2021 in PH esports: ML, CODM dominance, Team Secret's PH teams, and more

Angela Coloma and Kennedy Caacbay, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 31 2021 06:00 AM

MANILA—The Philippines took the international esports scene by storm this year, emerging victorious in top-class tournaments offline or online, proving that the country has emerged as a world beater.

ABS-CBN News thus takes a look back at some of the monumental esports events in 2021.

MLBB Esports
ML:BB Esports

Two world titles and one SEA title for PH in ML in 2021

After taking 2 straight world titles and the regional cup title, it can be said that the Philippines was the most dominant ML:BB region in the world in 2021.

In January, Bren Esports made waves in the ML:BB scene by emerging as the first Filipino champions of the ML:BB World Championships, crawling their way from the lower bracket to defeat Myanmar-based squad Burmese Ghouls in a thrilling 3-2 showdown in Singapore.

After the statement win, though, Bren started to fall apart in the local leagues, being dethroned by Execration in the ML:BB - Philippines Professional League Season 7, and eventually failing to crack to the playoffs in Season 8, which was supposed to be a prerequisite for qualifying to the world championships.

In the local leagues for 2021, it was Blacklist International who emerged as the more dominant squad, emerging as back-to-back champs of the ML:BB Professional League (MPL) fo,lowing the acquisition of dynamic duo Johnmar "OhMyV33nus" Vilalluna and Danerie James "Wise" Del Rosario in Season 7 and in Season 8, Salic "Hadji" Imam, who then became the regular season MVP.

The same Execration squad that ousted Bren in Season 7 emerged as the kings of ML in Southeast Asia after defeating season 7 champs Blacklist in the Southeast Asia Cup Grand Finals last July, before the entire squad moved to Smart Omega.

Season 8 also saw the brewing of a powerhouse in ONIC PH, who acquired Blacklist's Kairi "Kairi" Rayosdelsol in Season 7, forming a solid team with Jaylord “Hatred” Gonzales, Mark Christian "Markyyyyy" Etcobañez, Beemo, Dlarskie, Allen “Baloyskie” Baloy, Paul Ian "Beemo" Sergio, and coach Denver “Yeb” Miranda - who perhaps had a Cinderella story of some sorts after coming off a squad that had ended Season 7 in a 0-13 record.

Both Blacklist and Onic PH qualified for the third installment of the world championships, which saw them both punch Grand Finals tickets after an “alley-oop” elimination of North America’s BTK - further cementing the country’s dominance in the ML:BB scene.

In the end, it was Blacklist who emerged the best team in the world in M3, after a 4-0 pummeling of Onic PH.

Blacklist International Ultimate becomes East Finals champions in CODM

Blacklist International’s Call of Duty - Mobile roster Team Ultimate had a world title of their own as well, after emerging as the East champions of the Call of Duty Mobile World Championship 2021 - East Finals in a nailbiting game against ALMGHTY.

Emerging as a dark horse after ending 3rd in the CODM World Championship 2021 - Garena Finals playoffs, Blacklist sank ALMGHTY to the lower bracket 3-2 before repeating with another 3-2 win in the Grand Finals - with a nail-biting showdown via the search-and-destroy mode.

It was a riveting moment for the 8-man squad, who was acquired from Philippine champs Ultimate E-pro earlier that year. At the time, Ultimate E-pro had upset powerhouse Smart Omega en route to the Philippine title.



Team Secret’s rise in the Philippines

European organization Team Secret acquired Filipino players to start the year, in two of the biggest sporting titles: Valorant and League of Legends: Wild Rift.

In an interview with ABS-CBN News last December 8, Team Secret's CEO John Yao saw international experience as a factor to acquiring Filipino players for their newest rosters in the Riot Games-published titles.

"We just have a natural connection to the Philippines, but also I think that Filipino players tend to have a lot of international experience. Through Dota 2, through other games... And so I think they are in a way like very adaptable to playing on a global level, which makes them very pleasant and easy to work with," he said in a virtual interview.

