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The Fans Are Here: 2016 Is the Year of Philippine ESports

01:12 PM January 26, 2016

In just the last two months, the Philippines has had major developments in the form of high-profile events for the country’s most beloved eSports title, Dota 2.

In December, fans were thrilled to learn that ESL, one of the largest eSports organizations in the world, are looking towards Manila for the first ever ESL One event in Southeast Asia.

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Within days of tickets being available for purchase, tickets evaporated. It took all of 18 hours for all of the VIP tickets to be bought up by fans.

It isn’t hard to see why. If the DNA of this brave, new world of eSports are the spectators and the crowd experience, then the Filipino is a godsend. Especially in Dota 2, where the population of eSports enthusiasts adore Dota 2, placing a high-profile event on Philippine shores is a no-brainer.

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So much of a no-brainer in fact, that that’s exactly what Valve did: place another high-profile event on Philippine shores.

On January 12, Valve announced details for Shanghai Major…and alongside it, the location of the last Majors event before The International 6: the Spring Majors in Manila, Philippines.

The response to the news was immediately greeted by excitement and optimism. But for the life of me, I cannot understand the ensuing paranoia that followed it. This column is mostly to discuss the strange phenomena happening online.

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MONUMENTAL. Valve’s decision to bring the final Majors of the year to the Philippines marks the single largest tournament for any eSport to come to the Philippines (Photo from Dota2.com)

No EG/No Secret = Bad Event?

Let’s focus on the idea that Manila Majors are to blame for sabotaging ESL One Manila’s hype and in turn caused EG and Secret to drop the event. As we will see, it certainly isn’t as clear-cut as that.

After both Evil Geniuses and Team Secret announced that they are declining their invitations to ESL One Manila, many disappointed fans took to Facebook to sell their tickets/call for boycotts.

While it would be easy to say that EG and Secret just prefer to play the Majors over ESL, closer inspection will reveal that, at least where Evil Geniuses and their captain Peter “PPD” Dager is concerned, the decision to skip out on ESL Manila has more to do with the ESL tournament format and the corresponding logistics.

Travelling halfway across the world for a 2-day, single-elimination format is a pretty challenging pill to swallow for any team. It just so happens that both PPD and Jacky “EternalEnvy” Mao have both been very vocal critics of ESL’s tournament format in the past. Dota 2 is a game where variance can upset any team’s standing regardless if they are a favorite or not and a single-elimination format does no team any favors.

Of course, this does not invalidate the fact that ESL One Manila’s timing is close to the next Major…no matter where it would have been held.

There is virtually no guarantee that EG and Secret would have opted to attend ESL One Manila had it been announced that the Spring Majors were to be held in any place other than Manila.

From here we see a clear distinction: that the Majors system is having an impact on a team’s decision on which events to attend.

That isn’t to say that this is a bad thing. After all, the Majors were the solution to 2015’s Dota 2 soup-of-the-day topic.
Tournament oversaturation: the problem of having too many tournaments that teams were getting burned out as they fly from locale to locale just to compete and earn a spot for the year’s biggest event: The International.

The Majors were created to give teams an essentially stable calendar. Do well in these Majors, and you might just be invited to the big party at the end.

It’s a solution whose side-effects are being felt. Teams like EG and Secret are placed in a situation where they can now pick and choose which events to go to that benefits them. While it’s certainly better for the teams, it leaves some organizers blind-sided and some fans disappointed.

In the end we’re left with an unfortunate tournament format on top of bad timing. Does that mean that without EG and Secret in Manila come April that it will be a bad event?

I will argue that the assumption that having no EG and no Secret in ESL One Manila automatically makes it a bad event is misguided.

They are fan favorites, but a good event is not only made up of two teams.

EG fans and Secret fans will no doubt feel a hole in their hearts, but there are plenty of other talent that will make ESL One worth watching.

Just recently, EHOME has confirmed their attendance to ESL One Manila. The venerated Chinese squad is made up of veteran players that includes Zhang “LaNm” Zhicheng. In just the past few months, they’ve managed to place 1st in the Dota 2 Radiant & Dire Cup 2015, 3rd in Nanyang World Championships and 4th in the Frankfurt Majors.

Right before publishing this article, Team Liquid Pro has also confirmed their invitations to ESL One Manila. The European team is led by a familiar name to Filipino fans in Kuro Salehi “Kuroky” Takhasomi. Team Liquid has managed three straight playoff appearances in their last three LAN events, including a win in Nanyang last December.

There are other teams who are in close enough proximity to the Philippines that can still raise the quality of competition in ESL One Manila to the point that it will still be an enjoyable tournament event. And this, I feel, is where most people are lagging behind.

A bounty of SEA storylines

Imagine with me for a second: What would make ESL One every bit as satisfying a tournament before it got derailed by Valve’s announcement?

Losing EG and Secret is a price I’m willing to pay if the trade-off is that we can highlight the talents and storylines around Dota 2 teams in the SEA region, bring the people behind those stories to Manila in April, and have that enrich the experience of ESL One Manila.

