February 18, 2018
Daigo's Panel on Money and Games in Japan
Today, Daigo streamed a panel discussion about Money and Games. It was super interesting. I just wanted to watch for my own purposes, but I took a few notes, so I guess I'll put them out there. Some disclaimers: I'm just a guy living in Japan, and Japanese is my second language. So I might be wrong on stuff! These are really just my own notes which I took for fun, and I'm not a great writer or analyst so what you see is what you get. I skipped a bunch of stuff, but took some notes on comments I found interesting.
My TLDR version of the steam was:
- JeSU (the Japanese eSports Union) that licenses pro players didn't do great outreach to the community when they launched. They do seem to be moving in the right direction, listening, and are willing to work with the community to help improve things. I'm optimistic. My preference would be to change the morality laws to just get around the main issues (not collecting fees from participants for pot money) but even if that happened I can see how a body like JeSU still might be useful.
- I think that it is possible, under this new system, to have open tournaments that anyone can enter and still have a pot. It sounds like that would work by granting a pro license to the winner on the spot.
- I'm still concerned that because of this system, we will see many more invitationals in Japan instead of large open tournaments, but time will tell.
Who are the people at the round table? Players:
- Raya (a young player that Daigo is teaching). This is what the "info card" for him said: "A young SFV player. He didn't come up by his strength, but in an audition with one of Umehara's projects. He is the one that made Umehara stop wearing Crocs. He's here not to give his opinion as a competitor but as a member of the community." That said, I've seen him at the weeklies, and he's good.
- Nyanshi, the director of Topanga. Very involved in large scale tournaments, he ran the SFV side of things at EVO Japan 2018.
- Kagecchi, he organizes the weekly SFV event "Fighter's Crossover Akihabara" at Akihabara Esports Square.
- Hameko, Chairman of EVO Japan, does lot of commentary, etc.
- Nishitani Akira (NIN) - designer of Street Fighter II
- Hamamura Hirokazu, former editor of weekly Famitsu, current President of Enterbrain. Represented the new JeSU esports organization that issues pro sports licenses in Japan.
- Akahoshi, a well-known Zangief player from SF4 who now works behind the scenes at Yubiken
- Gama no Abura, a well-known commentator. He was also wearing a Button Mashers shirt, so he might be involved in that. Button Mashers run the logistics for some of the larger and better-run events (IMHO). He also is involved in the orerevo series of events.
- Umezaki, wasn't listed on Daigo's tweet about the panel, but he runs Detonation Gaming, one of the top level gaming teams in Japan. He was the first to sign a foreign player on an "Athlete Visa".
My complete notes follow.
The first hour was spent trying to define what esports is. Lots of interesting discussion there. I didn't really have many comments there. Mostly, people don't care too much whether the FGC should be called esports or not, and mostly agree that as long as it helps get more players interested in fighting games, it is fine. There is concern that fighting games are for the players, but this isn't really what I came to listen for.
I'm mostly interested in hearing about whether and how the new pro license system will impact primarily community run events and tournaments. One of the things I love about the FGC is that I can go to a tournament, enter it, and play on the same footing as "Pro" players. In Japan there haven't been events with large prize pots, due to the morality laws here, and the pro license system is one way to allow for that kind of thing. I just hope that tournaments don't turn into invitational only events. I do, for the record, like Invitationals, but I think there should be a variety of types of events and the standard EVO style large tournament is one of my favorites.
After the first break, they started to talk about Japan's pro esport license system. One interesting question and observation was "Do we need prize money for tournaments" and the panelist who proposed the question said that pro players get more money from sponsors, so we should try to have tournaments without money and see what kind of amazing play payers will show us. Personally, I think a huge component of having prize money for tournaments is to build excitement for the people who watch. The players could use the money when they win, but having say, a $500,000 pot gives the tournament stakes and makes watching it exciting. I also love that I can join a tournament, and I might win that prize pool (outside of Japan anyway) - but of course I have no illusions that such an outcome is likely. What might happen though, is that someone who doesn't have a pro licesnse, and isn't well-known, might come in and place well in a tournament, and providing prize money as an incentive for people to travel to do that (and train at home, etc.) is another important function.
