eSports is still something of a divisive term within the fighting game community with some seeing it as a departure from the “grassroots” base we grew up through and others as an opportunity to grow the scene larger than ever before. It’s hard to deny where the genre is trending towards though.
Longtime Tekken Director Katsuhiro Harada, who also happens to be the eSports manager for Bandai Namco, claims in his newest episode of Harada’s Bar that the phrase is still just a “buzzword” and that Japan is lagging behind in their efforts compared to other countries.
It’s easy to see for anyone in tune with the wider community that the push to make sustainable careers out of fighting games is still in its infancy, as game makers, tournament organizers, teams and players are all grappling to figure out where we go next.
“Right now eSports is just a buzzword,” says Harada. “The word has no weight… Only America and China are working on it seriously.”
He doesn’t really extrapolate as to where Japan is lagging behind the other countries aside from larger scale events though he feels as though they’re making progress to understand and catch up in the areas they’re still lacking.
Harada also invited some members from the FGC to talk about the subject with DNG|Itabashi Zangief, commentator Genya and photographer Akira Ohsu.
They all seem to feel as though things are getting better with public perception about pro gaming with parents becoming more supportive of the endeavor and strong players seen as someone to look up to instead of being sneered at for being a tryhard at the arcades.
Itazan is also quite prideful about wanting the Japanese FGC to succeed on the world stage since that’s where it all began so they “feel like we’re carrying our country on our back.”
Harada spends some time going into the competitive history of Tekken and how Japan started to lose its edge many years ago when players like Ryan Hart in the United Kingdom and ROX|Knee in South Korea started popping up.
On top of that, more and more regional communities are popping up that shake the status quo like Pakistan which Harada relates to the broad playerbase of the series.
Interestingly, he believes that part of what sparked Tekken’s worldwide success was having Sony’s name attached as the original publisher, as people in just about every country recognize the brand as one that produced quality products like TVs and cameras.
Those seeds planted decades ago have taken root and grown into strong communities that were once insulated but can now experience the talent of other countries thanks to online play and tournaments.
Harada says that the “door to the demon realm has opened” which he expects to see more unknown talent appear from anywhere that other fighting games might not see as much.
The father of PlayStation Ken Kutaragi is also present again as a guest, and he spends some time discussing how digital events will perhaps someday be even better than attending live with things like virtual or augmented reality allowing viewers to always have the best seats in the house though admits the tech isn’t there just yet.
He also describes how he originally wanted to include game streaming features like that of the PS4 on the PS3, but Sony had to scrap the idea because the internet in places like North America and Europe wasn’t up to the task 16 years ago.
You can check out the latest episode of Harada’s Bar below, and the previous one included an interesting tidbit about Tekken’s original Japanese name that they couldn’t secure the rights to.