OPINION: To welcome Pacquiao into esports is to hope for the best

07:25 PM December 05, 2021

Manny “PacMan” Pacquiao needs no introductions. We’re all familiar with his rags-to-riches story that our telenovela-loving culture can’t resist. We know of his mythos, the machismo that has made him more symbol than man – the fighting spirit of the Filipino. There was once a time when his matches were a national holiday – when traffic was sparse because no one wanted to miss Pacquiao beat up another Mexican, and our dads and uncles took time off work to sit around the TV, a round of Red Horse ready, to spectate the match.

It’s been a long time since then. Our dads and uncles have gone back to work and Pacquiao has amassed his riches. He is still symbol – reminiscent of a bygone era when television screens were still boxy – but he’s turned his brand into politics, the retirement plan of Filipino celebrities, and proclaims that this time, he’s fighting for the Filipino in different ways.


Notorious for being the top absentee in the House and the Senate, congressman-turned-senator Pacquiao is now one of the Presidential bids for the 2022 elections. Philippine politics loves a personality, and how much bigger of a personality can you ask for than a symbol? The evangelical Philippines loves a messianic figure, but the unfortunate reality is that we don’t have a good track record for strongman-savior celebrity presidencies. It’s a tale as old as time – a hero on our screens, a symbol of Filipino resiliency, and a celebrity-loving people falls for another demagogue.

In ostentatious timing for the election season, Manny Pacquiao has launched his own esports organization, Team Pacquiao GG (TPGG), to add under his belt of sports ventures. “Our purpose is to become the pound-for-pound esports heavyweights of Southeast Asia,” Pacquiao said in a speech. Less of an actual esports team (having so far only recruited live streaming personalities), TPGG, in partnership with international esports organization Veloce, aims to be guided by their three pillars – community, competition, and charity – to pair charity work with developing Filipino professional gamers, content creators, and events and tournaments.


While some are claiming that this stunt was coordinated before Pacquiao filed his candidacy and is therefore “unpolitical”, it is important to note that Pacquiao has been eyeing to run for president as early as 2016, and his partnership with Veloce to jumpstart TPGG was in the works just last year. It’s a common misconception that acts of politics must involve grand displays of support like a motorcade or hanging a tarpaulin on your gate. We have long passed the naivete required to excuse our favorite personalities. We understand now that it is either they support the platform of whichever politician they are undoubtedly promoting, or they are willing to let go of their principles to get ahead – both of which, whether they like it or not. The funny thing about politics is that being apolitical is just as political as supporting a specific candidate. After all, in timed, choice-based video games, if we don’t pick a choice, the game chooses for us. So the question now is will you let the status quo prevail or will you make a conscious choice?

All of this to say, however, that despite his mythologizing in the Philippine conscience, Pacquiao is still all too much a man. Like all men, he is driven by his beliefs and passions – some of which should not be the kind of representation we should be proud of for Philippine esports.

Among the criticisms thrown at his politics is his constant backtracking. Having once been the Duterte administration’s staunchest ally, the boxer now finds himself exchanging blows with President Rodrigo Duterte himself. Pacquiao once defended the controversial drug-related killings associated with the President’s War on Drugs having even called for the ouster of Senator Leila de Lima when she questioned the spike of extrajudicial killings under the administration’s first months. He has even used his evangelical faith to defend the death penalty. But now, Pacquiao is criticizing the Duterte camp over the drug killings, violations of the Constitution, corruption issues, and human rights violations. The timing of this shift is uncanny, to say the least – just as President Duterte’s term is ending and the presidential elections (of which he is running in) a few months in the horizon. After all, the War on Drugs has been bad international press for the country throughout President Duterte’s reign and Pacquiao’s history as a fighter has prepared him to wipe blood off his hands after every fight.

It’s also difficult to welcome a well-known homophobe into the scene when Philippine esports has been making continuous strides towards better inclusion and representation. Manny Pacquiao has described homosexuals as “worse than animals” during a TV interview losing him brand deals and causing huge backlash from the LGBTQ+ community and their allies. Characteristic of pulling back after a jab, the boxer issued a non-apology saying he was sorry for hurting people and was, in fact, “not condemning LGBT” but gay marriage. The thinly veiled PR stunt was uncovered, however, when he then posted a Bible quote (Leviticus 20:13) on his Instagram account that has historically been used to advocate for the murder of gay people.

It’s a difficult tightrope. Of course, the entrance of the country’s most famous and decorated athlete into esports marks an important shift. The cultural mythology surrounding Pacquiao’s brand as a boxing legend not only affirms the legitimacy of esports for the mainstream Filipino audience but creates a path of visibility for people from the world of traditional sports who would have never given esports a chance. It will shorten the bridge between our dads and uncles who anticipated Pacquiao’s legendary boxing matches all those years ago and us digital natives, more familiar with Pacquito the Mobile Legends champion and Pacquiao the senator than his mythical boxing titles.

In more ways than one, this is good news for the Philippine esports scene. Big organizations with big sponsors and big budgets can help push the scene forward, and Manny Pacquiao’s history of being a professional athlete can help the ever-growing infrastructure of esports in the country. However, years in the limelight have surely taught Pacquiao how to perform, and it’s important for us to recognize the difference between Pacquiao the myth and Pacquiao the man.

We must be careful about who we continue to mythologize. Otherwise, we might continue to find ourselves with a pantheon of personalities where criminals lay to rest beside martyrs.


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TAGS: Manny Pacquiao, Team Pacquiao GG, TPGG, Veloce
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