By Bjorn Biel M. BeltranSpecial Features Writer

Though the industry takes its roots in the 2000s, the international eSports scene did not see much traction until early this decade, when the participation of professional players and the advent of livestreaming and sponsorships became mainstream.

Up until very recently, the eSports scene in the Philippines was made up almost completely of amateurs, as professional eSports teams saw little to no investments or support for their development. Though competitive video games like Dota 2, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, and League of Legends are mainstays across the country’s many computer shops and Internet cafés, most saw them as a hobby and something not to be taken seriously.

The turning point came in 2016, when a Philippine team beat out a major team at The International Dota 2 Championships at the Seattle Center in the US. The Philippines’ TNC Gaming, which also represented Southeast Asia in the tournament, defeated European powerhouse team OG. In the following year, TNC took home P18 million as part of that year’s The International.

It is now predicted that eSports will be worth an impressive $19 billion in 2019, and the country’s top players are taking note, and sponsorships are pouring in.

For instance, The Nationals, a Philippine eSports league that aims to feature a traditional sports league format, is set to launch in the first quarter of 2019, with corporate partners like PLDT and Smart Communications, HappyFeet Esports, TNC Pro Team, BrenPro, Inc., Cignal TV, Inc., and STI Education Systems. Franchise teams from various local organizations can compete in four game titles and see themselves broadcasted over ESPN5.

Meanwhile, earlier this year, MET, one of Southeast Asia’s top eSports tournament organizers, has partnered with Globe Telecom to produce the Globe Philippine Pro Gaming League (PPGL) 2018, a nationwide eSports tournament featuring three major eSports titles. Professional players of Dota 2 on desktop, Tekken 7 on console, and Arena of Valor on mobile can compete in what is set to be the largest multi-title eSports league in the Philippines.

 “Globe is once again embarking on a pioneering effort. After becoming the purveyor of digital lifestyle and redefining how Filipinos consume entertainment, we are set to put the Philippines on the map of gaming and eSports together with MET by launching Globe PPGL 2018,” Ernest Cu, president and chief executive officer of Globe Telecom, said in a statement.

“We look forward to taking eSports to greater heights and develop world-class eSports talents in the country,” Mr. Cu added.

The tournament will also be the subject of an eSports television program to be produced alongside it. The Globe PPGL 2018 series will be a high-production serialized documentary delving into the life stories, daily lives and personal struggles of the players as they progress through the league. The tournament will be broadcast online via livestream while the documentary-style production will air on free television.

For MET, the Globe PPGL 2018 is also the evolution of their previous annual eSports league, the Mineski Pro Gaming League (MPGL). The MPGL ran for eight seasons from 2009 to 2016, covering a broad range of eSports titles such as Dota 2, League of Legends, CS:GO and more.

Companies are also looking to develop the viewership side of eSports as well. In an interview with BusinessWorld, Globe Head of Games Jake San Diego said that the company wants to leverage its developed infrastructure to provide fast, reliable and affordable connectivity to subscribers wishing to get into eSports.

“Aside from playing the game, there’s also the aspect of watching since eSports is a spectator sport,” Mr. San Diego said, noting that most viewers tend to not watch eSports tournaments on traditional media but on streaming Web sites like Twitch, YouTube and even Facebook.

“That’s where Globe focuses on essentially. But more than that our thrust is really to improve the skills of the Pinoy eSports athletes so that we will be competitive when it comes to international tournaments. Especially since eSports is now acknowledged as one of the sports to be played in the Asian games in 2022 and in the Paralympics in 2024. So the vision, if you will call it, is to bring back the first Olympics gold for eSports to the Philippines. That’s what we aspire for.”

Globe plans to develop the Philippine eSports scene through local tourneys under the PPGL. Such competitions will be supported by brand teams and will be free of charge for those willing to try their hand at becoming a professional player.

“You don’t have to pay for anything, just register and join, and you’ll be getting the prize if you win,” Mr. San Diego said.

With the recent success of the Globe Conquerors Manila League of Legends tournament last August, Globe has already concluded two seasons of the PPGL, sending Philippine teams to compete in international tournaments and giving out cash prizes amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Through such events, Globe hopes to legitimize eSports as an accepted form of competitive sports much like basketball and boxing, a sport the country excels at and celebrates.

“Moving forward, there’s a lot more that we are eyeing in terms of developing eSports. We want to be in partnership with the government and the schools to help establish eSports as a mainstream sport. We want eSports to become a household name and regarded as real sports,” Mr. San Diego said.

And such a time may come very soon. The Philippine Gaming and Amusements Board, under the Office of the President, allowed professional eSports players to secure athletic licenses in 2017, lending legitimacy to the professionals in the industry. Stakeholders, like game developers and publishers, eSports organizations, and corporate sponsors are lending their support through funded leagues and events.

“eSports right now is in its nascent stages. It’s still new. It’s just started. But I would say, specifically for the Philippines, we are at a renaissance period where everything is falling into place when it comes to the development of eSports,” Mr. San Diego said.