Rakuten’s esports community is picking up steam

Japan’s esports scene ended 2023 with a bang, as gamers assembled for the 5th Rakuten esports cup. On December 19, 64 popular online personalities in Japan logged on to battle it out in popular battle royale game PUBG: BATTLEGROUNDS.

The primarily online event featured commentary from esports caster OooDa, professional cosplayer Enako, Twitch streamer Oniya, and sports commentator Hisashi Shimizu. Sixteen teams of four – primarily streamers, VTubers, and other online personalities – clashed over four exciting rounds to crown the contest’s champions.

Taking a community-driven approach

The term esports often evokes large stadiums, team uniforms and bombastic prize money. Rakuten, meanwhile, has opted to take more of a community approach, with events held largely online and participants joining from their own home setups.

Of course, the Rakuten esports cup champions didn’t go home empty-handed: aside from being awarded with Rakuten Points, a mix of prizes including gaming chairs and other peripherals were provided by sponsors. Runners-up also snagged some nifty prizes, such as a complimentary holiday package at Rakuten STAY Atami. While league-style events often focus on one specific game, the community approach allows for a broader scope of activities and competitors. Previous events have featured other games such as hero shooter APEX LEGENDS (TM), also bringing together streamers and creators from platforms like Twitch and YouTube.

The less-competitive approach also allowed the team to focus more on the entertainment aspect, with the four rounds interspersed with mini-games and other promotional content.

Gaming events are not nearly as common in Japan as one might expect, and while Rakuten doesn’t have a long history in the scene, the Rakuten esports Cup is a welcome response to demand from Japan’s sizable gaming community.

Through this community, Rakuten is also able to reach previously untapped audiences. The event was mirrored on many of the streamers’ accounts, reaching a total viewership of over one hundred fifty thousand.

64 gaming personalities took part in the contest, representing a significant section of Japan's gaming community.
64 gaming personalities took part in the contest, representing a significant section of Japan’s gaming community.

Playing to Rakuten’s strengths

So why hasn’t esports caught on in Japan?

“2017 was touted to be the year esports would start to take off in Japan, but unfortunately we haven’t seen those predictions come true,” laments event organizer Yuki Kawabata. “One potential reason for this is that the gaming-related companies who sponsor these events don’t see a clear return on their investment.”

For many sponsors, it can be difficult to ascertain just how effective an event has been in promoting their brands, and whether it has had any meaningful impact on sales. This issue is something that Rakuten is uniquely positioned to tackle, Kawabata explains.

“We have combined esports with one of the Rakuten Group’s main businesses – online shopping mall Rakuten Ichiba – to deliver an event through which sponsors can clearly see the results of their marketing.”

Operating one of Japan’s largest online shopping malls, Rakuten is able to link viewers of the event directly to online merchants where they can find the advertised products – something other events simply cannot do. The products on offer are largely tech – and gaming-related – a category likely to appeal to the event’s audience.

“We worked with several sponsors who have stores on Rakuten Ichiba, with the goal of boosting sales through the promotion of specific products,” Kawabata continues. “Rakuten’s biggest strength is that we can collaborate directly with Rakuten Ichiba to create these sales channels.”

Even for brands that don’t have stores on Rakuten Ichiba, Rakuten can support sponsors with insightful marketing data from the platform.

“I hope that this style of event will provide a model case for the industry, and that we can contribute to the growth of Japanese esports.”

The December event marked the 5th edition of the Rakuten esports cup, and the event shows no signs of slowing down; plans are already in the works for future events.

Show More
Back to top button