By Bjorn Biel M. Beltran, Special Features Writer

The Philippine esports scene has seemingly exploded in popularity in such a short span of time. A little more than a decade ago, esports tournaments consisted of mainly grassroots, locally-organized tourneys of real-time strategy games like Starcraft, first-person shooters like Counter-Strike, and arcade-style fighting game tournaments.

Fast-forward to today and some of the country’s biggest corporations have their created their own esports franchise leagues and even sponsors their own teams and players. Most recently, the Philippines national esports team Sibol won big at the 31st Southeast Asian Games, bagging two golds and two silvers and ending their Hanoi campaign third in the rankings. The overall esports medal tally in the Southeast Asian Games saw the Philippines still at first place with a total of nine medals: five gold, three silvers and a bronze.

Mobile gaming has broken the mainstream, pushing video games to become far and away the biggest entertainment medium rivalling movies and television shows. In fact, Statista claims that in Asia-Pacific alone the video gaming market is estimated to be worth $53.4 billion, with almost one and a half billion players.

In the Philippines, according to a survey conducted by Rakuten Insight in April 2022, as much as 80% of respondents in the Philippines stated that they played online games. A majority of these online gamers played daily.

According to Statista, in 2020, the revenue of the video games market in the Philippines was recorded around $1.26 billion, an increase of around $300 million compared to 2019. Mobile games market took the lion’s share of this with a revenue of around $900 million. The Statista Digital Market Outlook estimates that revenue of the Filipino video games market will continue to increase across all segments and by 2025 reach a total revenue of around $2 billion.

And yet, though the numbers are already staggering, esports in the country still has a long way to go to realize its potential.

“If we were to liken the Philippine esports scene to a person, it would be a child that has just learned how to walk and is starting to run. It is no longer in its infancy, nor is it learning how to crawl. It’s mature enough to run by itself, but not stable enough to sustain its current progress without additional support of multiple entities and institutions,” Rina Siongco, head of Get Entertained Tribe at Globe, said in an interview.

“It’s large enough to sustain jobs of all kinds — from the player/team side to the organizer/backend jobs,” she added.

Globe is one of the major organizations that have supported esports from the get-go, launching multiple initiatives centered around the local scene including launching its first Esports Center (ESC) at Play Nation in UP Town Center, Quezon City, and and creating its own official professional team in partnership with Mineski.

Also an early supporter of esports is PLDT and Smart. The Esports and Gaming Summit, one of the biggest gaming conventions in the Philippines created by the organizations, have highlighted Filipino gamers since 2013. Their own eSports team, the PLDT-Smart Omega, also won the recognition of becoming the first champion of Mobile Legends: Bang Bang Conference 1 of The Nationals, held last August 2019.

Last month, PLDT also announced that it signed a memorandum of understanding with OneQode, a gaming infrastructure provider, to further strengthen and internationalize the gaming experience of the local esports community. Under the partnership, OneQode will establish its gaming network infrastructure in the country to boost its operating capability.

Ms. Siongco emphasized how crucial such support is towards the continued development of the industry, especially with the effects of the pandemic still looming large over the general sports and events landscape.

“With physical sports on hold during the pandemic, esports tournaments served as both entertainment and competitive sports, which led to an increase in number of online tournaments being created and held. Unofficial numbers from local esports organizers saw the total number of online tournaments increase by 250% year-on-year in 2020 and a further 400% in 2021,” she said.

“Online tournaments can now be likened to how basketball was used to engage the youth – instead of barangay basketball tournaments, esports tournaments, particularly Mobile Legends tournaments, now became the go-to events organized by local government units and youth organizations.”

Given esports’s relatively young age compared to other entertainment media, its development is still seeing the expected growing pains.

“In addition to operational inefficiencies, esports also does not have a unified pricing model at the moment. Organizers and game publishers valuate their events and tournaments very differently. As a result, while there are more tournaments, leagues, and openings for players, teams, and creators, the number of mainstream brands utilizing esports for marketing has not grown as fast,” Ms. Siongco noted.

She also mentioned the social and health risks involved in the conversation about video gaming as a whole. “While less than in previous years, there is also still a perception of games and esports as addictive and dangerous for the youth,” she said.

“The ease of communication within games (via in-game chat options and other communication tools) also makes it prone to abuse. Abuse can be in the form of bullying or even sexual harassment. The lack of clearly moderated safe spaces is a major point of concern that needs to be improved.”

Esports organizations need to keep aware of such issues and address them before they grow insidious and detrimental to the industry’s development. Especially because the good that esports brings far outweigh the bad, in terms of creating many new careers for passionate Filipinos.

“Content creators serve as ambassadors for the game titles. Aside from creating their own community for engagement purposes, they serve as influencers and key opinion leaders, helping shape whether a game would be successful in the Philippines or not. They are crucial for market growth, and utilizing games as a service depends highly on the exposure they bring,” Ms. Siongco said.

The industry would need more help and expertise to manage its issues and create a path forward, especially in terms of addressing the hurdles regarding its operations, marketing, and navigating the health and social risks involved. The potential is too great to ignore.

“Games are now a crucial part of the youth’s lives. Globe Games and Esports aims to support this by highlighting the good that gaming does. From giving you analytical skills when playing strategy games, to teaching you how to communicate better when you coordinate with your team during a crucial rush in first person shooter games — there’s a lot of good that video games do for everyone,” Ms. Siongco said.