The Year In Tech: What PH eSports achieved in 2016

Without a doubt, 2016 has been one of the best years for Philippine eSports. Once a second-rate competitor to that of other countries, the Philippines is steadily becoming a force to be reckoned with, both in and out of the game. From multiple international events gracing the country to Filipino competitors making waves all around the world, this year is truly one for the books.

That being said, let’s take a look at what we’ve achieved in 2016 in order to look forward to an even better 2017.

Leveled up events

SL ONE MANILA. Screenshot from ESL One Manila page.

SL ONE MANILA. Screenshot from ESL One Manila page.

While the Philippines was already a hotspot for large-scale national and international events, 2016 cranked that up to a whole new level. It featured prestigious tournaments and boasted local events that even caught the attention of the neighboring countries.

For the first time ever, Philippines hosted a premium international Dota 2 tournament in the form of ESL One Manila in April, which featured 8 of the world’s best teams battling it out for their share of the huge prize pool of $250,000. It became the starting point for Philippines to be recognized by the international scene, at least for this year .

At first, the whole world was skeptical as to how the tournament would unfold on unfamiliar territory. As good as the announcement was for developing the local scene, it also presented risks. After all, holding an event festered with multiple problems would dissuade organizers from hosting future tournaments in the country.

As opposed to what many expected, ESL One Manila was a huge success and even raised the bar in terms of production value. From the hype crowd to the amazing games, and to the fact that the tournament itself was intense and memorable, ESL One Manila is surely an event to be remembered.

While most people thought that ESL One Manila was to be the highlight of the year, something even bigger arrived. One of the Dota 2 majors, a tri-annual series of $3,000,000 prize pool events, graced the country with the Manila Major. With it being the last major before the game’s "grand slam," The International, the stakes were high for Romania-based organizer PGL and its local partners to put on a show.

Just like ESL One Manila, the Dota 2 community was far from disappointed. In fact, it was one highlight of the whole eSports scene as a whole this year, not just for the Philippines. Nearly all enthusiasts loved and enjoyed the event and it set a new level of excitement and it definitely has risen the bar for future events to come. It even secured PGL two-and-counting more majors under their wing and solidified the Philippines as a best in class venue for events to come.

Locally-ran events were not to be outdone. Manila Cup, the Philippine fighting game community’s flagship tournament, was again an official event of the Capcom Pro Tour. It successfully brought several international elites, such as Justin “EG | JWong” Wong and Ricki “EG | Ricki” Ortiz to the country, to have them compete with the locals.

Speaking of going international, Metro Manila’s very own Electronic Sports and Gaming Summit grew even further this time around. Headed by long-time event organizer Joebert Yu, what was once a small-scale convention by international standards became one of Asia’s largest gaming shows. Guests and exhibitors like legendary Castlevania figurehead Koji Igarashi and Ubisoft made appearances at the event, further signifying its increasing relevance among the likes of the Paris Games Week and GameStart Asia.

Other events like this year’s iterations of Garena Philippines’ Rampage and the Mineski Pro Gaming League also assisted in the growth of the local League of Legends, Counter Strike: Global Offensive and Dota 2 scenes. Increasing prize pools and improvements to infrastructure that these events brought with them gave players opportunities to improve their talents and eSports careers.

Big wins, international wins

STAR E-ATHLETES. These young gamers now belong in the top 8 of the world's biggest e-sport competition. Photo from TNC's Facebook page

STAR E-ATHLETES. These young gamers now belong in the top 8 of the world's biggest e-sport competition.

Photo from TNC's Facebook page

Aside from events, the recent successes of our country’s electronic athletes were another metaphorical cherry on top. A slew of top-level placings at internationally acclaimed events stood out as some of Philippines eSports’ greatest achievements yet.

This year marks the comeback of a Filipino presence at The International, Dota 2’s premiere event series. Squads such as the TNC Pro Team and Execration were able to qualify for the multi-million Seattle-based tournament and alongside it, surpassed the expectations of many.

TNC had the roughest road to Seattle. Forced to go through open qualifiers due to a roster change, they lost the first open qualifier to Singaporean-Chinese stack White Fries Gaming before qualifying for the main regional qualifiers through the second open qualifier. There, they faced several intense matches against Southeast Asia’s best and, despite the odds, finished first in the qualifiers over more well-known rosters such as Fnatic and Mineski.