I do play basketball, and that is fun. It would not be possible for me to go to a Dallas Mavericks game, and play on the same court as the Dallas Mavericks, and perhaps have a chance to play with them if I was, for some reason, on that particular day good enough. That exact scenario is possible in fighting game tournaments (not in Japan).
Another example, at EVO Japan 2018, one really exciting story was that Tokido was dropping into the losers bracket before he made it out of pools. Nobody knew who it was that did that - it came out later that it was Powell, a Master-ranked online Cammy player from Nagoya, Japan. He went on to do very well, and of course he has put in a lot of work to become as good as he is, but this amazing story would not have happened in a tournament where only known players with pro licenses were invited.
I feel a little bad for Hamamura-san, the representative from JeSU (Japan eSports Union), because basically everyone on the panel was not supportive of the pro license system. Hameko asked an interesting question: would we need the pro license system if the laws in Japan were such that prize money could be paid out to anyone? I thought his answer was politic and evasive.
Nemo asked if someone who couldn't have a license could participate in the tournmant if they didn't want the prize money. He said they could make regulations around whether someone w/o a license could come out to the finals and they could give a license then, or if not, maybe leave it up to the game maker if they could continue to play.
Interesting, the conversation goes that the IP holder and the JeSU have about equal power in the pro license system, and a lot is left up to the maker, and it is one way to help promote the game in the realm of esports.
It sounds like actually maybe JeSU hasn't been good at explaining the point and impact of the pro license system. As Hamamura-san explains things, people are coming a bit more around to the idea. The JeSU doesn't want to stop community run events, and wants to increase the number of pro players. Normally they wouldn't stop community events.
Kagecchi79 is very interesting - he runs the SFV Wed. Night fights at Akihabara Esports Square, which is community run and aimed at plaeyrs. He also worked to get a license from Capcom to run the event. He was disappointed that there was not much communication to the players, the average person at home. Hamamura-san says that JeSU is happy to answer questions.
Fo~do asks what are the other events happening with the pro license system? Toukaigi was the first, but there wasn't much advertising / advance notice about it. Hamamura-san says that makers will be doing more about putting information out about these events, but the next one he knows about will be the Tokyo Game Show. Fo~do says that the amount of money is nice, but it is just a bonus, and isn't something that is necessary. If there were more events with awards, then maybe it can become a steady stream of dependable income that is more useful.
Umezaki-san who runs Detonation Gaming team, wants to see more titles. Hamamura-san says that he would like to see more titles too, and that they have been contacted by more makers. Arcade game makers and AMD and other unions have joined up with them so that is possible in the future - including Arcade games.
Some players are unhappy with the selection of players that received licenses. It was different depending on the IP holder. How will it be going forward? Can we hear more about how to receive the license. 2 ways: recommendation of the maker and winning a tournament that is approved by the JeSU. The IP holders are not the only ones that can hold a tournament, e.g., maybe a community event is ok, as long as the IP holder agrees.
Daigo is sick and has been drinking a lot of water so he says he has to go take a piss. Everyone laughs.
Why did Nemo get a license? I saw the article, and knew that SeSA ran Tokyo game show, and was granted a license. Fo~do said that if he is in a tournament and wins and can get a license, and he thinks if you can get one you should.
Daigo isn't interested in this whole thing. He chose what he wanted to do when he wanted to play games for a living. But this discussion isn't really interesting to people who aren't directly impacted by it. I got the license because I didn't really care either way, I have enough that I can eat, so I guess I can get it. But I'm just a player so I'm trying to see what I can do for the younger players, I don't want to get in their way. He wants people to think that Japan is cool and strong and interesting for video games. Japan is small, so people can gather together and he thinks there is a good environment for people to help each other out. So I agreed with the system because if it can let people live playing games I agree with it.
They asked a guy in the audience to ask a question and he clearly was super nervous. I guess he asked if you have a pro license do you have to adhere to some sort of moral code, not hit people and do media appearances, because you are being watched. Will you be forced to quit sometime? (Since that was addressed in the JeSU announcement, it is kind of a pointless question). Hamamura-san said that if you do things opposed to the behavior outlined by JeSU yeah you might be asked to quit being a pro.
At this point (about two hours in) I had to leave to go to dinner with my family. I'm listening to the archive now, but the final third was mostly about the future of Japan and esports.
