EVEN IN Mobile Legends, Terrafirma can’t quite get a break.
But to be fair, for most of the Dyip players roped into an MLBB showmatch, this was their first time to play the 5v5 mobile arena battler.
“Sobrang magandang experience ‘to, kasi nga, di naman namin nalalaro talaga,” said 3x3 player Jeremiah Taladua after Terrafirma was pummeled by a team of influencers at an exhibition game inside the Dark League Studios headquarters at Quezon City. “Yung natutunan namin, kailangan mag-focus ka talaga, kailangan aralin mo talaga nang maigi. Nakakatuwa rin.”
Taladua was joined by fellow ML rookies Aldrech Ramos (nursing a bandaged hand) and Javi Gomez de Liaño. “Iba yung pressure dito,” chuckled Ramos. “Lalo na bago [‘to sa amin]. Nakaka-excite rin. Learning new things, diba?”
The PBA side’s inexperience showed in the scorecards — a nine-minute 54-5 thrashing in Game 1, with the influencers amassing an almost double gold lead; and then, at the decider, an even more lopsided 66-7 run before Terrafirma lost the base.
In the throwaway Game 2, de Liaño provided a moment of levity when, at the 12th minute, the casters realized that he hadn’t bought any items. Host Arvin “Toriyama” Recio had to scoot over beside Javi GDL and buy items for him.
“Iba talaga ang laro sa esports,” Javi mused after the game.
Of the four PBA players in attendance, only Gelo Alolino had played Mobile Legends before. He told Spin.ph that he had first picked it up during the lockdown, when the sports world ground to a halt. Two years later, esports is a fixture in the national consciousness, with massive audiences and equally massive sponsorships — a fact that always amazes the Terrafirma guard.
“Yung time ngayon, talagang makikita mo na trend na ang esports,” he said. “Very accessible [siya] through mobile, lahat pwede. [Pero] di siya biro. Kailangan mo talagang aralin, pag-praktisin para maging sharp ka.”
Can esports and basketball mix?
It's no secret that PBA players are big gamers. Naturally, a lot of them gravitate to NBA 2K. Marc Pingris, Robert Bolick, June Mar Fajardo, and many more are also major Dota 2 nuts. At the height of Typhoon Karding, Jeremiah Gray posted photos of Apex Legends on his Instagram Stories. And as Dark League Studios head AC Valdenor told Spin.ph, many players are also big Call of Duty fans.
But there's a huge difference between being a gamer, and being an esports athlete. Over the decades esports has become its own discipline... its own world, even. (And as its proponents never tire of telling outsiders, it's esports, without a dash, and it's definitely different from e-games, which is online gambling.) In the Philippines, esports, fluorishing in the margins for years, got a huge boost when it became a medal event at the 2019 SEA Games. But like many other things digital, it exploded in the pandemic to become the juggernaut it is today, with athletes who are household names, league sponsors from multinational FMCGs, and, according to analytics site Esports Charts, watch numbers in the millions.
Esports has definitely come into a league of its own, existing in the mainstream eye beside traditional sports like basketball or volleyball. It has its own lingo, its own culture, its own self-contained universe that exists just as much in streams and memes as it does in the real world.
But what if, thought AC Valdenor, he could bring the two worlds of basketball and esports together?
"Ang naging konsepto ng Dark League Studios is how we're actually going to bridge those two worlds: the people who play physical sports, and the people who play these mental, competitive sports," he said.
By "we", Valdenor is also referring to PBA executives Alfrancis Chua and Bobby Rosales, who are among the main backers of Dark League, and whose sons are involved in its operations.
In fact, Rosales was in the Dark League bootcamp on Friday night, watching with amusement as his Terrafirma boys were administered a thorough ass-kicking.
Dark League Studios wants to target the grassroots
In brainstorming sessions for the new venture, Chua and Rosales were eager to dip their toes into the world of esports, and equally eager to connect it to the sport they knew like the back of their hands.
"We had this idea na, bakit hindi natin pagdugtungin yung dalawang mundo na yun?" recalled Valdenor, who also runs an apparel company and works at a major telecommunications company. "Nag-usap na kami ni Governor Bobby two years ago about this. Nothing to lose tayo dito e. It's an idea that people wanted to actually happen."
It helped that whenever PBA players dip into the world of gaming, it gets a huge pop. Remember when June Mar Fajardo set up his own streaming channel? Or when Marc Pingris owned up to an embarrassing dare for the Mobile Legends world championship?
The company wants to lean hard on this natural interest. "Sabi ko kina Boss Bobby and Boss Al, let's try to amplify this. Let's try to boost it up, let's create programs," Valdenor said.
In this sense, Dark League Studios is hacking out a different path. Unlike other esports organizations, Valdenor told Spin.ph that they're not interested in fielding pro teams or joining tournaments. Instead, they want to focus on the grassroots, like their upcoming Kings League, a nationwide amateur tournament that kicks off this October.
With that kind of goal, PBA players make the perfect ambassadors for the widest possible reach. Basketball, after all, is still considered the country's de facto national sport.
June Mar Fajardo is Dark League's first major signing from the basketball world. But while he's not revealing any names, Valdenor said that there's many more to come, with players ringing his phone and asking how they can get involved.
No surprise there, when you've got Alfrancis Chua and Bobby Rosales in your corner.
"Ang pinakaganda dito is that when we create programs for these guys, let's use them to promote responsible gaming," said Valdenor, referring to Dark League Studios' main advocacy.
For now, last Friday's Community Clash between Terrafirma and the Mobile Legends influencers is the Dark League's most visible part of their PBA reach. But Valdenor assures us: That's just the start.
He's thinking of cooking up a possible grudge match, a Community Clash Part 2, for Terrafirma, just so they can avenge their humiliating defeat.
Joked Valdenor: "Baka tawagin nating 'Resbak'."