Esports in the Philippines is seeing its heyday. It has gone beyond being considered a pastime to being taken seriously all over the world—it was even a medal sport during the 2019 SEA Games. And Filipinos are quick to show off their prowess in the virtual playground.
Earlier in the year, Pinoy team Bren Esports bagged the 2021 M2 World Championship, beating out Southeast Asian competitors playing Mobile Legends: Bang Bang.
On the local scale, one esports team is making just as big a noise in all the right ways: Blacklist International.
The new crowned kings (and queen)
Tier One Entertainment's Blacklist International comes fresh off a championship win from the seventh season of the Mobile Legends Professional League Philippines (MPL). The team—consisting of Jonmar “OhMyV33nus” Villaluna, Dexter “DEX STAR” Alaba, Kiel “Oheb” Soriano, Danerie James “Wise” Del Rosario, Edward “EDWARD” Dapadap, and Mark Jayson "ESON" Gerardo—had the odds stacked against them in the league finals against monster team Execration.
They were definitely the underdogs after being buried 1-3, but Blacklist was able to pull through, stunning esports fans with a three straight win comeback. The team shared that their trust in each other kept them determined and that it ultimately helped them prevail.
“We thought that it’s the battle of our lifetime. We gave all we’ve got. We practiced mental strength such as being in high-pressure situations so we are ready for whatever may come at us in the grand finals,” the team shared.
Wise earned the MVP title in Game 7 after picking up four kills and 12 assists with his surprising Aldous pick. The team employed their signature “UBE Strategy” to gain an advantage in team fights.
To their surprise, their win resulted in much fanfare online with their #BreakTheCode trending on Twitter Tuesday morning. “We feel very grateful to our ever-loving fanbase, Blacklist Agents. They are our constant source of motivation,” they said.
Following the win, Blacklist will go on to compete in next month’s Southeast Asian Cup.
Breaking the code
At the helm of Blacklist International is OhMyV33nus, their openly gay team captain/support main, who is breaking the code in the typically cishet male-dominated esports arena.
“I feel happy and grateful. Being able to represent the LGBTQ+ community in esports means that someone like me can be visible in this industry,” he says. “I can raise awareness and be of help in changing the misconceptions and derogatory treatment to the LGBTQ+ in our gaming culture.”
Amid this, OhMyV33nus has been dealing with homophobic comments online. “I usually ignore the homophobic remarks and influence our fanbase to be good people instead. Just like what I said in an interview before, ‘Kill them with kindness.’” He also told fans on Facebook in April that he will use his platforms to spread awareness about how homophobic slurs affect members of the LGBTQ+ community.
“#BreakTheCode can mean a lot of things. It can mean decoding opponent strategies, it can mean being unafraid and unapologetic to go out of the meta, it can mean pushing one’s limits to achieve a dream, or it can be breaking barriers to a system, culture, or point of view that needs change.”
Building an all-inclusive gaming community
To these boys, they are more than just a team—they are as tight as best friends. “We love that Mobile Legends has introduced us to people who we now consider as best friends and family at this point. It’s also a bonus that this is our source of income and we can support our family by making a career out of the game we love,” they told.
Dynamic duo V33Wise, consisting of captain OhMyV33nus and Wise, have been longtime teammates from their former team Onic Philippines and their connection helped them carry their team to victory. “It’s assuring that we already understand each other. There’s a deep connection. We are each other’s source of inspiration,” said OhMyV33nus.
The esports and gaming community continues to see a boom in the midst of the pandemic. The finals game between Execration and Blacklist, streamed and uploaded on the Mobile Legends: Bang Bang Official YouTube channel, currently has 2.5 million views. According to a report from BusinessWorld, the number of Mobile Legends players has increased during the pandemic. In November 2020, the MOBA game has over one billion installs and 100 million monthly active users.
“Filipino fans have always been passionate about gaming. The fans of the game can be very intense with showing support, but this can also be a double-edged sword,” Blacklist remarked. “Fans will support you until the very end, but there are some that are quick to judge if you make a move or decision that doesn’t align with theirs. Like if you picked a certain hero in the game and it turns out it doesn’t seem to work, there’s a chance there will be haters.”
Furthermore, Blacklist envisions a more inclusive and accepting gaming community. In an interview with Mega in March, OhMyV33nus shared “Kailangan na natin mag-build ng community of gamers na welcome lahat ng gender magtulungan na magpalakas sa isang game. Sa esports, ‘yung skills na needed para lumakas ay wala naman kinalaman ‘yung pagiging man, woman, or part of LGBTQ+ kasi lahat tayo may capability of critical thinking which is crucial sa gameplay.” (We must build a community of gamers where all genders are welcome to strengthen each other in-game. In esports, skills needed to be better players aren’t based on whether you’re a man, woman, or part of the LGBTQ+ because everyone has the capability of critical thinking, which is crucial to gameplay).