Remember when video games were primarily played on a console, and your only competition was your younger brother hogging the controller? Too bad, because ever since video games entered into a perfect marriage with the inevitable entity that is the internet, online competitive games have become all the rage. We might even be called ‘boomers’ for having those console memories.
For AcadArena founders Ariane Lim, Kevin Hoang, and Justin Banusing, the most archaic—and perhaps obsolete—boomer belief, is the one that goes along the lines of video games being nothing but a timewasting hobby, rather than an actual industry one can build a career out of. By developing a business model that provides knowledge and resources for those looking to get in the industry, the three have managed to not just tear down the negative stigma around video games but also uplift their fellow young leaders to hunker down and build something out of the stuff they love.
Ditching the stigma
Before becoming astute executives, Ariane, 28, Kevin, 29, and Justin, 22, were once just kids who loved playing online games. Calling themselves true esports natives, they still recall the woes of their earlier years when they wished they had more support, when they wished there was organization and infrastructure in what was a barren wild west that is the local competitive gaming scene.
But thanks to these difficulties anyway, Kevin, who is from the University of Washington (UW); Ariane, who graduated from Ateneo de Manila University; and Justin, a graduating senior at UW, were able to turn this idea of ‘creating something they wish they had as students’ as the unofficial battlecry of AcadArena. “It's fun because growing up it was just something your parents told you that was a big waste of time but now, it's this phenomenon that we get to go do every day which kind of makes my rebellious side come out,” says Kevin.
Circumstances would allow each of the three’s personal stories to intertwine, beginning with the creation of AcadArena in 2019. The goal was to provide reliable support for local gaming communities to grow on; allowing the Philippines’ local esports scene to get to speed with the rest of the world. This mission has allowed the trio to pioneer a variety of firsts, ranging from kickstarting Southeast Asia's very first esports scholarship fund to launching hundreds of student esports clubs in institutions around the country from the De La Salle University in Manila to the University of San Carlos in Cebu.
By the numbers
Like a five-man team competing in an MPL or a Valorant Champions game, Ariane, Kevin, and Justin perform a majority of their functions with a synergy that allows their respective roles to compliment what the other is good at. It’s a culture the trio is trying to replicate within AcadArena’s growing team. “I'm really proud that we have been able to recruit a lot of the best people [that] we look up to in the industry,” shares Justin, AcadArena’s Chief Operating Officer.
It was this same cooperative mindset that allowed AcadArena, who calls itself “the home or campus gaming in the Philippines,” to raise over $3.5 million (P176 million) through the support of high-profile investors such as Twitch’s Kevin Lin, Crunchyroll’s Kun Gao, and token network fund 1KX.
These numbers have allowed the startup to address a spectrum of areas where Filipino gamers need the most help. Just last year, the startup forged a first-of-its-kind partnership with decentralized gaming guild Yield Guild Games to create educational programs for students looking to learn web3 and the metaverse. Currently, the group has also grown the number of skills-based scholarship programs it offers to five. These offerings allow AcadArena to cover for earning gamers of all kinds, whether you’re an Axie Infinity player or a Twitch streamer.
This seems to have provided a great deal of pride for Ariane who still recalls the difficulties she faced in securing funding while running collegiate esports programs in the past. “The conversation was a bit more difficult as we had sponsors [who] couldn't understand how it would be life-changing to just have a scholarship for just one specific game so when we got started building AcadArena, we had the opportunity to raise that conversation again.”
Ariane, Kevin, and Justin are confident their company’s milestones are only the beginning of what they wish to accomplish. Having recently opened an office in Manila—currently at the WeWork co-working space at Uptown BGC—it seems 2022 will be an important year for them. First off, they’re starting the year by celebrating AcadArena’s 3rd anniversary on February 26 with the 2nd AcadArena Awards. “It will be a celebration for students and by students,” says Ariane. “Not only will we be awarding exceptional talent in esports and gaming, no matter if you're an aspiring student athlete, student leader, creator, journalist, or graphic designer, we are celebrating all talents in esports and games.”
When asked what advice they would give to young leaders who also aim for the success they reached, Kevin, who’s garnered eight years of experience in esports, wishes for young people to make use of the internet’s full potential by learning off of the educational content of experts in their scene. Ariane, on the other hand, stresses the importance of surrounding one’s self with like-minded “imba” and “OP” people who share the same interests and goals. For Justin, the young COO hones in on the importance of not going through one’s endeavors alone, explaining the importance of working alongside a team that inspires you. Just like the team he has with Kevin and Ariane.