Team Secret
Team Secret

And both squads delivered. The Valorant scene in the Philippines has been nothing short of fanfare, emerging as one of the most-tweeted about games in the first half of the year, and it saw the rise of local favorites.

From their stint in Bren Esports, Dispenser, Dubstep, Jessievash, Borkum, and Witz were the best team in Southeast Asia when they outgunned Paper Rex in the VALORANT Champions Tour 2021: Southeast Asia Stage 3 Challengers. But some travel documentation issues forced them to end their Champions: Berlin run before it could even start.

After the entire team moved to Team Secret, it seemed that stars aligned for them as they qualified for the inaugural world championship, Champions: Berlin.

The Team Secret boys then turned heads in the Valorant community after taking a point from Masters: Berlin champs Gambit Esports in the icebox map of their opening match,- “otso-otso” and “luksong baka” buffs aside.

They also barged into the playoffs, but were eliminated by eventual world champions Acend Gaming. They weren’t able to take the title, but they sure captured the hearts of Valorant fans around the world.

Team Secret’s Wild Rift squad also took the League of Legends: Wild Rift by storm, emerging 3rd-4th place in the inaugural global tournament Horizon Cup 2021, also held in Singapore - despite only able to meet personally before the global tourney.

Team Secret qualified through the SEA Championship 2021, which saw them fall to SBTC Esports, 4-1.

They were though, able to avenge this in the knockout stage of the Horizon Cup, where they swept SBTC Esports to start the playoffs, 3-0, before falling to China squad Da Kun Gaming and getting eliminated.


Release of TNC 'star' roster highlight PH's Dota 2 events in 2021

TNC Predator shocked the local esports community when they announced on September 13 that they are releasing Kim "Gabbi" Villafuerte, Armel Paul "Armel" Tabios, Jun "Bok" Kanehara, Timothy "Tims" Randrup, and Marvin "Boomy" Rushton into free agency.

Considered to be the best all-Filipino team at that time, the decision stunned everyone who followed the team, especially its Filipino fans.

The organization said the departure was an agreement between them and the players that “this would be the best decision moving forward.”

Their last appearance as a team was at the Southeast Asian qualifiers of The International 10 (TI10), where they failed to qualify in the massive $40 million tournament.

They bowed down to Fnatic, where they suffered an agonizing reverse sweep 3-2 in the grand finals.

As a result, no all-Filipino team has qualified at TI10.

Out of 15 teams in the SEA qualifiers, six were from the Philippines: TNC Predator, Execration, OB Esports x Neon (Neon), Smart Omega, Cignal Ultra, and ex-South Built Esports (SBE).

TNC finished the highest among the PH teams, securing second place, followed by Execration at fourth place.

EG beat TNC at the WePlay AniMajor 

TNC Predator also incurred a devastating loss at the WePlay AniMajor, where North American team Evil Geniuses (EG) defeated the all-PH team 2-1 in the lower bracket finals of the tournament.

Included in EG’s roster is a Dota prodigy named Abed Yusop.

Evil Geniuses, however, failed to take home the Major title, placing second after getting stomped by PSG.LGD at the finals, 3-0.

SEA-based teams T1, Fnatic suffered defeat at TI10 

In 2020, Valve was forced to postpone The International 10 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was initially moved to August 2021 in Sweden; however, it was again delayed to October 7 to 17, and took place in Bucharest, Romania. In June this year, Valve explained that they faced issues with the Swedish Sports Federation.

In a blog, Valve said that “the Swedish Sports Federation had just voted not to accept esports into the sports federation,” and “the request to reclassify The International Dota 2 Championships as an elite sporting event was immediately denied.”

On July 8, they finally announced that the widely anticipated tournament will take place at Arena Națională in Bucharest.

After securing the only SEA qualifiers slot, Fnatic proceeded to play at The International 10. Included in the SEA-based roster are Pinoy players Marc Polo Luis "Raven" Fausto and Djardel "DJ" Mampusti.

