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The Philippines Just Lost Another Chance to Compete in One of the Biggest eSports Events of the Year

July 19, 2015 Marco "TigerPoet" de Leon

This October, one of the biggest spectacles in all of eSports will take place— the League of Legends’ Season 5 World Championships—and the Philippines will not be sending a representative.

Imperium Pro Team (IPT), GAMEX.Wargods (WG) and Mineski.GLOBE (MSKI), who represented the Philippines in the Garena Premier League (GPL) Summer Split 2015, bowed out of the competition last Friday, July 17, 2015. None of the Philippines’ bets will be advancing to the next round of competition in Vietnam.

Last year, over 288 million daily impressions were recorded over the course of the Season 4 World Championships, which is 179 million hours of eSports stream put together. Concurrent viewership skyrocketed to an 11.2 million, dwarfing that year’s Superbowl viewership numbers.

In 2013, over 32 million viewers watched the Season 3 World Championships of League of Legends, with 8.5 million concurrent viewers — the record-holder for most viewed eSports events. By comparison, the 2012 Olympics drew a concurrent viewership of 500,000.

Professional teams the world over vie for the chance to compete on the grandest stage of them all, but make no mistake, the road is long and arduous. Many do not make it. The most watched eSports event on the planet only has 16 slots available and sadly enough, none of those slots will be taken up by a Philippine team.

This Is Our Stop

Imperium Pro Team (IPT), GAMEX.Wargods (WG) and Mineski.GLOBE (MSKI) represented the Philippines in the Garena Premier League (GPL), which is the biggest League of Legends circuit in Southeast Asia. Eight out of the 16 qualified teams would advance to a tighter ring of competition in Vietnam and none of ours made the cut.

Divided into four groups of four, Mineski found themselves matched with GPL Spring runner up team Bangkok Titans, who were heavy favorites and Boba Marines, a team full of star Vietnamese players. IPT and Wargods found themselves in the same group. Not only would they have to cannibalize each other, but they were lumped with the Saigon Fantastic 5, the Spring champions.

While Mineski dropped out of contention rather handily, only winning 1 game overall, IPT and Wargods were still in it up until the very last day of groups. IPT had won 2 games so far and needed to at least go even with their opponents to have a good chance at making it to the next round. Alas, they were swept handily by a surging ASUS Fate Team.

Wargods had the more Herculean task of having to 2-0 Saigon 5 to have any hope of advancing. After giving our entire country hope with an upset over the former champions. A nail-biting second game of action with Wargods  on the cusp of victory, Saigon 5 manage to eke out a win, tying the series and not giving Wargods enough points to pass. The pinoy dream died with that loss.

So goes all the glory and the fame, but now that we know how the road to Worlds was cut for our teams, let’s find out how difficult it is for the Philippines to reach the grandest stage in competitive LoL.

Mapping the Road

How do teams get to Worlds in the first place? If you’re lucky enough to be on a top team in one of Riot’s sanctioned major regions (North America, Europe, China, Korea and Taiwan), then you’re in luck. All you have to do is place highly in your local Riot-sponsored circuit, such as the LCS for the west or LoL Champions in Korea.

For the rest of the world, it’s a different story. Regions deemed less developed or less competitive are put under the umbrella term of ‘Wildcard”. Each wildcard region will have their own local circuit, but the difference is the winners of each of those circuits must then compete in a tournament against the top teams of other wildcard regions. This is all to get 2 of the 16 available slots. One for all the wildcard regions in the west, and one for the east.

Eastern wildcard regions include Japan, Oceania, Turkey and Southeast Asia, meaning the entire GPL. That’s right, first of all a Philippine team has to rank highly in our local Pro Gaming Series to enter the GPL. Then they’d have to compete in and reach the top of the GPL, only to be shuffled off into another tournament against other top teams—and only one of which will get the opportunity to appear at Worlds.

How Did We Get Here?

If that sounds like a lot of work to you, that’s because it is. The odds of success for any Southeast Asian team are rather slim with how the competition is set up now. But it wasn’t always this way.

The GPL used to have a main line into the World Championships as one of the 5 major regions. This is best exemplified by Taipei Assassins, who won the Season 2 World Championships as a dark horse. Many thought it would prove to the world how good Southeast Asia was at League, but instead of elevating the entire region, Taiwan separated and made the League of Legends Master Series.

Taiwan went on to grow as a region, producing quality teams such as ahq e-Sports Club and the Yoe Flash Wolves. That also meant that the 2 GPL slots were eventually handed over to Taiwan. The true travesty here is that the seeds of this change came right after the crowning achievement in Philippine League of Legends, when Mineski made it to Season 3 Worlds.

In a Cinderella story for the ages, Mineski wasn’t even the rightful representative for the Philippines in the Southeast Asian qualifier. Team Exile had trouble securing their VISAs, forfeiting their spot to Mineski. At the tournament, Mineski was quickly dropped to the loser’s bracket after just one round.

File:S3 mineski.jpg

But with their  backs against the wall, Elijah “Snoy” Joshua Guerrero, Jon “Kaigu” Hernandez, Danyll “Yume” Balisi, Eric “Exo” Gubatan and Gerald “Tgee” Gianne Gelacio managed to pull upset after upset until they reached the final against the overall favorites, the Singapore Sentinels. Two more miracle wins later and a Philippine team reached the pinnacle of competitive LoL.

We’ll always have that one time, but we don’t want it to be just that one time, do we? Of course we want another Philippine team to be counted when the world’s best gather to compete. But for every step forward our local scene makes in terms of skill, it seems like more and more hurdles are put in our way. Almost as if we’re being neglected as a region. In some ways however, that status quo is warranted.

It doesn’t come as a shock that other countries have much deeper eSports scenes than the Philippines which means better infrastructure and environments with which to nurture talent. The major regions are rightfully deserving of their spots because of all the money they put into their local scenes. The level of competition afforded by all the extra training, coaching and facilities is something we can’t hold a candle to yet. So naturally Riot will throw more bones at the more developed regions.

Despite that however, we did make it once upon a time. We beat the odds and arrived at the big leagues, and we can do it again—just not in 2015.

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