Soon, Japan will have its own League of Legends server. And with the booming popularity of the LJLEAGUE, a weekly league tournament hosted by an e-sports Square in Akihabara, the JP scene is growing at a phenomenal pace. More and more people are making the transition from console gaming to competitive PC games, awe-stricken by the strategic team play and explosive moments of action that LoL has to offer. In order to further promote and gain insight into the expanding Japanese LoL scene, I have the honor of interviewing “eyes,” a Japanese caster and analyst for the LJL.
Note: Comments in parenthesis are notes that I have added to provide context/clarify a statement. The interview was originally conducted in Japanese, so some translation issues may be present, and there could be a slight discrepancy between what he said and what I translated from his statements.
Interview begins here:
Before we start the interview, please briefly introduce yourself for the audience.
Hello everyone, my name is “eyes,” and I work as an exclusive caster for the LJLEAGUE (the Japanese equivalent of LCS, OGN, etc.). I was born on the 15th of October in 1984, and I will be turning 30 this year. My hobby is to watch and play games. I used to work as a lawyer in the Okayama Prefecture, but thanks to my connections with the SANKO corporation (a company focused on marketing and promoting TV, radio, movies and more as well as the production of games and trailers for movies) and company President Suzuki, I was given the opportunity to make a living as a caster for League of Legends, which is a game I was especially interested in. Hmm…what else. Self introductions are hard, aren’t they? If there’s anything else you want to know about me, feel free to let me know.
When did you first get into LoL, and why did you form an interest for LoL when multiplayer PC games are not very popular in Japan?
I don’t exactly remember when I started League of Legends, but it was sometime around mid-Season 1, almost three years ago. I was introduced to LoL by a friend I played Counter Strike 1.6 with. He said it was a fun game, and so he taught me how to play, and from there, I really got into the game. While LoL is not an FPS, which was the genre I was accustomed with, I frequently watched Age of Empires, Starcraft and Warcraft 3 streams so it wasn’t hard to get used to the gameplay.
When did you begin your journey into the competitive LoL scene? How did you go from casual player to an active member of the competitive community here in Japan?
It was around the middle of Season 2 when I began to get into the competitive scene. I used to live stream my gameplay and commentate over it. From there, I invited my listeners into private matches, and I would cast and analyze their games by myself for fun. That led to one of my listeners asking me to cast the Season 2 World Championships in Japanese. I obliged and that was when I really started to get involved with the pro-scene.
Why did you get choose casting as your career choice? Did you ever consider becoming a pro-player?
Well, there was a caster named “surapop” who was a commentator and analyst for Waarcraft 3 tournaments in Japan. He was famous for his in depth analysis and easy to understand casting, and I really enjoyed his style, so I decided that I wanted to do something like that in the future. I started out by live streaming, but as you’d expect, no one came to watch. In order to attract more viewers I opened custom lobbies to host matches for listeners, which attracted more people to come and watch my stream. That was where I first tried casting in front of an audience (albeit online).
At the same time, I desired to become a pro player, but because of my lack of skill I decided against it. Instead, because there was no place for pro players and the people interested in the pro scene to congregate, I wanted to take up the job of connecting these Japanese eSports enthusiasts with other like-minded people. To see these people getting along and enjoying the game brought great joy to me at that time.
How developed was the pro-scene in Japan when you started casting professionally?
Japanese eSports is miles behind most other regions, so when I started casting, Japan had nothing that could be called a “pro-scene.” There would be like one tournament every three months, and the host would have to pay out of his own pocket for the prize money. Tournaments were pretty open and very poorly structured, so there were very few teams that practiced together with a strict schedule. Instead, most teams that joined tournaments back then were comprised of friends looking for some challenge. Hopefully the LJLEAGUE will remedy the problems that plagued the Japanese LoL scene and instill professionalism in the players and those associated alike.
How has the scene grown ever since then? And looking into the future, how do you think the scene will further develop?
First of all, there are many more teams in Japan that have the desire to play their absolute best to win and become a world class team. Instead of having teams made up of five solo queue friends, teams are now more organized and put a lot of effort into finding the best players in the Japanese scene. There are more organized and structured tournaments (which means only the best teams can join), which means that the games are of much higher quality than before. One large problem the scene faced was the lack of team activities, like practicing as a team, scrimming other teams and playing ranked teams on the NA server as time zone issues and lack of structure was a large obstacle. But the LJLEAGUE solves a lot of these problems, so we should see an increase in stronger teams from the JP scene.
Please briefly discuss the positive points of the Japanese LoL Community.