Diago talked about how he would like to see how Japan can do something to surpass EVO - he would like to see something in Japan that is viewed as world-class. Hamamura-san talked a bit about how in three years Japan might be able to surpass Korea as one of the esports leaders. Hameko says that one of the points of the pro license is to increase the viewers, as opposed to the players, but he would like to also emphasize that we need to do something to increase players and help grow them as well, and he wants to hear others' vision along those lines.
Kama no Abura points out that the community knows what they want to do, and there are constraints that are tough (e.g., venue fees) and the community shouldn't just be told by JeSU and the IP Holders how they should do things. The community really would like support from JeSU / IP Holders so that everyone can have more fun.
Kagecchi chimed in on the idea of growing players. One of the things he has really done to help out is let young players come to the weeklies he runs for free (well, he has them setup / clean up) and will give them money for tournaments. If you have a good job, $50 here or there for a tournament isn't too bad, but as a starving college kid it can be a lot of money. But he just runs these events as a hobby, and getting sponsors is tough. He would really like to see more help from the system to grow the game / scene, and get support. Hameko adds in that nobody is trying to get rich off of this - in Japan a lot of these things are run by volunteers, and the organizers can lose money. Hameko and Kagecchi both say that say, if Kama no Abura is hit by a bus and dies, there would not be tournaments in Japan. So what way can Japan move forward so that organizers can continue on, and players don't need to spend a lot of money to start up.
Kagecchi also says if you go to the trouble to get a license from the IP holder to hold an event, what do you get? You should get something, and in specific some sort of support. This is news to Hamamura-san, and it something he wants to talk to the makers about (pretty cool result, IMHO.) Hamemura does talk about how there have been discussions about making things like game cafes where people can play, and Kagecchi mentions the new Capcom Esports Plaza in Kichijoji that has free setups for SFV which is great, but Hamemura says that they want to make places all over the place and not just Tokyo (also important). Kagecchi talks about how it costs money to run regular events, and where is that going to come from? The business proposition is not clear now.
Hameko asks Nemo about his thoughts on pro gamers and needing a place to gather to train against other high level players. Nemo says that a game is supposed to be fun, and if we can show people how fun our play is, that can connect to the theme of young player development (from which this discussion arose). But, you need to win so people get a chance to see your play. Nyanshi also talked about opportunities for people who wanted to be pro gamers, but could not, and how he tries to show them other things in the industry that they can do, working with companies to make games, coaching, back-end work, etc. Hamamura said something interesting to me, about how with a recognized esports system they can be recognized by the Monbusho (ministry of education, culture, sports, science, and technology) and receive support money from the Monbusho. Akahoshi says that one thing that is important is for people to see that a game that they like has a reason for them to commit time to it - if you want to become a pro you need to see that there is a way for that to lead to a workable life. Japan is place where there are many great games, and with all those concentrated here it should be possible to make a great future for games players in a systematic way.
Raya says the hardest thing for young players is to commit to being a pro when that path is not really well established. The crowd was clapping for that one. Daigo talks about how he looks at it as an adventure [note: he really is the best one to talk about this - he completely forged the way forward for pro players in Japan and tries all sorts of stuff]. Daigo says that playing games is fun, but that fun things of course have a risk. It isn't possible to have a risk-free job in this domain. Nemo says he just does this as a side-job; he has always had a real job. But now he is taking it on as a second career, and is being careful with it, and thinking about what he can do after this. He doesn't know what it is yet, but he's excited to be able to do this as a job now, even though it is a bit scary. He actually doesn't want people to think that he's on easy street now that he entered Square Enix, he's really working hard and facing the same issues. He talked a bit about how that is an issue for their players too, but everyone is trying their best and doing all sorts of different stuff. Gama no Abura said he is actually thinking of making a full time job of this in April.
Hameko says that gamers / games need to be valued more and not just seen as "just playin' games". This led to a discussion of the community.
Hamamura says that indeed they didn't talk enough with the community, and wants to open those avenues up.
Daigo closes out the session. He says he just wanted to try something, and gathered these people together, and it was a good panel. He hopes that it helps starts a discussion about what the pro license system is and learn a bit more about it. All of them should cooperate together to improve the FGC.
If you made it this far, congratulations.
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