Execration also went through regional qualifiers and took the third place, securing a wild card slot and a trip to Seattle. While they were eliminated during the wild card bracket, they displayed an amazing performance, taking down North American powerhouse compLexity. This highlighted the skill that was present with the team, solidifying their position as one of the top teams of the region.

The Pinoy onslaught did not end there. TNC, who were set to face the talent-laden Vici Gaming Reborn, were expected to lose then and there. In a turn of events that would foreshadow their amazing run, they eliminated VGR. What was considered luck by some would prove itself to be something else as tournament favorite team OG would then fall victim to this seemingly unstoppable team. Regarded as the “biggest upset” in the history of Dota 2, TnC secured a top 8 finish by eliminating the two-time Dota 2 Major champions.

TNC’s awe-inspiring run was set to extend itself. However, it was not to last as with a top 5 placing just one series off, they fell to Digital Chaos and finished 8th. In the eyes of fans, TNC ended their journey on a high note, losing to the team that eventually finished 2nd. Had they not faced Digital Chaos early on, who knows what could have happened.

This incredible display of performance would continue with Execration. The acquisition of Djardel “DJ” Mampusti, a Filipino rising star who is arguably the best player in South East Asia – and finished 4th in The International with his team then, Fnatic – leveled up the already stacked lineup. With his help, Exectation won at the Southeast Asia-wide Mineski Pro Gaming League and several decent LAN placements secured them an invite to compete at the multi-million Boston Major, though several visa-related issues prevented them from attending in the end.

Let us not forget the team that has represented the country ever since the first iteration of The International, Mineski. The achievements of the team would pale in comparison with TnC and Execration but their recent performance has been eye-catching.

At the ROG Masters in Malaysia, Mineski took eventual winners, the multi-national Team Secret, to their limit. They beat the heavy favorites once, handing them their only loss in the tourney, which forced a decider match. Mineski didn't win the do-or-die, and Secret proceeded to the grand finals where they defeated Execration. Still, their valiant showing is worth noting. 

Fight club

RYU. Photo from Streetfighter.com

RYU. Photo from Streetfighter.

com

Philippines’ fighting game community did not disappoint either. Throughout 2016, it proved that it is a force to be reckoned with. In both domestic and international events, the country’s competitors performed well against their international counterparts.

Alden “IPT | Alden” Jacob, a professional Blazblue player, won two international championships in his game of specialization. First defending the country during September’s Manila Cup, he soon took his talents to Singapore, where he won this year’s iteration of the annual South East Asian Major.

Tekken veteran Alexandre “PBE.AK” Laverez did not disappoint this year either. Already known as one of the Asian region’s premiere players, the teenage titan qualified for the international King of Iron Fist Tournament 2016 in a spectacular fashion, beating out longtime rivals. Bearing the country’s flag, he went into the December tournament as an underdog of sorts, only to unexpectedly put the country on the map by finishing withing the top 8.

All these achievements just go to show that 2016 was the rise of Filipino eSports talents. This year, it became clear that this country has the ability to produce high-caliber eSports players and teams that can compete even with the most experienced teams on an international scale.

Overall, eSports in the Philippines has been on a roll in 2016. With the way things are looking, isn’t a stretch to say that 2017 will be even better.

Honorable Mentions

CS:GO. Logo from Valve

CS:GO.

Logo from Valve

While still not in full maturity, the resurgent Filipino first person shooter community is worth a mention. The year began with the community making a commitment: they would restore the scene to relevancy, also known as the "MakePHCSGreatAgain" movement. Soon enough, a year’s worth of CS:GO action was built up with events like the Mineski Pro Gaming League and the efforts of newly formed genre-focused organization PlayOnWASD.

Dedication to the movement reached a peak when late this year, local team 1nconsistent were unable to travel to Taiwan for Wirforce due to visa issues. The community soon banded together to help process 1nconsistent’s papers but when their attendance seemed unlikely, an alternative was used: players from the country’s best teams formed a mixed squad under the name of W1nconsistent. Though they lost in the end, it showcased the community’s never-ending love of the game. – Rappler.com

Justin is a 17-year-old esports journalist from the City of Love, Iloilo and is the editor-in-chief for Smashboards. He spends his spare time programming, practicing fighting games and working on videos. You can catch him on Twitter at @PopiSSB.

Neil is an 18-year-old eSports writer from Manila, and does event photography, production and media for various publications.

(UPDATE: We corrected Fnatic's placing in The International 6. The team finished 4th and not 3rd as originally published.)