MANILA - Five young men toil for 14 hours a day under black light, inside a cramped room with blinder curtains, hoping to turn their mastery of DOTA into another multi million-peso payday.
One of the gaming prodigies, 21-year-old Raven Fausto, has won $369,745 (P19 million) playing DOTA or Defense of the Ancients for half his life, inspiring other gamers in the Quezon City bootcamp to make big money out of what may seem like an addiction.
Fausto and his team once won nearly $500,000 million (P25 million) in an international tournament, allowing him to buy his mother a house in Antipolo City. Local competitions offer up to P50,000.
"'Yun ang pinakamasaya. Bago kasi kami maglaro, parang, 'mananalo ba tayo dito?' Sabi ng captain namin, 'laruin lang natin, huwag na natin masyado isipin," he told ABS-CBN News.
(That was the happiest moment. Before we played, we were asking ourselves if we would win. Our captain said, just play the game and don't think about it too much.)
With DotA fame, Fausto uses the screen name Raven instead of his given name, Marc Polo Luis, and now sports blonde hair.
The gamers keep a tight schedule like athletes in the bootcamp, located on the fringes of Cubao. Across, the street, ramshackle internet cafe offers access for as low as P5.
"Ang ginagawa nila talaga usually is eat, play DOTA, sleep. Tapos ganoon ulit," said the group's general manager, Paolo Sy of TNC Pro Team.
(What they do usually is eat, play DOTA, sleep. Then repeat.)
"For some it sounds good, pero pag professional level, different na kasi you practice a lot of strategies," Sy said.
(For some, it sounds good, on the professional level, it's different because you practice a lot of strategies.)
TNC is just one of the professional gaming groups in the Philippines. Other teams have also competed internationally, including Mineski, Execration, Happy Feet and Clutch Gamers.
TICKET OUT OF POVERTY
Fausto said earning a living from DOTA never crossed his mind when he was just a bespectacled boy playing in sweltering computer shops in Paco, Manila.
"Hindi ako nakatapos. Kasi kailangan ko mag-stop ng pag-aaral kasi wala na kaming pera. Sabi ko sa magulang ko, bigyan niyo ko ng 1 year," he said.
(I didn't finish school. I had to stop because we were poor. I told my parents, give me a year.)
Fausto said he was ready to quit, feeling he was only giving his mother headaches, until TNC drafted him into the team.
"Gusto ko munang mag-champion sa pinakamalaking tournament bago ako mag-stop. Tapos after DOTA, dun siguro mag-aaral na ako. 'Yun 'yung backup plan," said Raven, who preparing with his team for the upcoming Galaxy Battles II, the first major tournament for 2018.
(I want to be champion of the biggest tournament before I stop. After DOTA 2, I might continue my studies. That's my back-up plan.)
In Pampanga province, 19-year-old Josef Leonard Brazal is also chasing dreams of DOTA stardom. He dropped out of college 2 years ago against his parents' wishes to join the local Skyville team.
Brazal, better known as JL in the DOTA 2 community, is flying to Indonesia at the end of October for his team's first international competition, after taking home $1,000 (P50,000) in an amateur qualifier.
If they win in Jakarta, JL and his team will have the opportunity to compete in a wildcard round for a shot at $1 million prize next year.
'DESIGNED' TO BE ADDICTIVE
Sociologist Clifford Sorita said games like DOTA can get addictive because it gives players an adrenaline rush.
"Video game designers, like anyone else trying to make a profit, are always looking for ways to get more people playing their games. They accomplish this by making a game just challenging enough to keep you coming back for more but not so hard that the player eventually gives up," Sorita told ABS-CBN News.
Brazal said he feels like playing DOTA affords him no rest.
"Parang di ka puwede magrest in-game di ka puwede magpahinga. Every second kailangan mag-isip ka. Yun ang pinakagusto kong aspect ng DOTA," he said.
(It's as if you can't rest in-game, you can't take a break. Every second, you need tot think. That's the aspect I like most about DOTA.)
While the pro gaming riches are real, TNC Pro's Sy said a career in e-sports is not for everyone. Like professional basketball, it requires certain skills to get ahead, he said.
Sy also cautioned aspiring pro players to stay in school.
"This is not for everyone. There are chosen ones. For the parents I think one of their jobs is to determine the skill sets of their chldren," he said.
The Games and Amusement Boards recently recognized gaming as a legitimate sport in the country, allowing professional gamers to secure athletic licenses.
Despite the acknowledgement, traditional sports "offer a totally different contribution to man's holistic development," compared to electronic games, Sorita said.
TNC is opening a large office in Quezon City, hoping to train fast-rising teams like Counter Strike GO, Crossfire, Heartstone, and the League of Legends.
"Someday we want to put e-sports in the same level as regular sports to give scholarships," Sy said. "Kung magagawa natin 'yun, parents... Hindi na sila magiging against it."
(If we do that, parents won't be against it.)