WHEN Riot Games brought League of Legends to the Philippines under the Garena banner, there was promise to grow the Filipino LoL community, especially with events like Rampage and Globe Conquerors serving as an attraction.
But amid the hype from these events, there was no denying the lows that took place. I remember most of my former colleagues ranting about Garena’s management of League of Legends in the Philippines, and I was wondering, "Why?"
Then I watched a vlog from one of the most notorious LoL casters in the Philippines, Shin Boo “Sh1n Boo” Ponferrada, who listed down a plethora of alleged issues from Garena, where the company put up so many barriers in supporting a tournament.
Heck, they even barred the localized broadcast of international LoL events, compared to Dota 2 that boasted KuyaNic’s WomboXCombo page and MineskiTV’s Twitch channel.
And it didn’t help that Dota 1 tournaments were easier to organize due to the availability of LAN and the success that Filipino Dota 2 teams like Mineski and TNC had in the international stage. Compare that to Mineski’s LoL team that competed in Worlds Season 3 — and got obliterated by everyone else.
Then came Mobile Legends: Bang Bang which placed the final nail in LoL’s coffin.
Riot builds up hype surrounding these games
There was an opportunity to fill a yawning gap in our esports and gaming scene. Valorant is an FPS game that appealed to the Filipino audiences, given our history with Counter-Strike. But unlike the traditional shooter game from Valve, Riot’s FPS game featured a varied cast of characters and personalities... just like the popular MOBAs Dota 2 and Mobile Legends.
Of course, the free-to-play aspect helped, too, as the former Bren Esports squad — now Team Secret — told Spin.ph in an interview last year.
Then there’s League of Legends: Wild Rift that covers the mobile gaming market, which has been a rising trend in the Philippines, as seen with Call of Duty: Mobile and MLBB.
And with Team Secret making headlines in both games as they bannered the Filipino pride on the global stage, one could make a case that these two games would slowly rise in the Philippine esports landscape, especially with Riot putting more emphasis on SEA in 2022.
Riot introduces Zeri and Neon
Riot also opened 2022 by putting Philippine culture front and center in their two newest esports titles.
Neon’s arrival in the Valorant scene was completely different from other Filipino characters in video games. She wasn’t just named after a famous personality, like Josie Rizal from Tekken 7 or Paquito from Mobile Legends.
Nor did Riot force her into a Filipino-sounding name like Volta or Kidlat. They gave her a simple yet catchy name.
And by looking at her trailer, there was a huge emphasis on Filipino culture. Besides the Gilas Pilipinas jersey and the walis tambo, there was also the ring light and the framed medals, referencing the normal room setup of Gen Z Pinoys.
To top the cherry on the cake, Neon welcome her new assignment from Sage with an exasperated “Hay buhay!” — a phrase that a lot of Filipinos could relate to.
In the world of League of Legends, Zeri doesn’t hail from the Philippines, but from the fictional world of Zaun, yet her backstory hints at a Filipino life (she even says, "Hoy!" in her trailer). Zaun does resemble the slum areas of the Philippines while Zeri’s working-class background echoes the Filipino’s grit-and-grind behavior.
Ultimately, their arrival showed us a better way of introducing Filipinos in video games that doesn't rely on the usual stereotypes. It turned out to be a breath of fresh air that referenced the other aspects of Philippine culture that fans ultimately appreciated.
Amid the positives, Riot still has a long way to go
Though Riot has done a good job in penetrating the Philippine gaming and esports scene for the past couple of years, there are still a lot of things that need to be done.
Valorant is slowly becoming the FPS hub for Filipinos, with Riot showing more support to the community... something that Valve failed to do with CS:GO as they paid more attention to the Western regions, despite Counter-Strike’s obvious popularity in the PH.
But that doesn’t mean that Riot already has an unopposed foothold in the country.
NetEase just released Hyper Front, a game that looks exactly like Valorant — but on mobile. With the number of mobile gamers dwarfing that of PC users here in the country, it’s possible that this could capture a fair share of the market.
After all, it happened before with Mobile Legends, which looked so much like a LoL clone that Riot Games sued. (The two companies eventually settled the case.) ML eventually became a hit in the Philippines, overpowering even rivals like Vainglory and Arena of Valor.
Will Wild Rift overtake MLBB? A look at the esports landscape shows that Riot is still way behind Moonton, which has expanded into a franchise system and some very aggressive marketing locally and in the global stage.
Moonton’s mobile MOBA game has already covered Brazil and SEA, two regions with a strong mobile gaming presence, and fans are wondering if Riot could step up in 2022.
And with the character reveals of Neon and Zeri, it’s possible that Moonton or other publishers would follow Riot’s approach. I wouldn’t be surprised if they capitalized on their Filipino audience in more of their marketing moving forwards.
We'll just have to see. After all, the company was able to learn from their previous flaws as seen when they ditched Garena for their Wild Rift launch. Plus, there are rumors that they’re currently developing a mobile version of Valorant to capture the coveted mobile FPS market.
Will 2022 be the year Riot runs riot?
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