MANILA—The 9th season of the Mobile Legends: Bang Bang Professional League will begin on Friday.
While the competing teams remained at 8 — Blacklist International, Onic PH, Bren Esports, Echo PH, Omega Esports, TNC Pro Team, RSG Philippines, Nexplay EVOS, and Echo PH) — the league will make some changes as it ushers in a new normal, with matches from March held offline.
Besides that, a myriad storylines were also created as the 8th season ended, including an all-Filipino world championship matchup, the formation of a “super team,” the hiatus of veteran players, the breakout performance of new players in off-season tournaments, and more.
ABS-CBN News breaks down what to expect in Season 9.
Veteran players taking breaks, leaner lineups
Bren Esports’ veteran gold laner Carl “Ribo” Ribo shocked the ML community by announcing he will be skipping Season 9.
Blacklist duo Johnmar “OhMyV33nus” Villaluna and Danerie James “Wise” Del Rosario followed suit in an equally shocking announcement, as they were coming from a championship run.
Veterans Adrian “Toshi” Bacallo of TNC and RSG Philippines' Joshwell “Iy4knu” Manaoag also announced foregoing MPL’s 9th season, raising questions on whether the ML scene scale back the number of games.
With the departures of certain players, some teams, particularly TNC and Blacklist, are resorting to leaner lineups, amid the 10-man limit imposed by the league.
While Blacklist is no stranger to lean lineups — as it has fielded one the past season when they only added Hadji to their championship poo — TNC, who paraded a 10-man team in Season 8, are trimming down their player pool to 6 entering Season 9, with Daniel “Sdzyz” Chu (formerly Chuuu) and Ben "Benthings" Maglaque taking the reins for the former Work Auster Force squad.
V33wise-less Blacklist to gun for a 3-peat
World champions Blacklist International are gunning for a 3-peat in the local leagues, this time without standouts OhMyV33nus and Wise who are taking a 1-season break. They will instead shift their focus on the Southeast Asian Games, with Season 8 MVP Salic “Hadji” Imam assuming MPL captaincy.
Regular season MVPs Edward Jay “Edward” Dapadap, Hadji, and world championship MVP Kiel “OHEB” Soriano, along with Mark Jayson “Eson” Gerardo, Dexter “Dex Star” Alaba, and rookie jungler Kent Xavier “KEVIER” Lopez are expected to fill the gaps left by the dynamic duo.
If they succeed, they will be the first MPL Philippines squad to achieve a 3-peat. Only Blacklist and Sunsparks (Seasons 4 and 5 champions) have won back-to-back titles in MPL Philippines.
ONIC PH carrying the momentum of their M3 run
Onic PH were one of the dark horses coming into the M3 world championship, dominating the group stages and the playoffs before becoming the first team to enter the grand finals of the competition, in part because of lineup changes they made prior to the global tournament.
At the time, captain Allen “Baloyskie” Baloy assumed the roamer position, Marky “Markyyyy” Capacio went to the gold lane, while Jaylord “Hatred” Gonzales was placed at the midlane, with all 3 playing pivotal roles en route to the all-Filipino showdown with Blacklist, while maintaining the team’s identity.
The architects of the “banana split strat” are gunning for the elusive title after bridesmaid finishes in Seasons 4 and 5 and recently in Season 8 of the MPL. After the world championship, they vowed to come back stronger, as they embrace the lineup changes they made and keep their current lineup intact.
Echo’s super team
The end of Season 8 saw the departure of various players; among those shocking exits were M2 world championship MVP KarlTzy, Frediemar “3MarTzy” Serafico, and veteran roamer Tristan “Yawi” Cabrera.
But toward the end of 2021, Echo PH announced they acquired the 3 players, who will join Echo mainstays Christian “Rafflesia” Fajura, Benedict “Bennyqt” Gonzales, Rion “Rk3” Kudo, Mark “Hadess” Lazaro, Aaron “Aaronqt” Lim, and Jankurt “KurTzy” Matira. Ashleymarco “Killuash” Cruz will also return.
They may have failed to see action in the next phase of the Sibol qualifiers of the SEA Games, but there is much anticipation for the potential of this squad, and the chemistry they have forged towards the start of the new season.
Will Sibol rookie standouts ride the momentum?
The SIBOL national team qualifiers for the Southeast Asian Games’ Mobile Legends: Bang Bang tournament saw rookies take the spotlight, particularly Nexplay EVOS and Bren Esports, whose veteran players either moved, took the bench, or sat out the incoming season.
Nexplay EVOS’ rookies Rainiel “URESHII” Logronio, Kenneth “CADENZA” Castro, and Marius “DONUT” Tan also showed promise by propelling Nexplay to the Grand Finals of the qualifiers, where they faced world champions Blacklist International, who subsequently ended up as the qualifying team.
A rookie-laden Bren Esports pulled through in the Sibol qualifiers sans Ribo and Allan “Lusty” Castromayor, who was benched throughout the tilt, and with world championship MVP Karl “KarlTzy” Nepomuceno taking his talents to the Echo PH “superteam.” They may have lost against Blacklist in their opening match, but they gave the world champions a 1-2 scare thanks to the chemistry of Vincent “Joy Boy” De Guzman and Kenneth “Saxa” Fedelin, who are both stalwarts from veteran team ArkAngel.
The return of offline gameplay
For the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic, most of the MPL season will be held onsite. However, audiences will be barred from watching live.
The adjustment of the MPL to an online setting during the time of COVID-19 has seen some rule tweaks to take into consideration players who were hit by the disease or quarantined, with their gameplay affected as a result.
The adjustment to an offline setting will see players duking each other face-to-face instead of communicating and playing remotely through third-party applications.
The MPL's 9th season will start on February 18, with a new-look Blacklist duking out against Onic PH in a rematch of the world championship finals.