Liyab to Light the Flame of a New Athletic Breed

Intro to esports for the Inquirer.

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With SEAG 2019 set to begin in just under a week, expectations are high as representatives from all over the region fly in with the hopes of making their marks and bringing home the gold. The myriad of competitions—from archery, aquatics, and arnis, all the way to weightlifting, wakeboarding, and wushu—opens the gates to athletes of all shapes and sizes as they vy for a place on the podium of their sport. For this year’s games, the Philippines Southeast Asian Games Organizing Committee (PhilSGOC) in partnership with Singaporean-based Razer Inc. are adding competitive esports to that list.

Ever since this was publically announced last year, coverage of and around esports has picked up pace. But what really is esports, and what does it mean for the world of sports as a whole?

Mobile Legends: Bang Bang, Arena of Valor, Dota 2, Starcraft II, Tekken 7, Hearthstone; these are all video games—the kind that, not long ago, most people would just play at home. In the coming weeks, these games will be part of the global phenomenon of esports. The professional teams playing them in the SEAG 2019 will be witnessed by millions of viewers who, on the same screen mere days or moments before, will have just watched basketball, fencing, judo, and other traditional sports sharing the same staging grounds as these digital games.

It may seem surreal, but the writing has been on the wall. In 2017, 60 million people around the world watched the League of Legends finals. In 2018, the champions of The International—an annual Dota 2 esports tournament—took home their share of a USD 25 Million prize pot, which was crowdfunded by its spectators and fans. Just earlier this year, our very own Team Liyab, an esports team backed by Globe Telecom and Mineski, qualified for both the Arena of Valor International Championship in Bangkok as well as the Hearthstone Masters Tour in Bucharest. They will be competing again in SEAG 2019 under these games as well as in Starcraft II.

While Esports has an enormous audience as well as a mind-boggling amount of prize money to throw around, it also still does have a certain stigma which it’s been carrying around since before its very inception. Many people find it hard to consider esports as a real sport, or to put professional gamers on the same page as real athletes. It’s interesting to consider that, not only in the SEAG 2019 but also on ESPN, Chess is a featured sport. Its players are no strangers to physical stress, either; Chessmasters competing at tournaments sometimes find themselves losing 10 pounds and burning 6,000 calories just by sitting across from their opponents.

Regardless, Team Liyab’s Arena of Valor Captain, Kevin Dizon, admits this stigma “… will not immediately go away and we understand that.” He believes “It is up to us, the esports athletes and the different esports organizations, to prove that we deserve to be recognized as more than just play.”

Team Liyab certainly does put in the work to live up to the demands of professional esports. Dizon’s typical training day consists of a full 8-hours spent training—both in-game as well as physically—and analyzing matches. Team Liyab even makes sure that all the esports athletes are provided 3 meals a day with the essential fruits and vitamins.

Whether or not this is enough to convince the casual observer of esports’ legitimacy, Globe believes in its future. The telecom giant has already expressed an interest in starting up esports schools in the Philippines, and a company representative has stated that they “are currently tackling the education angle of esports though Esports AcadArena” which allows them to “engage with schools around both playing esports and learning more about it.”

Globe also launched their own Esports Center in UP Town Center earlier this year. They hope to put up more ESCs, with the aim of “legitimizing esports in the Philippines.” As lofty as this goal seems, Globe and Mineski are well equipped to form the vanguard of promoting esports as not just a hobby, but as a way of life. It’s an uphill battle which they have faith Team Liyab will win, and to them, SEAG 2019 is a chance to show the world that competitive video games can showcase the fighting spirit of an athlete as well as any other sport.