NPB getting on board with boom in esports

by Jason Coskrey

Staff Writer

Nippon Professional Baseball is ready to take a swing at esports.

This fall, the league will join forces with Konami to launch the Pawapuro Pro League, an esports league that will bring together pro baseball and pro gamers. Players in the league will compete using the 2018 edition of Konami’s “Jikkyo Powerful Pro Yakyu” series.

“Professional baseball and the 12 NPB clubs view esports as a big chance,” NPB commissioner Atsushi Saito said during a news conference with Konami Digital Entertainment president Hideki Hayakawa on Thursday afternoon at Konami’s headquarters in Tokyo. “This ebaseball will give fans a new way to enjoy and engage in baseball and sports.”

Esports, a form of video game competition, has skyrocketed in popularity around the globe over the past several years, thanks to games such as League of Legends and Counterstrike and more recently Call of Duty, Hearthstone, Overwatch and others.

Recently, several pro sports leagues have gotten in on the action. In Japan, the J. League joined EA Sports’ FIFA eWorld Cup in March. Formula One launched an esports League in 2017, and the NBA and Take-Two Interactive launched North America’s first esports league run by a professional sports organization earlier this year.

Esports will be a demonstration event at this year’s Asian Games in Indonesia, and will be a medal event at the following edition in 2022 in Hangzhou, China. Esports was also included in Japan’s National Sports Festival in Ehime Prefecture as a cultural program for the first time last year.

“There has been a lot of attention on esports recently,” Saito said. “There are over 100 million players and around the world over 380 million are watching events on the internet.”

Over 7,500 turned out to watch the Jikkyo Powerful Pro Yakyu Championship 2017 at Makuhari Messe, which was won by a pro player known as Maepi.

Each of the 12 NPB teams will be represented by gamers in the Pawapuro Pro League. The league will hold online test games for players in July and August.

There will be a draft on Sept. 29, where three players each will be selected to represent the 12 NPB clubs. Maepi won the Pawapuro tournament last year wearing a Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles uniform, but isn’t worried about being chosen to represent another club.

“I won’t get to pick where I am chosen, but I am confident I can help my team win the championship,” he said during the news conference. “I’m want to do my best for whichever team chooses me.”

The league’s format will largely mirror NPB’s, with teams split into the Central and Pacific Leagues for the regular season, which will run on Saturdays and Sundays from Nov. 10 to Dec. 2.

The top three teams from the pennant race advance to the postseason, which will be run similar to NPB’s existing Climax Series. The first and final stages of the playoffs will be held on Dec. 16.

The top team in each league will then advance to the e-Japan Series on Jan. 12.