Sports

In order not to end with “boom”. Tokido, a professional gamer who graduated from the University of Tokyo, sees the hot future of e-sports |

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In recent years, e-sports have become increasingly popular in Japan. While it is fun to see the world’s top players compete fiercely to win the game, it is also a tough one as there are only a handful of people who can make it their profession. Under such circumstances, in January 2022, with the desire to further develop the e-sports industry, Sojitz launched an e-sports project that was born from the “Ideas x Sojitz Hassojitz” project, an initiative to create new businesses. The company is GRITz. This time, Tokido, a professional gamer who has always led the industry, will talk about the importance of “comprehensive power” that brings strength to him, the thoughts inherited from his predecessors in the game world, and co-creation with companies. We spoke with GRITz co-representatives Ongeka and Tsuneki Kiritani about the future of esports.

Photograph_Wataru Yanase (Upper Crust)
Text_Kaoru Hanaoka
Edit_Hayato Narahara

A time when aiming to be a professional was laughed at

――Mr. Tokido, you have been active as a professional gamer even before the word e-sports was coined. Please tell us how you became a professional.

Tokido: My roots lie in “Street Fighter II,” which I played every day at my friend’s house when I was in elementary school. When I became a junior high school student, I went to the game center every day and became immersed in fighting games. At the time, I never imagined that there would be a way to make a living from playing games, so it was simply fun to play against many different people and win or lose.

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When I was in my second year of high school, I happened to be invited by a friend to participate in Evolution, the world’s top fighting game tournament held in the United States. But even though I was lucky enough to win a big tournament, it’s still a bit of a boast. In my mind, I wanted to eventually find a job and continue playing games as a hobby.

A few years later, while I was doing research as a graduate student, I heard the news that Daigo Umehara had become Japan’s first professional fighting game player. It was a shocking truth to me, who had always believed that gaming would never be a career. That’s when I started going insane (laughs).

Wen: Do you mean that it gave you an opportunity to reconsider your life?

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GRITz On Kaka

Tokido: Yes. I’ve always wanted to compete once in the game world, but I was also conflicted about betraying the expectations of those around me and my parents.

I foolishly consulted with my college friends. Then he said, “Are you okay?” (laughs). Some people found it amusing, but especially an acquaintance at the arcade told me, “Don’t rush.” At that time, the game industry had an underground atmosphere, and people thought it was just a game, so it was only natural.

Wen: Did you consult your parents?

Tokido: Yes, eventually. Then he said, “You’re not suited to be a salaried worker, so if you have that kind of ability, make use of it.” My father, who is a university professor, also gave up on his dream of becoming a musician in the past, and had a similar experience.

He also said, “Don’t think that the title of being a graduate of the University of Tokyo is useless. With such support from my father, I decided to fight in this field in earnest.

“Comprehensive strength” necessary for sustainable activities

―― In 2017, you won the Evolution championship and the CAPCOM Pro Tour 2021 runner-up, and you have an overwhelming track record. What is the secret of Tokido’s strength?

Tokido: Your personality is that you hate to lose. Compared to those around me, I think I’m the type to build up steadily.

Also, I think that “comprehensive power” is a strength. I believe that there are many factors that contribute to winning or losing a game. For example, we tend to focus on game-playing skills, but we believe that physical strength and mental strength and good eyesight are also important, so we also go to training centers to develop dynamic vision.

This has been strongly influenced by the way I was evaluated when I was an exam student, including Japanese language and society, which I didn’t want to do.

Wen: Looking from the outside, it’s not only the strength of the game, but also the fact that you care about your fans is impressive. I think that by focusing on entertainment, it will eventually lead to business.

Kiritani: I get the impression that Tokido is stoic. Isn’t it hard to train mind, technique, and body at the same time?

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Kouki Kiritani from GRITz

Tokido: I naturally stop doing things that I find difficult. I think it’s important to try everything and find a way to work hard that suits you.

An unprecedented e-sports boom that has overcome the “winter era” of games

――Even though e-sports is booming now, there was a winter period when the number of users decreased in the game industry after 2000. But why has Tokido been able to overcome adversity?

Tokido: The reason why I have been able to endure as a professional until now has been greatly supported by the existence of a community centered around tournaments. It’s true that there was a period when the popularity of games waned, and many of the talented players who were competing in arcades left the world of games in tears.

Even so, we continued to hold events where fans gather, such as “Togeki” in Japan and “Evolution” in the United States, at least once a year. I think I was able to keep my motivation up because I was able to do my best for the day of the tournament.

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In that sense, I expect GRITz to create tournaments and events that will become a brand.

Kiritani: Thank you. Our mission is to expand the community and base of the esports industry, so I would like to do my best.

Wen: Mr. Tokido, how do you see Japan’s e-sports industry today after the pandemic?

Tokido: In my experience, I used to travel to overseas tournaments more than 20 times a year. I couldn’t even do that after the corona disaster, so I needed to expand the range of activities.

It’s the same with other professional players, and there are people who create plays and projects that can be enjoyed by a wider range of fans, rather than just winning tournaments. In other words, it can be said that Corona has made the esports industry more diverse.

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Including such a point of view, I think that the e-sports industry is now very exciting. Not only fighting games, but the Japanese team of “VALORANT” recently achieved the feat of 3rd place in the world, and from Japan, which was once seen as a weak game country, a team that can compete with the world has been born. It’s really big to be there.

