing online and befriending people drawn from different generations and various walks of life.

These days, the Yamagata Prefecture native is a student at N High School, which conducts most of its lessons online. Azuma says he has no interest in physically attending school to take the same classes as his classmates.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Yusuke Azuma plays a game.

“I get absorbed in things that engage me, but I have no desire to learn things that don’t pique my interest,” he said.

The e-sports industry has matured in recent years and now features myriad events spanning multiple genres. Azuma sometimes practices for 30 to 40 hours without interruption, stopping only for meals and toilet breaks. This level of dedication paid off when he won sixth place in a Fortnite competition at a major e-sports event for high schoolers while he was a first-year high school student.

Following the competition, Azuma started to contemplate his future. After a period of self-reflection, he realized he was likely not a genius-level gamer who could make a living by playing. But then he happened upon the role of video game trainer.

Prize-money riches

Azuma works for Gemutore Co. in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo, which provides online game training services. Game trainers at the company include people who have participated in domestic and international competitions. As of December last year, Gemutore had about 300 students, though the company hopes to swell its membership to about 1,000 by the end of this year, and to 10,000 in the future, including those keen to learn face-to-face with a trainer.

Gemutore Co. President Kazuki Obata

“I’ve made many friends through games,” said Gemutore’s president, Kazuki Obata, 27. “Games have been my savior. I want to help create a society in which people can feel happy doing their best when playing computer games, just as people enjoy learning to play baseball or soccer.”

At Gemutore, there are specialists for specific game titles. For example, Azuma is a specialist in “Fortnite,” created by U.S. developer Epic Games, Inc. Since its initial distribution in 2017, “Fortnite” has become popular across the globe amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. Some “Fortnite” events offer prize money that can total as much as several billion yen. In 2019, a 16-year-old gamer made headlines when he scooped up $3 million in a global “Fortnite” event that boasted total prize money of $30 million.

Many of Azuma’s students are even younger than he is.

“I want my students to learn the importance of communicating with others,” he said. “I take things like gaming etiquette very seriously.”

Some of his recent students have said their goal is to become a video game trainer, which makes Azuma feel as though he is doing a worthwhile job.

“This job can really influence others,” he said. “It feels as though I’m doing something special.”

High expectations

In recent years, e-sports have been garnering increasing attention. As a result, Azuma has appeared in various media and given lectures to fellow high school students.

“I’m very happy,” he said of being selected for the Forbes Japan list. “Now that I’ve been selected, I’d like to achieve something that befits that honor and help lead the e-sports industry.”

Azuma hopes to create a system that comprises live reports, commentaries and visual effects, to spur the popularity of e-sports yet further.

People treat games differently depending on their generation and household circumstances. In late December, Gemutore placed an advertisement in a local newspaper in Kagawa Prefecture, which has an ordinance requiring that families set rules for children when they play games. “Stop studying sometimes and play a game instead,” the ad ran. The large-font letters seemed to brim with a belief that games can enrich one’s life.

Azuma quoted the ad on Twitter saying: “Games have an impact on the lives of various kinds of people, for better or worse. Whether people make the most of games or not is up to each individual. For people who are uninformed, games are just games. They don’t know how useful games can be. The bad side has been covered. It’s time to talk about the good side.”

Looking ahead, expectations are running high that Azuma may be able to change the mindset of adults who look down on the world of computer games.