Off the top of my head, you have Djardel Jicko B. “DJ” Mampusti, a Filipino and offlaner/4th position from Fnatic Malaysia.

Since his days in Rave, Dj has found success for himself. A virtual unknown prior to their successes in Korea, Dj is an example of a true trench warrior. This kid basically left his home and became an OFW to train in the Chinese Dota 2 solo queue minefields, managing to get his MMR up to 7,000+ in 2014-2015. All of this in a server where the average mechanical skill is leaps and bounds that of SEA.

READ: The Korea Effect: Why more Filipino teams are moving to Korea

As a player, Dj manages to find a top tier hero every patch. He’s demonstrated impressive range as the midlaner/carry while he was in Rave and now as offlaner and more recently 4th position support on Fnatic.

That’s just one example. Assuming that they win in the qualifiers, the strength of Fnatic and Dj’s performances alone would be a compelling enough reason to watch the event. But fortunately for us there are more stories in SEA just begging to be explored.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kDoClBmonH4

What of Mineski and former Rave compatriot Ryo “ryOyr” Hasegawa? The Mineski squad had a hot streak towards the end of 2015 but slumped at the beginning of a new patch and an extended holiday season. Since then, they’ve jumpstarted their boot-camps after announcing a full-on gaming mansion to help the team focus on getting better.

The team is set to compete in the MarsTV Dota 2 League in China this coming week, along with EHOME and LGD. Depending on the results of their endeavors there, ESL One Manila can be the prime spot to unveil their comeback or to continue their good fortune.

Imagine a scenario where a confluence of those factors converge for ESL One Manila: Kuroky Vs. #beautifuldota. LaNm going toe-to-toe, Earthshaker vs. Earthshaker against Dj.

Those are just a few examples of the wealth of talent that can win in the coming qualifying rounds and battle against Liquid and EHOME. I expect the coming days and qualifier results to cement the idea that right now is the best time to look at the exciting talent and top-notch Dota 2 being played. ESL One Manila can be one of the last chances a SEA team will have to make a serious bid for The Internationals before the final Majors tournament of the year. That alone will be worth the price of admission.

That brings us to the real point: eSports is a big enough industry that it can sustain multiple tournaments

The fact of the matter is that viewership shares and the attention economy are only widening for eSports. There’s enough talent in and around the Philippines that an event with good production quality and a great pool of other talented teams, sans EG and Secret, should reduce the issue of tournaments being spaced close to each other.

In Dota 2, where the Philippines’ gaming population’s attention is wholly dominated by Valve’s MOBA, the idea that two high-profile events coming in within three months of each and that that would somehow be bad for the industry is, quite frankly, laughable.

If anything, what we’re seeing is that the industry is experiencing growing pains. And in order to weather these times, it is important to understand what actually matters:

  1. The fans are here. After everything we’ve discussed so far — EG or No EG, Majors or ESL — the fact that two high-profile events were set in the Philippines means that it has become financially feasible to hold LANs in this part of the world. The fans are here. They need a bit of a reality-check, but they are here.
  2. We’re in an age where eSports is now its own entity — and everyone wants a piece of the pie. The pie is big enough such that tournament and organizers’ end goals shouldn’t be “Can we invite EG?” The focus should be in inviting as much talent as they can to create a truly competitive tournament worth watching. Not if one or two teams decline. The talent exists. The interest exists. Everyone wants more quality events.

A cliched conclusion: Competition drives industry

End of the day, the same thing is true: competing events will drive up the quality of the industry as a whole.

Yes, there might be casualties along the way. In terms of events, formats that are not appealing or stakes that are underwhelming will fall by the wayside. Teams will take into account the proximity of the “tournaments that matter.”
While sad, it is a healthy life-cycle. But to say that ESL One Manila is “doomed” because of Manila Majors is tantamount to crying that the sky is falling.

In the curious case of ESL One Manila vs. Manila Majors, I firmly believe that neither event will die nor fail or whatever hyperbole the overactive social media crowd seems to be saying.

That two big-name entities — ESL and Valve — have identified the Philippines as an important enough location to bank two events is the real story here. We’ve made it, for lack of a better term.

Two high-profile events sends signals that not only the eSports faithful can hear. Two high-profile events tells everyone that the Philippines is ready for major investments. The crowd is wild. The talent is fierce. The country is ready.

A unique blend of a culture that loves what eSports stands for — a competitive endeavor that’s equal parts skill and fun — and a country climate that makes events worth investing in should tell you that ESL One Manila will not be a flop just because of Manila Majors.

So keep your tickets for ESL One Manila and stop panicking. If you have the means, buy a ticket for ESL One Manila or Manila Majors. Or both. If you don’t have the means, you have five months to get to work. That’s what we should all be doing: getting to work.

I will be attending ESL One Manila as a fan of good Dota 2. I hope to see you guys there.

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