Annual income is at least 4 figures million yen and prize money…! The Realities of the “Supporting Foreigners” Behind the Breakthrough of Japan’s e-Sports Teams
A historic win against a strong opponent, China! As the market expands, popular players are now aiming for a new home, and the annual income is now more than 10 million yen!
With more than 100 million players worldwide and a market scale of more than 100 billion yen, e-sports continues to expand. In Japan, e-sports has exploded in popularity over the past several years, and the number of players in Japan is said to have reached 4 million.
One of the most popular games is “League of Legends (LoL),” a five-on-five team game originating in the U.S. It has more than 100 million players and league competitions are held in 11 countries and regions. The prize money for the world championship is about 330 million yen, and players from all over the world are competing to become the top 100 million players. China and South Korea are the most powerful countries in the world, with representative teams from these two countries competing for the championship every year.
In this exciting world, a popular Japanese team, DetonatioN FocusMe (DFM), recently achieved a first in Japan. Mr. Recruit, the game’s official caster, explains.
At the World Championships that started in September, we took one of the first three games against a very strong Chinese team, the champions of the Spring International Tournament. Although we ultimately lost, it was the first time a Japanese team had taken one from a strong opponent. Fans around the world were thrilled.
This accomplishment was made possible by the presence of “assistant foreigners,” who are allowed to play up to two assistant foreigners per team in the LoL World Championships. Therefore, DFM is scouting for top-level players from the “e-sports powerhouse” of South Korea, and is aiming to win the world championship.
FRIDAY interviewed three “super-helper foreigners” who are living together in a dormitory in Tokyo.
Japan is similar to Korea in terms of diet and culture, so it’s easy to live here. There are teams in Brazil and Turkey, but the living environment is too different in those countries. Japan is close in distance and culture for Korean players, so I am very happy to have come to this country.”
The first player to answer our questions was Moon Jung-yong, 23, who goes by the name “Steele. In Korea, the culture of playing e-sports games at Internet cafes and other places from childhood is deeply rooted, and this has led to the birth of many outstanding players. Steele was originally a member of a top Korean team. Why did he move to Japan?
Steele said, “In Korea, the domestic level is high, so competition is fierce. I thought it would be more interesting to play for a Japanese team and aim for the world rather than competing there. Japan has the potential to become even stronger in the future.
Teamwork is the name of the game. The team members live together in a dormitory called a “gaming house” while practicing and aiming to compete in the world championships. Yahalon (real name Lee Chang-yu, 22), a former frontrunner in the Korean League, says that one of the reasons he chose Japan was because of the support he received while living in the dormitory.
At the gaming house, we are provided with a place to sleep and eat, so basically we don’t have to pay any living expenses. I appreciate the fact that I am provided with an environment where I can concentrate on my practice.
In addition to support in daily life, “treatment” was of course an important factor in his decision to transfer. Although the specific amount cannot be disclosed in the contract, the annual salary is guaranteed to be at least 40 million yen. If he performs well in tournaments, he will receive 10 million yen class prize money and incentives. The move to Japan seems attractive from a business standpoint as well.
When I told my former teammates in Korea about this treatment, they were envious (laughs). (Laughs.) Japan is also attractive in terms of treatment, so I think top players from all over the world will come to Japan in the future to help out.
Will they develop a sense of “belonging” while playing for a Japanese team? Harp (real name Lee Ji-young), who left Korea this year at the young age of 21, reveals, “Actually, at the beginning, I was like, ‘I don’t want to be accepted by Japanese fans.
In the beginning, I was worried about whether the Japanese fans would accept us. But through social networking and fan meetings, I realized firsthand that Japanese fans are supporting us. I hope that our victory will make e-sports in Japan even more exciting.
The “assistant foreigners” are bringing a new wind to the Japanese e-sports world. It may not be long before the Japanese team’s name becomes known around the world together with them.
From the December 30, 2022 issue of FRIDAY
PHOTO： Takeshi Maruyama