AKITA, Japan—Sixty-six-year-old Atsuko Oyama shares a goal held by many people a half-century younger. She wants to get 100 kills in the first-person shooter videogame “Apex Legends.”
True, she’s a little rusty, having last faced off against digital enemies in a “Space Invaders” arcade game sometime in the latter part of the 20th century. But after joining Japan’s first senior esports team in September, Ms. Oyama notched 10 kills in a month and feels her enthusiasm growing.
“Watching others play, I thought I couldn’t do it,” said the retired receptionist. “But I didn’t like to back off, so I decided to come here at least twice. And now I am into it.”
Esports promoters who have seen Japan fall behind powerhouses such as the U.S. in videogame competitions think the senior market might be the way to catch up. And if the over-65 set feels a little more energized after blasting a few rival mercenaries, so much the better.
Japan is the world’s oldest nation, and its efforts to boost the size of its younger population have been mostly unsuccessful. It is, however, at the forefront of initiatives to keep old people thinking younger.
Ms. Oyama, whose player name is Mama, tried out for the team known as the Matagi Snipers after her daughter saw an ad soliciting players.
Atsuko Oyama, 66, practices a couple of hours a day.
“It’s better than having nothing to do at home and watching TV,” Ms. Oyama said. She now practices a couple of hours a day at home, sometimes going to acupuncture to take care of her tired neck.
The Matagi Snipers, named for a traditional group of bear hunters in northern Japan, have been practicing since September at their home base in northern Akita prefecture.
With an average age of 68, the 14-person team hopes eventually to compete in professional tournaments in first-person shooter titles such as “Apex Legends,” from Electronic Arts Inc., and Epic Games Inc.’s “Fortnite.”
Before they can gun for prize money or monetize YouTube page views, they need to heed the guidance of coach Yoshito “Lemon” Suda, 28.
The coach said his team initially needed a kick in the rear. Some members, to his surprise, didn’t know how to use a computer, let alone
play a videogame.
“For the first month, it was more like a gathering of some good friends,” Mr. Suda said. “I had to give them a pep talk and tell them, ‘You’re not here for that. You’re going to be professional.’ ”
The members took it to heart, he said, and now he sees some online playing at midnight. At practice sessions, they pepper him with questions.
Mr. Suda begins each practice session with a lecture. In a recent one, he asked the Snipers to write down their thoughts on a piece of paper. Through the exercise, he hoped they would eventually be able to shout concise instructions to one another as they team up to shoot their on-screen enemies.
After the lecture, it was time to play. Masashi “K” Shinoda, 69, was having a hard time sensing the presence of enemies.
“I still can’t tell which direction an enemy or a bullet is coming from,” said Mr. Shinoda, who was more accustomed to battling piles of paperwork in his old job at a school.