December 29, 2022 | 12:22pm
MANILA, Philippines — Esports has certainly continued to make waves in the Philippines this past year. With life slowly transitioning to the “new normal”, the return of offline activities, be it competitive leagues or esports conventions, saw fans come in droves and continue to shine the spotlight on esports and gaming.
Filipino esports athletes continued their dominance in international tournaments like the Mobile Legends Southeast Asia Cup and the Asia-Predator League, while the country’s national esports team, Sibol, added more medals to their name with podium finishes in the Southeast Asian Games last May and the 2022 World Esports Championships in Bali just this month.
But it isn’t just in the competitive scene that esports has continued its development; the entire the Philippine esports industry has turned dynamic with more local activities and events.
Filipino representation in games
“Esports has definitely grown tremendously in recent times, especially during the [pandemic] lockdown period as many consumers started looking for alternatives for entertainment and stumbled across esports and gaming. More attention has shifted towards the industry and many brands, especially the non-endemic ones, have started to notice and even invest in the industry,” said Bryan Chin, regional manager of Fight Esports, a global esports platform that had partnered with PUBG Mobile.
One of the campaigns saw a local airline Cebu Pacific teaming up with a mobile game for a different experience. This was the Phoenix Adarna campaign last June, which treated fans with limited in-game items inspired by the Filipino epic poem Ibong Adarna and exclusive to the region.
“Local brands [like Cebu Pacific] integrating with such [a] huge game [like PUBG Mobile] is a good way to gain interest among the youth in the Philippines. By tapping into their interest, a consumer-brand relationship could be created, and by nurturing that relationship is how brands can not only start building brand affinity but also start converting future consumers,” added Chin.
PUBG Mobile also released a Tagalog voice pack during the game’s version update last March featuring Filipino gamer and comedian Rodfil Macasero, who cited the development as a “win for Filipino representation in mobile games” as it caught the interest of both players and non-players.
Similarly, Riot Games released the very first Filipino Valorant agent, Neon, in the first quarter of 2022, with the character’s trailer showcasing a few Pinoy Easter eggs, from Neon speaking in her Native tongue to a “PILIPINAS” jersey hanging on her wall.
“[Neon’s launch] really reflects Riot’s commitment to inclusivity and player-focused experiences. By providing a genuine representation of Filipino culture in-game, we hope we have given Filipino players an agent to be proud of and also provided our global players a glimpse of vibrant Filipino culture,” said Riot Games’ general manager for the Philippines Joel Guzman.
Investing in the Philippines
The esports industry as a whole saw immense growth the past year with game developers Moonton Games and Riot Games strengthening their operations in the country and investing on the establishment of their respective local offices.
“Coming from the Moonton perspective, there’s really this acknowledgement that the Philippines is a very big market in terms of gaming [and esports]. Moonton Global is really investing in the region. We’ve established a local entity na talaga which is Moonton PH. Opening a local entity is a big signifier that they want to grow their local presence, that we want our presence here. More localization, more input from local staff and helping the industry as a whole, providing more jobs, etc,” said Moonton Philippines senior esports marketing manager Tonyo Silva.
He adds that Moonton Global recognizes the potential of the market in the country, and that the company as a whole hopes to cultivate the continuous growth of the Mobile Legends community with the current millions of users in the country alone as well as the gargantuan following of the local Mobile Legends Professional League (MPL PH).
“During its infancy, esports was considered a niche community. The community was small, everyone knew each other. And now we see it growing, see it expanding. It is highlighted with the partnerships that we have developed with brands, with the media, etc. The scope is just getting bigger and bigger. Esports from a niche industry, is growing more and more into the mainstream and we only see that trending growing,” added Silva.
Having expanded their operations in the Philippines in 2022 as well, Riot Games also acknowledges the potential of the esports market here in the country.
“The Philippines has a large and fast growing gaming segment where we see a great opportunity to foster a self-sustaining esports ecosystem with a steady cadence of high-caliber tournaments, a healthy roster of pro-teams, and a robust network of sponsorship opportunities.” shared Riot Games’ Country General Manager for the Philippines Joel Guzman.
Citing the Valorant Champions Tour as an example, with over 150 Filipino teams participation, Guzman noted that the community has grown and will continue to grow, and it is something Riot Games is proud of.
He added, “The Valorant Championships Tour this year was a huge achievement for us. This growth and sheer volume of interest in Valorant esports is a clear indication of the potential in the region. We’ll certainly look to grow and nurture the esports community in this region and bring it to even [greater] heights.”
Celebrating the Return to offline events
With the establishment of local offices in the Philippines, the industry saw its fair share of offline activities this year — an achievement in itself — that could also be considered a reunion of sorts.
“[A highlight] for me was seeing everyone at the venue during the first day of playoffs during MPL Season 10. It was a sort of reunion [if you will]. Yes, we were celebrating the tenth season milestone, but after pandemic [with] everyone was just watching on live streams, [the return] signified that we’re back and it’s the new normal and we’re heading into this new chapter for Moonton,” said Silva.
Many of the esports and gaming offline activities the past year saw blockbuster lines with Filipino fans hungry to return to face to face events after the restrictions brought by the pandemic the past two years.
In MPL Season 10, playoff tickets sold out just a few hours after ticket sales opened. The return of AcadArena’s CONQUest last July drew a record-breaking 33,000 attendees during the two-day festival while the comeback of one of the biggest gaming conventions in the region; the Esports and Gaming Summit (ESGS) could not be deterred by Typhoon Paeng as thousands of fans braved the weather and flocked the summit last October.
Riot Games had its first on-ground event last July with the Star Guardian Art School and made its convention debut at ESGS with Riot’s booth seeing 2,000 registrants in the summit’s opening hours. The developer’s involvement during the “Head in the Clouds” (HITC) music festival also drew crowds despite the heavy rains.
“Our in-person events have also been very successful this year. We’ve had many firsts for Riot Games in the Philippines. Our community is so passionate and engaged. Connecting directly with them has been a real pleasure. We want to extend a huge thank you to the thousands of fans who turned up at our events over the past year. We couldn’t do what we do without you,” said Guzman.