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A Personal List of the Best of Esports (Mostly Philippines) In 2016

December 28, 2016 John Paolo "Sandata" Bago

I woke up today with a grim reminder: 2016 is not over yet, and it is determined to make jaded cynics out of everyone.

From the swath of icons and lives lost this year, to the political upheavals, 2016 is the year of the Reaper. A year filled with the death and destruction of lives, property and common sense.

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It’s especially easy to become jaded if you’re working in eSports. True, the year started strong on the back of major developments in 2015, but the nature of the industry is that drama fuels the airwaves.

The entrance of big media, big sports franchises and big money from tech investors did not deter the twitter feuds, or teams not paying players. Neither did it deter the string of tournament failures in every major title.

But you know what, we’re not going to let that get to us.

If you’re like me, you hate the yearly end-of-year awards that congratulate minor achievements. Today we’re going to do just that.

This will be a list of my personal best-things-in-esports for 2016. No committee voted on this and there was no polling or balloting involved. Just my own list of things I was happy to witness or experience in the industry. Most of these will be for the Philippine audience, but I enjoy a lot of things from other regions, so I’m adding them here too.

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Some of these are no-brainers. Some of them are acquired, personal tastes. All of them are worth sharing as they have made me happy in some way. I hope it does for you as well.

Because when the year is this crappy and sad and painful and oppressive, the best form of rebellion is to share a little positivity.

1. Best new content studio: WomboXCombo

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I belonged to the start-up and business world before becoming a journalist in 2012. From an early age, I was around people building up their own business. It’s never easy and it’s always an uphill challenge.

It’s even harder when your business belongs to entertainment. A restaurant need only serve food. A service need only provide its mandate. But entertaining a fickle-minded audience is physically and emotionally draining. It chews at you. It keeps you up at night.

That’s why the success of WomboXCombo, a Filipino streaming studio run by Nico “KuyaNic” Nazario, makes me happy. WomboXCombo succeeded in a local market dominated by more established studios like Mineski. It created its own community.

The best thing that a new studio gives gamers is the power of choice. Being able to choose to watch the commentary that fits with your taste goes a long way in improving the overall economy of eSports in the Philippines.

Bonus points: having a one-man studio succeed is a great sign for greater fools everywhere; It means that if you have the skill, perseverance and talent, you too can enter the industry and find success. You just have to go out and get it.

2. Best storyline: TNC Defeats OG at The International

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I had a tough choice for this spot. League of Legends gave us Faker and SKT’s historic 3rd World title. CS:GO’s Luminosity/SK Gaming gave us a dominating run and unbelievable shots.

But my best storyline has to go to TNC defeating and eliminating OG at The International for a Top 8 finish.

To understand why this was a great storyline, let’s take a look back for both teams:

TNC was the heavy underdog in the match. Prior to TI, the core team of eyyou, Sam H and Raven never had a premier-level event. They were consistently in the finals of regional qualifiers, but couldn’t get over the hump.

They added DeMoN, a well-respected NA veteran, but every analyst with the exception of a few thought that it wouldn’t be enough. To top it all of, the team almost didn’t play in Seattle, due to Visa issues plaguing the team until the last minute.

On the other side, OG had an amazing 2016 year. They entered the year with a Frankfurt Major win and walked into TI winning the Manila Major in dominating fashion. Tal “Fly” Azik had a line-up of amazing neophytes as well as battle-tested veterans. The crown jewel of the OG machine, Amer “Miracle-” Al-Barkawi, was a monster all season, being the first 8k and 9k MMR player in the world.

To see then TNC triumph over OG, defy expectations and delay the coronation of Miracle- as the best player in the world was simply magic.

3. Most refreshing approach to building a local team: TNC/Execration Dota 2 teams

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When you read fan discussions on how to build an eSports team, you get the sense that most people just want to jam the best stats together.

“You should put Player X in Team Y because they are good midlaners!”

“Player A should be in Team Z because they are godlike!”

And yet, teams rarely are just a collection of good-on-paper players. After all, what is a team but a collection of egos working towards a single goal?

It was refreshing this year to find two different approaches pursued by local teams into building their rosters. Both TNC and Execration went with a more “values” approach into building their teams. While it may have took them longer to get some success, it’s a testament that other ways of building a team are just a valid.

I’ve had conversations with both Eric Redulfin, TNC Pro Team’s owner, and Execration owner Arvin Risos. What struck a chord with me is that they have different but similar approaches.

For Redulfin, he prefers a hardworking and quiet personality. The kind that would put preparation and the team in front of anything. While it might seem intuitive (after all, who would get a selfish player knowingly), Redulfin takes it a step further. According to him, he even talks to his players about business and life outside the game to help nurture these values.

The goal being that if he can help them be hardworkers in every facet of life, they can propel his pro team to victory.

For Risos and Execration, it’s a more general take. “I value attitude more than skills,” Risos told me. “A superstar can’t succeed if they don’t have the right attitude.”

Seeing Execration then from the outside — a more tightknit, “indie” team with players you might be able to have a beer with — gives us a look at how they’ve come to success.

​Maybe we can even learn from it.

4. Team/Player of the year: Coldzera, Luminosity Gaming/SK Gaming

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My job requires me to be at least proficient with every eSport, but I have to confess that my CS:GO knowledge is the worst out of the major titles.

So why do I have a CS:GO player as my player of the year?

One of the best things about watching CS:GO is just how intuitive it is. I love MOBAs, which is why Dota 2 and League are the games where I also do analysis-type content in, but CS:GO lets you feel the importance of plays even if you’re a total noob  and I think that’s a very special quality to have.