Kiritani: At the 19th Asian Games scheduled to be held in Hangzhou, China (currently adjusting the schedule due to the influence of Corona), “Street Fighter V” will be officially included as an e-sports medal event, and the Olympics will also be held. I can only look forward to the future, including that.

Tokido: This is my personal opinion, but I think there is ample possibility in the future. As the number of players increases, the world’s attention will naturally increase.

I want to increase the number of people who can make a living from games

Tokido: Mr. GRITz, why did you decide to start an esports company at this time in the first place?

Kiritani: The trigger was a gaming PC that I bought as a bonus in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic. I’ve always liked the game itself, but since then I’ve become really addicted to it. One day while I was playing online, I was matched against someone who was ranked at the top of the world rankings, and of course I lost consecutive battles.

However, I learned that even in the current e-sports world, there is a current situation where top players like them cannot afford to eat. Then something is wrong, is there a way to change an industry where talented players can’t afford to eat? I felt regret.

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Just as I was thinking about this, I heard about an internal new business contest.

Wen: The survey results also showed that esports is a very attractive marketing tool from a business perspective. If you think about it, game consoles are lumps of plastic and semiconductors. This is exactly our area of ​​business.

From a broader perspective, Sojitz, as a general trading company, covers a wide range of lifestyles, from the so-called impact areas of esports, for example, chairs to sit on when playing games, beverages, and food. Indeed, our “comprehensive strength” is one of our strengths, and we have a very high affinity with our existing businesses.

Kiritani: Earlier, Mr. Tokido said that one of the benefits of companies actively entering esports is the ability to create long-lasting tournaments. What I would like to ask is how do you feel about companies entering the esports industry?

Tokido: Yes, of course. However, if there is a slight concern, it is that the underground atmosphere that we experienced at arcades in the past may be lost due to the entry of companies. I also understand the feelings of people who say “I liked that”. But when I put the future on the balance, I wonder if it’s really good.

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In other words, if those dark times continued, there was a possibility that the industry itself would disappear. Even in such a declining situation, I think that fighting games have been able to survive thanks to the companies with the capital that can sustainably support them. So, even though I say it’s a concern, my opinion is that the current direction of creating a clean image is correct, and it’s true that there are many players who welcome it.

Wen: Thank you. I was relieved to hear that.

Tokido: Yes, welcome! If it weren’t for the sponsors, I don’t know what I would be like now, and I am grateful to all the companies who have really supported me.

The key to industry development is to increase attractive players

――For esports to take root as a more popular culture, the presence of fans is also important. Tokido, do you have any ideas that you value?

Tokido: Fans are of course important, but I’m always thinking about how I can get the general public to understand and empathize with my approach to games. It’s not enough just to be good at the game.

For example, if you want to send a message to young people who want to become professional gamers, you can say something like, “If you want to be active in the field of esports in the future, you should definitely study English.” I mean.

Even though I am a gamer, I think it is important to show the general public that I am thinking about the future and make efforts to make them understand, so I consciously practice it.

Kiritani: Because you’ve seen the past of the game industry, there are things you can tell.

Tokido: Yes. After all, the thoughts of many of my friends who gave up midway through their talents still remain strong in my mind. It’s a world where you don’t know how long it will last. That is why I want to pass on the experiences I have gained and the thoughts of my predecessors that have been passed on to future generations as much as possible.

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It is the existence of attractive players that can save the industry when it is in a pinch. From now on, I would like to increase the number of players who are not just good at playing games, but who are full of human charm in the true sense of the word and who are good at self-expression.

I think people like that can attract attention from the public not only by playing, but also in a more casual way, and I think they are people who think through a lot about the industry.

――Please tell us about your future prospects.

Wen: I would like to create a place where more e-sports players can play an active role. Last year, in a survey of junior and senior high school students about their desired occupation, professional esports players ranked second.

In order to protect the dreams of children, I would like to provide tournament management, initiatives, and added value that will enable this industry to develop sustainably.

Kiritani: We want to show society that games are so much fun, and that there are so many attractive people out there.

Tokido: I want to continue to be active on the front lines of the esports world, and I want to be a person worthy of that. Also, I want to tell everyone that there are many people who are seriously playing games there, or rather, are seriously living their lives.

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Of course, I’m not saying that my way is absolutely correct. The world of e-sports will continue to develop, so I think it would be wonderful if various players could express themselves and their individuality in a way that would be accepted by the world.

INFORMATION

GRITz

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Established in 2022. A new company born from Sojitz’s initiative to create new businesses, the “Idea x Sojitz Hassojitz” project. Its business includes planning and management of tournaments, leagues, and various events related to e-sports, management of media specializing in e-sports, production business, etc. In the future, it is also considering forming a professional team under GRITz.

PROFILE

Tokido

Tokido

pro gamer. Born in Okinawa in 1985. He graduated from the University of Tokyo. He made his professional debut in 2010 with his fighting game. Winner of the world’s largest fighting game tournament “Evolution” in 2017, 1st place in Capcom Pro Tour annual point ranking in 2018, NorCal Regionals 2019 winner (USA), Canada Cup 2019 winner (Canada), etc. He is one of the most well-known e-sports players in Japan, being featured in “Jonetsu Tairiku”. His hobby is strength training, and he owns equipment for working out such as the bench press at home, and he balances both daily game practice and streaming distribution at the same time. In addition, he has published books about his own efforts, “Efforts 2.0 by the World’s Best Professional Gamer” and “Pro Gamer Graduated from the University of Tokyo”, and is active as a committee member of the e-sports international organization “GEF”. ing.

Official Twitter
https://twitter.com/tokidoki77




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