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Ren’s Survival Guide to eSports Events in the Philippines


About the author: This guide to surviving eSports events in the Philippines is brought to you by Ren Vitug. Ren is a long-time eSports journalist with years of experience following the Dota 2 scene. This Survival Guide to eSports Events in the Philippines is his way of welcoming eSports fans from around the globe.

With two high profile events, ESL ONE Manila (April 22-24) and the Dota 2 Manila Major (June 7-12), happening in Manila, Philippines, we took the time to create a handy guide for guests looking to attend some of the biggest events in Southeast Asian (SEA) eSports history.

While many speculated that a big tournament was due to the SEA region, the Philippines as a location was never a front-runner in the eyes of the public. Global city Singapore, which hosted the Nanyang Championships in 2015, was seen as a very strong candidate to host big-time events in the area. South Korea was also viewed as a more likely host given their sound gaming infrastructure.

The Manila announcement for both the ESL and the Major was a pleasant surprise. The expenses for travelling into and around the Philippines is relatively cheap. That can be said for accommodation and living expenses as well. For many Filipinos and SEA eSports fans, these are possibly their biggest chance — if not their only — to watch a grand Dota 2 tournament live.

The best thing about the country is that you can turn a trip to a LAN event into a full-blown vacation. The Philippines is a wonderful mesh of culture, with natural wonders that will leave you breathless. If you want to go to these events but you are not from the Philippines, then allow me to help answer your questions.

Chapter 1: The Philippines


The Philippines is a tropical country. There are only two seasons here: the wet season and the dry season. ESL falls squarely in the dry season while the Manila Major marks the beginning of the wet season. Pack accordingly!


The language

More than 150 languages are spoken in the Philippines. Filipino, the national language, uses many words found in Tagalog. English is also widely spoken in the country, with the Philippines among the most fluent English-speaking countries in the world.

I usually try to learn a few local words and/or phrases every time I travel. Here are some words and phrases that you either might hear a lot here, or you might find useful.


Bring a piece of pen and paper wherever you go. When encountering new words, write it down on a piece of paper. Later, go research what they mean.

The venue

The Mall of Asia (MOA) Arena will be the venue of ESL Manila and the Manila Major. It has been the venue of many big events in the Philippines. It’s also inside the compound of SM Mall of Asia, the largest mall this side of Metro Manila.

MOA Arena is just around 5 km away from the airport. Since this will be the common point for everyone, I’ll be using this as the origin for distance and travel time estimates regarding place recommendations throughout this article. If you want to use another place as a reference point (for example, the hotel you will be staying at), you can use Google Maps or Waze.


Flights and Visas

The Philippines has several airports. It’s best to make sure that you have chosen Manila (travel code: MNL) as the destination. Foreign guests most likely land at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA), also known as the Manila International Airport.

There are 151 countries that don’t require their passport holders to secure a visa to be able to legally enter the Philippines, given that they satisfy the requirements (return ticket, six months validity, etc). On the other hand, you would need to secure a visa if you have a passport from the 40~ countries not in the visa waiver program (this number is honestly higher than what I initially thought).

Countries that are part of the replacement visa program (i.e.: China and India) can enter and stay without a Philippine visa for at least 7 days provided that citizens of these countries have a valid visa from the USA, Australia, Canada, Japan, or the Schengen States.

If they want to stay longer, or if they are from the other countries which requires its nationals to have a visa to enter the Philippines, they need to secure one through the Bureau of Immigration. For the full list of countries allowed and not allowed to enter without a visa, check out this link here.


You can spend a lot, or you can save on expenses. This is personally where I try to save up during travel. Remember that you won’t be in your room/at the hotel for the majority of the day. I myself will already be satisfied if I can get a place with a working bidet, an air-conditioned room (or heated, depending on the climate), and good internet.

Here’s a quick reference guide to your choices:


There are other options for hotels of course.

Sofitel Philippine Plaza (2.5 km away) has a very good view of the Manila Bay sunset and it’s a very high-end place overall. It is also home to the best buffet in the country. While expensive, it might be an amazing experience for you.

You would shell out around Php 7,500 / $150 for every day of stay here (not including the buffet). The place is just around 10 minutes away by cab.

Despite not being one of the more famous hotels, quickly gaining popularity is the Henry Hotel (2 km away). The place fuses old school and modern together, creating a very unique ambiance that guests find relaxing and satisfying.

Checking in here costs around Php 6400 / $160 per day. It is technically very near, but you have to brave through a street notorious for its traffic. It should take you around 20 minutes to get to the venue.

You can also check out these hotels:

Looking to cowboy up and go the AirBnb route? Check out Stay22’s AirBnb link for some truly affordable digs for ESL ONE Manila. Click this link here.

Currency and Money

The Philippine Peso is the currency used in the Philippines. At the time of writing, the exchange rate is approximately 47.5 per American Dollar, 52.6 per Euro, 7.2 per Chinese Yuan, and 34.4 per Australian Dollar.

