As Sibol began gathering the crew it would field for the 30th Southeast Asian Games, when esports would make its debut as a regular sport in the biennial meet’s calendar, Jab Escutin admitted to getting filled with special emotions.
“There was some kind of ‘Avengers’ feeling to it,” said the manager of Sibol’s Mobile Legends: Bang Bang crew.
More like X-Men, maybe, uncanny heroes on the outer edge of acceptance by the mainstream sports crowd—but you get the drift.
Angelo Arcangel, Karl Nepomuceno, Kenneth Villa, Carlito Ribo Jr., Jason Torculas, Jeniel Bata-Anon and Allan Castromayor had never been staples on sports pages and yet there they were at the podium of a SEA Games medal ceremony, celebrating a gold medal won against an Indonesian side bannered by M1 world champions.They weren’t alone.
The next night, Bryle Alvizo, Van Manalaysay, James Guerra, Jun Kanehara, Marvin Rushton, McNicholson Villanueva and John Vargas tabbed the gold in DoTA II in a thrilling 3-2 victory over the visiting Thais who had actually jumped to an early lead in the final.
“We always love the underdog story, right? I guess it all worked out,” Escutin said.
The victories were not without reward. Aside from the pot put by the government and additional bonuses promised by the Philippine Olympic Committee, Sibol heroes also were ample rewarded by main sponsor Smart, which initiated the “Get Gold!” program that offered cash incentives to teams or individuals who would win gold medals at the SEA Games.
Team golds were worth P2 million while an individual gold was worth P1 million. The program also offered P500,000 for silvers and P250,000 for bronzes.
So Caviar Napoleon Acampado was quite the winner during Friday night’s awarding of cash incentives—eventually ending up with the most combined SEA Games pot among all national athletes.
Going by the nickname “EnDerr” in the gaming circles, Acampado validated his status as favorite in StarCraft II by romping to the gold there.
In all, Sibol took home a total of five medals, the most among the countries that participated in esports competition.
“It brings me great pride to have witnessed our Sibol athletes come so far to bring honor to our country. Thanks to their dedication and the solid support from our official partner Smart, Sibol grew strong and emerged as a team of world-class athletes. I and the PSEU (Philippine Southeast Asian Games Esports Union) are very grateful for what they have achieved and am in awe of all the possibilities that lie ahead,” said Jane Basas, cochair of the PSEU.Acampado sees beyond his cash windfall and holds lofty aspirations as far as esports is concerned. He wants to change the perception of the gaming contest when it comes to its inclusion in mainstream sporting circles.
“I just hope for people to regard [esports] like traditional sports,” he said. “I hope for it to reach new heights.”
And it wasn’t just him.
“I think all of these athletes understood [what their SEA Games medals meant],” said Escutin, who took a long pause to examine the magnitude of all of Sibol’s victories and what they would mean for Philippine esports.Here is a new breed of heroes, in a new frontier that, as Esports National Association of the Philippines secretary general Ren Vitug would say, is here to stay.
“They understood that the weight of an entire industry’s dream was resting on their hands,” Escutin said.
And boy did those hands deliver—for the industry and, more importantly, for flag and country. INQ
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