Anime and Esports Worlds Have Traveled a Common Pathway

Team Liquid has not made a solo move by teaming up with VIZ Media for Naruto Shippuden-themed apparel. Anime and esports have been in constant synergy not only for esports companies and organizations but also between the fans of both worlds. The Esports Observer will connect the dots that explain why this synergy exists.

Esports might not have had this name nor the current highlight for long, but definitely, video game tournaments can be traced back more than 30 years, even if the competition was for just for reaching the highest score possible. Although not inspired by anime, many Japanese games such as Pac-Man, and Nintendo’s and Sega’s successes have taken over the western entertainment scene. Japan is also the birthplace of anime, which was expanding and conquering fans’ hearts at the same time and pace as video games.

Therefore, the Japanese culture is historically connected to the expansion of both games and anime, being a clear link between these segments. But the first direct connection of the competitive world to animes might have been Pokémon.

If the Red, Blue, and Green versions of Poketto Monsutā (Pocket Monsters) were not the first case of game-anime integrations, it definitely was the most popular (and most competitive) of them. The whole concept of the game was to train the captured monsters and develop strategies to beat rivals who would do the same. But more than that, a player could challenge and fight other real-life players through a cable connected to their Game Boys, the console in which they played the game individually.

Pokémon Popularity Lit the Fuse

Pokémon games became immensely popular, and the creation of an anime based on it catapulted the franchise to a point that it became a significant factor in the Japanese economy. But more than that, it was a clear gap to connect video game fans to the anime and also anime fans to video games, while featuring a competitive scene in it: not only tournaments for Game Boy players existed, but Pokémon also pumped up its competitive essence through a Trading Card Game (TCG) scene.

With the development of technology and increase of connectivity, anime and games could be accessed more easily by the audiences, which at this point was already paying attention to the Japanese cultural scene. To TEO, Brazilian journalist Claudio Prandoni explains how this movement reached a whole generation: “The majority of people who grew up enjoying esports also live this period of ample access to anime in Brazil, in a way that did not exist 30 or 20 years ago. And that goes not only for electronic sports but also for sports in general: just see how many soccer players and athletes from other sports are also big fans of anime and games.”

The bonds between anime and esports, although, do not stop there. Prandoni also brings attention to the stories shared by both segments: “In my opinion, what unites the worlds of esports and anime is the passion for stories, for narratives. A good fight brings all the exciting elements that most successful animes have, like heroes, villains, tense duels, and twists. In addition, conventional anime episodes and competitive game disputes also have reasonably similar durations and often the two worlds deal with stories, characters, and fantasy universes, reinforcing this bond.”

Team Liquid’s Chief of Business Development Mike Milanov agrees with Prandoni’s thinking, telling TEO that “gaming and anime cross paths in so many ways. They’re both cornerstones in the larger cultural landscape, and our fans gravitate to their iconic storylines involving epic heroes and showdowns and rivalries and seeing the unbelievable happen. Naruto specifically is all about bonds, the relationships you form with friends, teammates, family, and co-workers. This really resonated with us as gaming is similarly about playing together, developing community, and enhancing relationships or bonds.” 

Games Turn to Anime-Inspired Visuals

Another approaching factor is the aesthetics: many games share the same artistic style with animes. Nowadays, even a western-produced game such as Riot GamesLeague of Legends (LoL), uses anime-inspired visuals for its characters, like Yasuo, and takes it even further when producing some of its promotional cinematics. The cosplayer Samanta Bravin told TEO that “as a cosplayer and anime lover, I particularly like the [esports] art features. It encourages me a lot when designing and adapting make-up for a character because no matter how hard it is it’s something that I really like.”

Other game companies are not only being inspired by anime but are literally bringing them inside the game world. The Singaporean developer and publisher Garena has secured rights with Kodansha to include Attack on Titan (Shingeki no Kyojin) features in Free Fire just one month after also signing rights for One-Punch Man (Wanpanman) content in the battle-royale, bringing a lot of attention from the anime/otaku community to the game. Epic Games did not sign known animes but is aware of the strength of it, providing features such as anime-styled skins and emotes as the “Naruto run” for its Fortnite players. 

In Brazil, a whole channel on TV relied on the esports-anime combination to reach market success. “Our research work for the launch of Loading found a very large affinity in the profile of the communities for which we produce and license contents,” said Dennis Velloso, Chief Strategy Officer at the TV channel Loading. “Not only is the anime community very close to esports, but as well as to the non-competitive gaming communities, movies, series, K-pop, and cartoons, being contents that coexist within the journey of this audience. The main insight of these studies is that we no longer have the ability to classify people in ‘boxes.’ The public has a huge fluidity between the different types of content, necessary for Loading to learn how to deliver these contents in a way that adapts the consumption routine and model within people’s daily lives.”

Loading has recently secured the rights to broadcast Garena’s Brazilian League of Free Fire (LBFF), and Velloso reveals to TEO that the proximity of the game with the anime world played a relevant role when closing the deal: “Our main action to integrate the contents was to look for modalities of esports that have or already had an affinity with the anime community, and Free Fire was perfect for that. The game, in addition to the announced actions with One-Punch Man and Attack on Titan, has a huge volume of players with photos or nicknames referring to anime.”

‘Practical Proof’ of Link for Audiences

Regarding the results of investing in this kind of crossover, besides those on social media already highlighted by Trent Murray in a recent article on TEO, Velloso says that Loading “had practical proof of transit between the contents by the same audience,” explaining that its “strategy of launching an anime in January was connected with the first round of the LBFF. With that, at the end of the week, we are measuring a practically constant average audience during the showing of anime before and after the championship, with no break from the public in anime-esports-anime programming.”

Milanov also expressed his satisfaction with the release of Team Liquid’s Naruto-themed apparel. “We’re beyond pleased with how this collection is going. Our launch day surpassed our expectations. And, to satisfy demand, we opened the collection up for pre-order. This allows us to give more fans the chance to score their favorite piece,” he says. “Both communities showed up big for this collaboration. We could not have dreamt of a launch being as widely supported as it was. We’d like to see this partnership expand globally and bring this unique crossover to Naruto and Team Liquid fans everywhere.“

Not only the audience and native companies can enjoy the links being made between esports and anime. Velloso also tells TEO that non-endemic brands can find opportunities there, as Loading sees “in the advertising market a desire to enter esports but with still some fear regarding how to capture the attention of the players/crowd. We understand that [by] showing the market that people’s attention is divided, part in games, part in the consumption of content, and part of the interaction with the community, we have a great opportunity to connect brands on the different moments of the entertainment journey of that audience with a multichannel platform and with several spheres of contents.”

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