The year Kairi Rayosdelsol was born was the year his father got into Dota.
Dags Rayosdelsol, then 28, wanted to become a pro-gamer, but a newborn baby meant he needed to find a more stable source of income to support his family. He and his friends already had a manager for their e-sports team at that time. They were earning money by winning at tournaments. But instead of pursuing his dream, he left the Philippines to work in Russia, and has worked in many different countries since.
Once a year, Dags would come home to Bataan, and each time he would bring Kairi with him to the computer shop so the kid could watch him play. It became their father and son time. As the years passed, the two became teammates, and by the time Kairi was 5, Dags knew his boy could become an e-sports genius.
“Maliit pa siya, binibilhan ko yan ng mga PSP, gadgets, PS4,” says Dags, who is in Kuwait where he’s been working for 11 years now. We are in a Zoom call with him and Kairi who is in the ONIC boot camp in Pasig.“Pag nauwi ako, naglalaro kami. ’Yan ang bonding namin. Si Kairi kasi, pag meron siyang gusto, inaaral niya talaga. Ang Dota mahirap maintindihan ng bata, pero nakukuha niya.”
While there’s no doubting Kairi’s impressive grasp of the game, Dags, a computer programming graduate, still wanted his son to continue his formal education. He had dreamt for Kairi to become a lawyer. “Matalino kasi si Kairi, e, lalo na sa math. Lagi siyang nilalaban ng school niya sa math,” Dags says proudly. Traditional school, he knows, would guarantee a more secure future for his son.
But on his long school breaks, Kairi was allowed to play on weekends. Once, during one of Dags’ vacations, his wife had to fetch father and son because they had been at the computer shop for more than three hours—which is really the boys’ average playing time. “Kami lang ’yong mag-ama na nandon sa computer shop,” he laughs. “Wala kang makitang gano’n!”
Kairi would just get better at the game over the years—easily a result of playing to the wee hours whenever he can. “Persistent siya,” Dags says. “’Yong maliit yan, kasama pa namin sa kuwarto kasi takot siyang mag-isa. Hinihintay niya akong matulog, ’tapos maglalaro na pala. Magigising ako, makikita ko, naglalaro pa. Umaga na.”
For Kairi, who doesn’t talk much, everything started out as “libangan lang,” a way to bond with his father and some friends. “Hindi ako mahilig maglabas-labas po kasi,” the 15-year-old tells ANCX. It was also a way for him to kill time. Back when the Rayosdelsols didn’t have wi-fi service at home, Kairi’s mother would bring him to the computer shop where she would spend hours talking to Dags via video call.
Today Kairi is one of the youngest players in the Mobile Legends Professional League. He is dubbed as The Future.
Sometime in 2020, Blacklist International, the e-sports label of Tier One Entertainment, approached Kairi and his family about the teenager turning pro.
Kairi was winning a lot of games then, and Tier One wanted to represent him as a player for the Mobile Legends: Bang Bang Professional Leagues (MPL). Mobile Legends is a mobile multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA).
“Blessing in disguise ’yong pandemic,” Dags says, looking back. “Online class kasi lahat, so puwede niyang isabay sa boot camp. Hindi kami pumayag siguro kung hindi pandemic.” The boot camp is where players undergo rigorous training for months.
Recently, Kairi transferred to the e-sports team, Onic Philippines, who had to trade two of their franchise players just to be able to have Kairi play for them.
Kairi says they practice from around 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.—with breaks in between. They have free food and are given a monthly salary. It’s physically taxing, Kairi admits, so he makes sure to stay fit by working out—“para hindi po agad ako mapagod”— and eating healthy.
When asked how all the recent wins and recognition make him feel, Kairi replies timidly. “Hindi ko alam po. Natutuwa po siguro. Wala lang, dati kasi hindi ko naman naisip na maging pro player ako. Gusto ko maging pilot.”
He wanted to become a pilot so he could travel. But now he knows he can travel, too, just by doing what he does—as soon as he’s saved enough money. He’d like to see Japan, he offers. “’Yong mga anime,” he says. “Papa ko rin po nag-influence sa akin, mga Naruto, Dragon Ball Z. Hanggang sa ngayon po mahilig ako.”
He says he’s getting used to the attention that comes with being an e-sports star, the fans, the interviews. It doesn’t feel as awkward as before.
“Dati po kahit sa kaklase ko, nahihiya po ako,” he says.
Being mahiyain is a quality he certainly didn’t get from his father. The older Rayosdelsol is an extrovert, who, when he was Kairi’s age, loved to be outdoors, play basketball, and hang with friends. What
Kairi might have inherited from his dad is the latter’s generosity, the kid says, and his being practical.
For six years, until the pandemic came, Kairi’s mother was working in Kuwait with Dags. The kid’s maternal grandmother and some relatives took care of him. It must have been at this time when the Kairi developed a sense of independence and a grownup outlook. He doesn’t spend much on material things, for instance. His latest splurge is a laptop, which he could use for streaming, which is another source of income. He’s not into outdoor sports, or shoes, or bikes. He likes spending on food, “pero hindi din po masyado dahil may pagkain naman dito.”
“Basta magkapera po,” he says, his voice unwavering while voicing out his plans. “Kung saan po ako yayaman,” he adds. “Ang goal is to make money. Para mas madali po buhay namin.”
No one seems happier to hear this than Dags who is intently listening to his 15-year-old’s words from the next Zoom frame, albeit being physically 5,000 miles away.
“Bilang daddy nya, natutuwa ako kasi nakikita ko bata pa lang, meron na siyang paraan para masecure ang future niya,” the older Rayosdelsol says. “Kung talagang yan ang pangarap niya, suportahan namin. Kasi naging pangarap ko din dati, kaya lang di natupad. Nakikita ko sarili ko sa anak ko na tinutupad niya yong pangarap na di ko maabot.”
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