Early in the TI10 playoffs, Fnatic survived a BO1 death match against Team Undying behind Raven’s massively farmed Luna. They, unfortunately, dropped the next series in the lower bracket versus to-be TI10 champs Team Spirit 2-0. They took home $800,400 (approx. P40 million) in prizes, placing 9th-12th at the competition.

T1, the home of Philippines’ star players Karl "Karl" Jayme and Carlo "Kuku" Palad, placed slightly better than Fnatic, clinching the 7th-8th place at the tournament alongside a whopping $1,000,500 (approx. P50 million).

They first secured an upper bracket slot for themselves after placing fourth at the groups with a 10-6 record.

PSG.LGD, however, had other things in mind as they push T1 to the lower bracket in the first playoff series, 2-1. Hoping to be a successful lower bracket run, they knocked out Alliance in the next series.

Chinese team Vici Gaming, sadly, executed Filipino fans’ hopes for Kuku and Karl’s better placement at The International as they eliminate T1 2-1.

It was considered to be the year of the underdogs again, as Russian squad Team Spirit bag the Aegis of Champions after beating Chinese powerhouse PSG.LGD in a thrilling best of 5 grand finals. They took home the first-place reward of $18.2 million (approx. P900 million).

Four-time Major champ Fly plays at Southeast Asia with PH-based Talon Esports 

On November 17, Talon Esports announced its star-studded roster which centered around Israeli Tal “Fly” Aizik, alongside former TNC Predator players Kim “Gabbi” Villafuerte and Damien “kpii” Chok.

Formerly with North American squad Evil Geniuses, Fly has 4 Dota 2 Major victories to his name with European squad OG.

This is Talon Esports’ first entry into the Dota professional scene, with hopes to emulate its multiple victories in League of Legends and Arena of Valor.

Smart Omega’s controversial match-fixing allegations

On November 23, the Southeast Asia Dota Pro Circuit initially announced that they slapped Omega Esports with a ban at Valve events on allegations of match-fixing.

After conducting an internal investigation, the organization said Valve has lifted the ban after terminating the contracts of the members allegedly included in the activity a week following the announcement.

Omega terminated the contract of Coach Chris Ian Francis "CTY" Maldo, while ending the contracts of Prince Daculan and Ryniel Keit "Zenki" Calvez.

The lifting of the ban came after an appeal was made by management to Valve. Omega can now participate in the Dota Pro Circuit Spring Season and future events conducted by Valve.

OG made PH’s Fajardo a meme

Remember when back-to-back TI champs OG made June Mar Fajardo a meme?


Multiple professional basketball MVP June Mar Fajardo was teased as a “look-a-like” of OG’s Topias "Topson" Taavitsainen, OG’s middle core player, in posts that have trended online in May.


Fajardo, the cornerstone of the San Miguel Beer franchise in the PBA, is also a gamer.

He plays Dota 2 and Mobile Legends: Bang Bang, and uses his page AHOSgaming to stream his games. 

SEA title for local PUBG campus representatives

UNP Sharks took home PUBG Mobile Campus Championship - Southeast Asia title

Pride of the Philippines’ PUBG Mobile scene, UNP Sharks of University of Northern Philippines took home the title of PUBGM Campus Championship Southeast Asia 2021.

The $10,000 tournament took place from December 4-5, besting 15 other teams from Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Philippines.


The Vigan-based team defeated Malaysian crew PMS.Phantom and Vietnam’s ALIN UAY in total points to take home the crown of best school-based PUBG Mobile team in Southeast Asia, and also placed second and third place, respectively.

The PUBGM Campus Championship Southeast Asia frontrunners took home $2,500 (approx. P127,000) in cash prizes.

Michaeleans of Saint Michael's College of Laguna first emerged victorious in the PH-based PUBG Mobile Campus Championship. The local grand finals took place from December 4-5.

Alongside University of the Cordillera's Top Gunz UC and UNP Sharks of University of Northern Philippines, they represented the country in the SEA-wide tournament.

 Top Gunz UC and Michaeleans placed 13th and 15th in the PMCC SEA 2021, respectively.