Is eSports the new “Basketball” for Filipinos?

Basketball is the most-loved sports in the Philippines with basketball courts sprawled all over the cities and even in rural areas. It’s a sport that has been so ingrained in the Filipino culture that playing basketball with friends on afternoons is almost as natural as breathing and almost as imperative as having an afternoon snack or merienda.

Hundreds of Filipinos flock to the Araneta Coliseum or the MOA Arena just to watch their favorite teams play against each other. For decades, basketball was the coolest sport in the country… until recently, anyway, when the extensive popularity of video games and competitive gaming have taken center stage.

If you were living in the Philippines as a computer gamer in the early 2000s, though, you must have been labeled by your peers and older relatives as either a geek or a slacker. Back in those days, computer gaming was viewed as nothing but a recreational activity to pass the time or a form of enjoyment with a couple of friends. Thus, long gaming hours are typically frowned upon, if not seen as a complete waste of time. Most parents back then would even chase after their kids in computer shops and berate them for spending so much time on games.

More than a decade later, eSports has continued to establish global reach and staggering sales records worldwide. According to GamingScan, an online gaming news publisher, the global eSports market revenue hauled in 865 million US dollars in 2018 and is expected to gain 1.79 billion U.S. dollars in 2022. Out of all its markets in the world, the Asia-Pacific is its largest market, accounting for about 57% of the total population of eSports enthusiasts as of 2019.

In the Philippines, eSports is finally beginning to gain traction as the government relentlessly shows support to the local eSports scene by recognizing it as another form of competitive sports. For instance, the Gaming and Amusement Board (GAB) has legitimized eSports players to secure athletic licenses since August 2017, thus allowing them to participate in international tournaments more freely. In addition, the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) hosted the first ever online game tournament, Kalasag, last April 2019 to serve as a launching pad for future policy making regarding online tournaments and to further promoting eSports in the country.

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We have watched vloggers and live streamers on Facebook and YouTube make lots of money from streaming or creating reviews of highly sought-after games. And today, we are seeing more professional gamers take on the world stage as they continue to bag prizes in international arenas.

Just recently, TNC Predator won in the MDL Chengdu ‘Dota 2’ Major following their victory at the ESL One Hamburg Tournament, making them the number one eSports team in the Philippines with total earnings amounting to $3,928,755 as reported by eSportsflag.com. Running in second place is the largest eSports organization in Southeast Asia, Mineski, with $2,244,241 under its belt. Meanwhile, in terms of players, the Philippines is definitely not lagging behind in comparison to its other Asian counterparts. The top eSports player from the Philippines, Djardel Jicko Mampusti (or “DJ”), is recognized as the fifth highest-earning eSports player in Southeast Asia. He currently ranks 121st in the world with overall earnings of $756,991.

Despite the social stigma in the Philippines that has surrounded online gamers for years, it did not stop the local eSports scene to blossom into a strong emerging industry with limitless potential for growth. And despite eSports being an amateur market in the country, several companies are realizing its tremendous potential and have decided to invest as early as now. A few of the companies who have been placing big bucks in competitive gaming are Cignal TV Inc., PLDT Inc., STI Education Systems Holdings Inc., and MVP Group of Companies.

At present, various efforts are being put into building a stronger ecosystem for eSports with several tournaments being held in the Philippines such as Mobile Legends: Bang Bang South East Asia Cup that was previously held at the Araneta Coliseum in June, the Philippine Pro Gaming League 2019 that is still ongoing and most importantly, the debut of eSports in the Southeast Asian Games 2019 as a medal sport. In the next few years, we can foresee competitive gaming as more of a household name that is as common and as popular as playing Basketball for Filipinos.

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