Jeremiah Camarillo spends five days of his week, eight hours of his day focused on one thing: a multiplayer online battle area (MOBA) game called Arena of Valor. No, it’s not just a hobby. This is his job. And he is having the best time of his life.
Camarillo is just one of the players representing the Philippines in the new Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games) sport, esports. He is under Liyab, an esports organization managed by Globe Telecom, Inc. and Mineski.
There are six games under the esports category of SEA Games: StarCraft II, Tekken 7, Hearthstone, Dota 2, Arena of Valor, and Mobile Legends: Bang Bang. The last three games are part of a subgenre of strategy video games called MOBA.
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MOBAs, in general, have five players in each team—and each team member has a different skill set. The goal is to destroy the base of the opponent and protect the team’s base. Other organizations aside from Liyab will also be sending players to compete at the SEA Games.
It may sound like playing these games is all fun. But just like in any other sport, becoming a professional esports player requires dedication and stamina.
A normal day for Camarillo would usually be spent in a boot camp set up by Liyab in San Juan. The boot camp is in a three-story townhouse that also serves as a dorm for most of the players, who are served free breakfast, lunch, and dinner by a hired chef.
The players spend around four hours playing games, two hours on analyses and creating strategies, and another two hours on observing the games of other regions. Their work space is filled with computers and white boards, where ideas and statistics are written. Most of their work lead up to tournaments. Liyab’s Arena of Valor team recently won the championship at the Electronic Sports League-Malaysia Singapore Philippines (ESL-MSP) competition last September 2019. They got USD 10,000.
With the rise of esports and the considerable amount of prize money involved, many in the country have come to realize that electronic games—which used to have the bad reputation of becoming just a hindrance to academic achievements—can now be a genuine career option.
“Eto ’yong fulltime job namin,” Camarillo says. “We get paid monthly.”
But like in any other career, a professional player must pay his dues before he or she gets to play with the big boys and girls.
Camarillo, now 27 years old, started playing games as a pastime. When he turned 18, he started getting into MOBA, playing at the then infamous internet cafes with his friends. He stopped playing around 2014 to focus on this studies. It was only around 2017 when he started taking the sport seriously. On December 16, 2017, he and his team won a small competition in Cavite. They haven’t looked back since.
When they won a regional tournament at TriNoma Mall in Quezon City, people from the big esports management organizations started to take notice. That's when they ended up with Liyab.
Angelica Neri, marketing manager and player development for Liyab, says the team has now around 30 players under them. Usually, they evaluate the top 100 players in the overall ranking. Sometimes, they get teams as a whole because these teams already have the natural synergy, a huge advantage in multiplayer online games.
“Esports organizations like Liyab have a very clear advocacy, which is to have the gamers represented in the international stage,” Neri says. “As to the discussion whether esports should be considered as a sport, we should consider it from the point of how it’s being done professionally. We have a team. And it’s not just all play. It’s being able to strategize also. There’s a clear use of mind, statistics, analytics, and everything where maybe sports science can also be applied.” Part of their program include fitness activities, such as lifting weights or doing cardio exercises.
Liyab employs a sports psychologist, too. “We’re taking all the facets of traditional sports and taking those into esports, which is a growing industry,” Neri says.
The teams work all aspects of athleticism, says Camarillo: “We train our communication skills, how we share information, like the little details. Hindi lang din mental fortitude mo ang kailangan, kailangan din ’yong stamina ng katawan mo kasi nakakapagod, nakaka-drain. All the time nag-iisip ka, laging nagsasalita din.”
For these players, who are making a career out of esports, this is serious business—but more than that, this is passion. Camarillo’s In Game Name (IGN) is “1717,” the day his father passed away, January 7, 2017. This passion is even his tribute to his father.
“Commitment kasi talaga siya, e,” he reminds the young ones who want to make it big in the sport. “May sacrifices ka talaga, like siguro time with friends, mga gimik, mababawasan. You have to commit your time kasi kung hindi, hindi ka gagaling, hindi ka mag-i-improve, hindi ka makikilala ng community.”
He points out that for those who are still in school, their studies should still take the top spot in their priority list, “importante din na meron kang fallback.” He adds, “It’s time management lang. Be responsible.”
There are six medals up for grabs for esports in the the upcoming SEA Games this end of November. Neri is confident of the country's chances. “Esports is an equal playing field. You’re not required to be seven-foot tall. You are not required to have muscles. You need a strategic mind and the focus, and you need to be able to handle pressure in very important events. We have a very good chance of winning.”