Most transactions here are made through cash and I would recommend you to use cash as much as possible to avoid inconvenience when paying. It is rare for businesses to accept foreign currency as payment. It might also be tricky and/or problematic to withdraw local currency with your foreign bank accounts.


Chapter 2: General Stay in the Philippines

NAIA has been improving their facilities and a lot of internal issues are being addressed. It has still a long way to go if it wants to be known as a world-class airport, but it will be mighty hard to deny that progress isn’t being made.


Be attentive and watchful, but don’t let paranoia take over the better part of your trip.

Philippine Sim cards

Mobile roaming is never an option for me when travelling. That is why securing a local sim card has been one of my priorities when staying for extended period on foreign land. It provides relatively cheap and easy access to data, which I can in turn use for things like translation, map/GPS, queries, communication, and others.

I’m aware that there are people who like to prepare everything that they need before travelling. However, do not buy Philippine sim cards outside the country. Do not think that it will be difficult to acquire one here — there are actually more mobile connections here than there are people.

You should be able to find booths selling prepaid sim cards at the airport that you will arrive at. They are a few times more expensive than what you would have paid if you bought it outside, but it still remains pretty cheap. It also means that you now have a working local number, which you can use to reach a local contact or to send a message to family and friends.

Here’s a quick reference to the mobile carriers in the country:


Buy either Globe or Smart as they are the two leading wireless service providers in the Philippines. I personally use the former, but the latter works fine as well.

You can get the sim card for less than a dollar on stores outside the airport. Try convenience stores, try boutiques. Don’t hesitate to ask, because at the worst case they will redirect you to a store not far away. Prepaid load is available just about anywhere as well.

A week of data for both of those providers is around Php 300 / $6. Lower down your expectations and remember that the country is known to have one the poorest and slowest LTE broadband internet access and coverage in the world. Internet will be slow and may be intermittent as well.

However, it will be good enough to at least function for social media and GPS – two things I find important when travelling.

The emergency telephone number for the Philippines is 117. I personally haven’t had the chance to use it yet, and hopefully you won’t either. However, if you do need to, you can access that number either via calling or by text messaging.

If you guys aren’t hurrying to get a sim card, hit me up and I’ll give you one during the event.

Transportation and traffic

Metro Manila, based on the Global Driver Satisfaction Index, has the worst traffic on Earth. The survey conducted by Waze examined more than 50 million users across 32 countries and 167 major city areas and it had Metro Manila getting a measly 0.4 in the traffic index.

Put the traffic into consideration when planning your activities and schedule. I can not overstate this enough. Allocate hours in advance into important timing windows such as flights. Do not depend on GPS estimates regarding travel time. For example, pegging the 5 km trip from the airport to the Arena at one hour is rather fair, if not conservative.

Here’s a reference guide to the different transportation options in the country:


There are two kinds of airport taxis: the one with the fixed/prepaid fare (white) and the one with the metered fare (yellow). Go for the metered fare taxis if possible (you may have to queue up for them), as you’ll end up paying significantly less even if there is reasonable traffic.

If you have no other option though, the prepaid cab shouldn’t be too expensive, especially compared to my overseas prepaid taxi experience. I estimate just around Php 500 / $10 for a ride going to the MOA Arena, whereas I paid 110 RM / Php 1,200 from KLIA to Bukit Bintang, Malaysia when I went to SMM and nearly $70 / Php 3,500 from Seattle-Tacoma airport going to Bellevue on my first TI.

Uber, Grab, and other car services have become popular as of late. For only a small premium, they generally offer better experience on riding the cab and going around the city. They are also the ideal mode of transportation for wary travelers as they issue receipts with the car’s plate number and the driver’s name. However, if you are coming from the hotel, you can just ask your receptionist to call a regular taxi for you. You can also queue up at taxi lines if you are at the mall.

If you do end up hailing a taxi from the streets, insist to use the meter. This will be against the common tip, but you may also offer up front to pay an additional Php 50 / $1 on top of the meter. It’s a gratuity I am willing to pay if it means that the driver will bring me to my destination swiftly and safely.

Philippine public transport has no night surplus charges.

Jeepneys can be flagged down by holding out or waving your arm as they are approaching. Passengers ask those adjacent to them to pass on their fare to the driver. Make sure that your destination is within the jeep’s route. You can ask the driver to stop by saying para (from the Spanish word ‘parar’ which means stop). However, being unfamiliar to the area, you can simply ask the driver to drop you off on your stop.

Other options: LRT, MRT, Bus, Habal-habal (Motorcycle ferry). These are less expensive but also subject to availability. Mass transport can be confusing and laborious.

Manila is just one of Metro Manila’s 16 cities. Kind of like New York City and New York State. Technically, the event venue is in Pasay City. Remember this when looking for a hotel, in boarding the taxi, when going around and when asking for directions.