Coldzera has consistently delivered jaw-dropping performances across the year. Not least of which is his once-in-a-lifetime 4K on Mirage.

Yes, it’s a fluke and yes it isn’t a good barometer of his skill. But you know what, sometimes the best parts of a spectator sport is the feeling it evokes. CS:GO and Coldzera made me want to get in to CS:GO deeper. I thought, “if this was cool, surely learning more about the game can help me find other enjoyable things. Other cooler things.”

That’s the kind of performance a player of the year should bring. Oh, and the fact that he was instrumental to Luminosity/SK Gaming’s ascent.

Their downfall though, well, that’s another story for another article, by a more competent CS:GO writer.

 

5. Esports content maker of the year: Kelsey Moser, theScore (now with Yahoo! eSports)

Special mention: Darwell “Asurai” Llerena, Mineski

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Kelsey Moser’s work on theScore eSports team has to be most cost-effective, high quality work in all of eSports for the year.

Moser is the Chinese/European League of Legends reporter and analyst for theScore. She does it all. Roster movement in the Chinese League of Legends scene. In-depth stats breakdown. Feature-length stories on teams.

She does this consistently, pumping out multiple articles per week. Her dedication is such that she works out of China with an editor in Canada. She might not be as popular as Tyler “Fionn” Erzerberger from ESPN, but her work is thorough and compelling. It shows off her passion and expertise.

Special mentions here go to Darwell “Asurai” Llerena, Mineski’s producer and FPS shoutcaster. It’s never easy casting multiple games. It’s hard enough to build expertise in one so that your casting is on point.

But Asurai had a big year, casting not only CS:GO but also mobile games, CrossFire, Overwatch and more. It’s great seeing local talent work on their craft and really focus. For Asurai, it seems like he’s on a mission to really be a world-class shoutcaster. It will be great fun to watch his work turn into profit.

 

6. “Local Man” recognition award: Jessie Cristy “JessieVash” Cuyco, Mineski Overwatch

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The “Local Man” award is given to the silent, community heroes that do great things without drawing attention to themselves.

I covered a lot of events this year. In these events, it’s rare that I get maybe more than 20 minutes of a player’s time. It’s usually enough to ask the usual questions (How did you do that game? What are your thoughts on X, etc.).

ESL ONE Manila though gave me some new insight to JessieVash. No one is happy when they lose, much less willing to talk to press. But despite their heartbreaking loss on home soil, I was fortunate enough to have a long, one-on-one with Mineski vet and really get to know him.

I have a longer piece waiting to get published, but I’ll share something here now:

Despite getting clobbered on social media, JessieVash is a relentless competitor. The first thing he did after losing to Complexity was play more Dota and replay his mistakes.

After moving to the bench after ESL ONE, Vash didn’t stop being involved with the Dota 2 squad. He accompanied them to Malaysia for AGES and served as a temporary coach.

The moment he heard about Overwatch, he got into the game and immediately started the effort of getting good. He has since served as big brother and mentor for a new generation of Mineski pros. The Overwatch team led by Justin “Caladbolg” Limbo have Vash to look up as a quiet guide to the professional scene.

That’s dedication that usually gets overshadowed by the vicious evisceration he continually receives on social media to this day. The ability to take that abuse and keep working is something we all need a little more of coming into the new year.

 

7. Heartwarming-est event: RIGHTEOUS GLORY, Rumble Royale

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A new event on the list, I was no less thrilled to hear about a gaming charity/Christmas party organized by Rumble Royale.
Righteous Glory, held yesterday at Game Over PH, managed to fill an entire truck of donated goods to less-fortunate school children.

For an event put together with just grit and will, to be able to put together a good time for the community and give back to the needy is an achievement. Usually, charity work occupies the part of my brain where skepticism resides, but Righteous Glory managed to transcend that. Making it all the way to the part of my brain that has a picture of the meme, “Faith in humanity: restored.”

 

8. Esports Article of the Year: Dear Febiven, Duncan “Thorin” Shields for GAMURS

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I’m a writer by trade and I enjoy reading great works of technical writing. It’s something that triggers the pleasure centers of my brain. Seeing the right word used in the right sentence. Watching for the ebb and flow of thoughts and ideas carried by sentences. By words.

But sometimes, I just enjoy the earnest piece. The piece that doesn’t get lost in the technical aspect of writing but rather revels in the honest nature of the message.

Thorin’s letter to Febiven, Fnatic’s former League of Legends midlaner, was a mix of the two. An honest, well-written message to a player fallen on misfortune and tilt.

At its core, the letter is a call to the nature of a competitor. In Thorin’s words, “it’s in a champion’s nature to seek more titles. There can never be enough won.”

Messages like these are what makes the eSports community special to me. Fans and writers can rally around a simple message like this because while the players and teams we root for might be earning big bucks, they are still part of the community. Rarely are they elevated to the status of the traditional sports athlete who is a mythical figure hard to reach for the common fan.

Letters like these, directly addressed to our favorite players and shared with the community, remind us that eSports is a grassroots phenomenon. It’s honestly amazing.


There’s honestly so much more to add here. Like the fact that our joint eSports organizations and friends outside the industry were scrappy in helping certain teams get their visas and help them compete on the world stage (shoutouts to Joebert Yu). Or the fact that no less than two world-class events, a host of well-produced local events and a bevy of gaming-themed organizations launched in 2016 alone.

There’s also the fact that for the first time in a long time, we have truly competitive teams across multiple titles. Dota 2, Heroes of the Storm, Hearthstone, CrossFire, CS:GO.

It’s been a great year for gamers in the country and I, along with our staff here at eSports INQ, are thankful to have been a part of it.

What made your 2016 in eSports enjoyable?