In Japan, many people take up drawing as a hobby, so these talented artists draw a lot of fan art of the champions. The style of the champion splash art attracts many Japanese players, and that serves as a way to entice Japanese players and create a large fanbase. Because of these aspects I feel that LoL is the only game that can spread the concept of eSports in Japan, and there are a lot of fans that agree with me and are excited with the upcoming LoL scene.
Please discuss some negative aspects of the Japanese LoL Community.
This may be the same with other regions, but the community can be very toxic. You will be bashed if you lose and people will talk bad about a pro-player behind his back. (The Japanese community is rather known for being harsh and toxic. Online boards similar to the likes of reddit and 4chan often resort to bashing and down-right bullying, using words like カス (strong slang for garbage) to make fun of almost anything. If you think reddit is bad, learn Japanese and check out the netizens of Japan battle it out with words on 2ch, the Japanese equivalent of reddit.)
You mentioned above that LoL is the only game that can spread esports in Japan. Why is this so? What does LoL have that makes it such a strong candidate to represent esports in Japan?
To put it simply, League of Legends has the best chance at being a big hit for Japanese gamers. First of all, the game itself is very fun and rewarding and the controls are smooth and easy to learn. As I mentioned before, champion splash art also plays a huge role in establishing a fanbase in Japan (seeing how invested Japanese people can get in art). On top of that, if Japan gets its own server, and receives a Japanese voiceover, many people will jump on board as in Japan, voice actors are big celebrities and many fans will play the game just to listen to their favorite voice actors.
As a follow up question, how do you think LoL can gain more popularity in the future?
If champion voice-overs are done by famous Japanese voice actors, the popularity for LoL will skyrocket, as it would raise awareness among Japanese gamers. In Japan, PC gaming has not caught on with the general populous and with Japanese culture (excluding visual novels). But because the game (League of Legends) itself is very fun, it is important to find a way to spread the word and get people who normally don’t play PC games hooked on the game.
Now switching over to the pro-scene: how do you adjust you casting style to the Japanese viewers? How does your casting/presentation compare to other regions?
Instead of adjusting my casting style to a certain type of audience, I strive to draw people in with my casting. How entertaining and captivating you can be as a caster and how you can attract people with your casting is an issue that all casters must face at one point or another. The Japanese audience especially enjoys analysis (though that is the analyst’s job), while the play-by-play is an afterthought. In terms of comparisons with other regions, commentary styles are similar. However, I’ve heard that in more established regions like NA and EU, there are professionals spectator camera operators to catch all the action. This may be a problem just in the Japanese scene, but we don’t have the necessary resources to do this and so the casters have to control the camera while they cast. In order to make sure that we don’t miss any action on the Rift, I have been studying the game and how to move the camera depending on different situations.
Are there any Japanese players that are famous in other regions? In Japan?
Since I don’t want to create any misunderstandings, I’ll refrain from commenting on this. Maybe when Japanese teams start to compete internationally people will remember our players (laughs). There are a lot of fan favorites in Japan, and you can see them in action during the LJLEAGUE (laughs again).
How is the Japanese meta?
Since the Japanese pro players like and follow different pro teams (foreign), there is no set meta (as they like to copy from other regions). However, usually Japanese teams get inspiration from strong foreign teams. Right now, the Japanese meta is based off the Korean meta as the players study and copy the OGN. But some teams mimic the NA or EU meta, so it really depends on the team (and makes up a lot of interesting matchups when these “different metas” collide).
What kinds of sponsors support the LoL scene in Japan?
Right now, the LJL is sponsored by LogicoolG and V-Prica (an online credit card system).
As a concluding question: if you were to make an all star team out of all Japanese pro players, who would you pick?
Top: Ozone RPG Aotaka – Solid laning ability and an unkillable tank in teamfights.
Jungle: Ozone RPG Envy – High game-making and tactical mindset backed up by superb mechanics. Favors an invade heavy playstyle.
Mid: Det FM Ceros – Has a huge midlane champion pool. Great map awareness and the ability to communicate vital info to his jungler.
ADC: RJ Rkp – Has great synergy with the support (Lillebelt). Heavily critical of his own play, even to the level of discussing one single play for over an hour with his support, and steadily improving.
Support: RJ Lillebelt – Great friends with the ADC (Rkp). Formerly a midlaner, he has great game knowledge and teamfight presence and excels at hitting skillshots.
That’s it for the interview. A huge shotout to “eyes” for agreeing to give up his time to do this interview with me and provide more insight and information about the up and coming Japanese scene. Also, this would be the first interview I have ever conducted, so any constructive criticism would be appreciated. Thank you for reading!