Food is cheap if you know where to look. Expect paying around Php 150-200 ($3-4) for fast food and around Php 250-500 ($6-10) for restaurants. Some restaurants add a 10% service charge on top of the bill as well. Fast food is what it is–affordable and easy to serve, but to truly enjoy the Philippines one has to taste the distinct cuisine. Adobo, Kare-kare, and dinuguan are just some of the dishes you need to try. Keep your eye out for local cuisine in each restaurant you visit.

Malls, which are aplenty throughout the country, should be a good destination for meals as they offer diverse choices. It might be difficult (and pricey) to find Halal food / restaurants.



The Philippines is the proud owner of four out of the eleven biggest malls in the world, three of those four located in Metro Manila. A visit to any of those malls would show that however big they may be, they are still evidently not big enough.

Malling and shopping have become so engraved in the Manila culture that they are probably one of the first things that you will hear if you ask a local for place recommendations within the Metro. The air-conditioned malls play a perfect escape to the weather of the tropical country, a refreshing avenue for friends and families to meet and hang-out.


Chapter 3: Surviving the Philippines


Do not let the presence of security guards freak you out. If anything, feel safe from their presence because at the very least, they will act as deterrents.

As a foreigner, especially if you stand out, know that there will be additional risks for you. The Philippines is not an exemption from the usual run of pickpockets and petty thieves, as well as crafty hustlers and opportunist. Secure your belongings and be street smart. Danger is as present in the busy streets of Manila as it is in any major metro.


Here’s a list of common scams that befall foreign tourists:


Overcharging can be a problem especially for foreigners. Clarify fees and ask if there are hidden charges. In particular, watch out for this while on horse-drawn carriage rides (similar scheme to Xe Om / Motorbike scams in Vietnam) and impromptu trips.

Avoid places which promotes haggling if you don’t know how to, else you’ll be a victim of daylight robbery.

You might encounter con artists and people with sob stories. You are less likely to fall for this if you are just staying short term, but keep your wits about you just in case.

Safety Reminders

“Be watchful against pickpockets” and “do no drink tap water” are among the common tips you’ll hear when visiting the country. Here’s a handy little infographic on other things you should look out for:


Chapter 4: Exploring the Philippines

If you want to explore the Philippines, I’ve also prepared an 18-page document with recommendations on where to go. The recommendations range from anywhere from your spare night time, to a few extra vacation days, into a full-blown backpacking trip. Here’s an excerpt of just some of the things you can do to enjoy your stay in the country:


You can check out the full write-up here.

Chapter 5: Leaving the Philippines

For me, one of the hardest part of travelling is finding a “pasalubong”, the Filipino version of souvenirs – something you bring back home and give to your loved ones. Ideally, it is something unique and/or distinct to where you went.

Souvenir shirts, keychains, shot glasses and the likes are the common subjects. You can find them and plenty more at Kultura Filipino, which you can find in most major SM malls. Department stores and other specialty stores should also be seen around the mall.


ASSORTED. The Philippines if famous for it’s culturally-diverse assortment of sweet pastries (Photo: Everything Cebu).

If you look for delicacies, try the very delicious preserved dried mangoes, or you may also want to bring back Polvoron, some sort of treat made with powdered milk, flour, and butter. You can get the latter on a bakeshop called Goldilocks (airport usually sells this brand, but with a big mark-up), but my personal favorite is from a brand called House of Polvoron. Other local treats worth eating are otap (puff pastry), piyaya (muscovado-filled unleavened flatbread), and buko pie (coconut custard pie). Do try them out when you spot them.

Chapter 6: My thanks

Shout-out to eSports Inquirer for extending me a platform to voice out, and to Paolo Bago and his team for making my 50-page eye torture into this dank piece of work that can hopefully be of use to a lot of gaming fans planning to visit the Philippines.

I’d like to thank the following who made this possible:

Paolo Bago – Overall supervision
Kyle Edralin – Information design coordinator
Lex Celera – Copy editor and publishing manager
Joy Picar and Ronnel Tinedero – Design and graphics
Inquirer NewsLab – For their input
Tryke Gutierrez – For the opportunity

All good things must come to an end right? By now, you should have an unforgettable LAN experience and a ride on the Philippines’ colorful culture. As final reminders, make sure you make your way off to the airport early to beat the traffic and be extra mindful of your belongings.

Feel free to bookmark this page. I’ll be constantly updating this to address the frequent and/or common questions.

Well, that’s that. I hope that I have helped answer your doubts and questions regarding your intention in travelling to the Philippines. If you have further concerns, feel free to email me at [email protected], or send me a message in my Facebook account under the same address. If you do end up going, please let me know and I hope to see you at either ESL Manila, the Manila Major, or both.

For more eSports guides and tips, you can follow Ren Vitug on Facebook or Twitter.

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