Reporting
Mark Louis F. Ferrolino

Video
Paolo L. Lopez

Illustration
Fortunato V. Dañas

Editor
Sam L. Marcelo

Ronald Robins, founder and chief executive officer of the largest electronic sports (esports) organization in Southeast Asia, dreamed about a plane crash and an attendant who, in the middle of that horrifying scenario, kept calling him “Mineski.”




The day after the nightmare, Mr. Robins, a professional Dota player then, changed his in-game name to “rhomineski.” In the 15 years since he was baptized “Mineski” in a dream, Mr. Robins managed to turn the portentous term into a mainstream brand: one cannot talk about the thriving esports scene in the country without mentioning Mineski.

Mineski, in the world of esports, refers to several things under the umbrella of Mineski Corporation. It can be a professional gaming team under the Mineski Pro Team; a cybercafé franchise by Mineski Franchise Corp.; or the Mineski Events Team (MET), which organizes big esports events in Southeast Asia.

In an interview with BusinessWorld, Mr. Robins said that Mineski began as a gaming team he founded with like-minded friends. That was 2004, when it was nearly impossible to make a full-time career out of video gaming.

Esports back then was a relatively new concept and tournaments were limited to weekend LAN (local area network) parties. There were no regional and global championships, no support from organizations. “Esports before was basically a leap of faith,” Mr. Robins said. “There was that big uncertainty.”

Despite these risks, Mr. Robins’ team persevered. They reaped the rewards when larger tournaments started coming in and their team rose in popularity after bagging numerous championships. Mineski was considered one of the strongest Dota squads in the Philippines and represented the country in several regional competitions.

Just like other teams, Mineski faced the struggle of looking for computer shops with high-end gaming facilities. That is why, in 2008, Mr. Robins and his partners decided to open the first branch of Mineski Infinity in Taft, Manila.

Unlike other cybercafés with bulky cathode-ray tube monitors and slow-running computers, Mineski Infinity was the first to house computers with flat-panel LED monitors and quad-core processors. As the first-of-its-kind cybercafé, Mr. Robins’ team immediately received requests to open other branches in other locations.

Team Mineski, meanwhile, continued to dominate Dota competitions in the country, up to the point where none of the local teams could break Mineski’s stranglehold on the game. This, on the other hand, resulted in a way of thinking called “new blood mentality” in gaming circles. The term refers to the mentality of new teams who don’t want to compete with strong teams, lobbying instead for the banning of highly experienced teams in tournaments under the guise of a level playing field.

“At that point in time, I saw this as a big problem,” Mr. Robins said, adding that new teams can’t improve their gameplay if they don’t compete with the best.

This issue paved the way for Mineski’s third arm, MET, and its aim of creating a series of tournaments that would act as a gateway into the competitive sphere of gaming.

In 2009, despite a successful career in the pro gaming scene, Mr. Robins decided to step down from the limelight and focus on the business instead. It was a ballsy move for someone who was considered one of the country’s most influential players of his time.

“It was really a big decision for me. I realized that there was a bigger purpose for me rather than just play,” he said, adding that quitting as a player would allow him to concentrate on doing his part in making the gaming industry sustainable for future generations of gamers.

SHAPING THE ESPORTS ECOSYSTEM

Through the years, Mineski’s three main business units have evolved on their own paths, shaping the country’s esports ecosystem along the way.

At present, Mineski Pro Team not only refers to an iconic Dota team; it now features teams across multiple competitive titles, including League of Legends (LoL), Overwatch, and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO). The organization has a good history of managing its players, who now have the legal protections and benefits due an esports athlete.

Meanwhile, from a single branch of Mineski Infinity in Manila, the company now boasts a network of 150 cybercafé branches across the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia. Plans to expand to other countries in the next three years are already in the pipeline, Mr. Robins said.

While Mineski’s professional teams continue to make waves abroad and Mineski’s cybercafé business keeps on expanding its network, MET has remained committed to its mission of popularizing esports in the country and across the region.

The events team has established itself as the premier organizer of large-scale esports events in Southeast Asia. Among these events are the Pinoy Gaming Festival, Mineski Pro-Gaming League, CrossFire Stars Invitational, and The Manila Masters.

TOO BIG, TOO FAST

Mineski’s trajectory mirrors the growth of Philippine esports, which Mr. Robins believes to be an emerging industry with enormous potential. Mineski is still on track to legitimize professional video gaming as a “real” sport. The company has been working closely with the Games and Amusements Board (GAB), the government-run regulatory body of professional sports in the country, for this matter. In 2017, GAB allowed professional esports players to secure athletic licenses, making it easier for them to secure visas when competing internationally.

The biggest breakthrough, so far, is the inclusion of six esports titles in the 30th edition of the Southeast Asian Games, to be held in the country at the end of the year. Five of the six games have been named: Dota 2, Starcraft II, Tekken 7, Arena of Valor, and Mobile Legends: Bang Bang.

Mr. Robins hopes that more firms and brands will invest in the industry, whether by partnering with esports event organizers or sponsoring players and teams. Aside from helping the industry grow further, such investments, according to Mr. Robins, bring value to the investing companies, especially to those who want to tap younger demographics.

Market research company GlobalWebIndex said in its 2018 ESports Trends Report that esports fans are more likely to be young, male and affluent – a demographic which marketers are finding increasingly difficult to reach. The firm noted that majority or 71% of esports audience is male, while around 73% aged from 16 to 34.

Over the past years, the eSports industry has grown at a tremendous pace. Market intelligence and analytics firm Newzoo said in its 2019 Global ESports Market Report that the global esports revenues will reach an impressive $1.1 billion this year, the first billion-dollar year for the industry with a revenue increase of 26.7% year-over-year.

Considering viewership, esports have attracted massive followings comparable to traditional sports. The League of Legends World Championship, for instance, attracted 99.6 million unique viewers in 2018 for the final series. This is a lot closer to 103.39 million viewers of the National Football League’s Super Bowl, the most-watched sporting event in America, in the same year.

Many of Mineski’s plans involve improving the sustainability of the industry and attracting more investments. “We know that this industry is too big for us. It’s growing too fast beyond the control of our company. That’s why we always entertain third-party partners,” Mr. Robins said.