IN THE esports front, the year was bookended by two momentous Pinoy triumphs in the Mobile Legends stage, with Bren Esports and Blacklist International emerging as world champions in the first and last months of the year. It was a fortuitous way to start, and end, a banner year in Philippine esports.
Let’s recap the most epic moments of 2021.
Bren engineers lower bracket comeback to become world champions
A vengeful Bren Esports, still at the peak of their powers, showed up in the M2 World Championships in Singapore in January. Kicked down to the lower bracket by the Burmese Ghouls, Bren would take the long, hard road to the finals, and ultimately hoist up the trophy with a wire-to-wire Game 7 win against the Ghouls.
Karl “KarlTzy” Nepomuceno got the nod as series MVP.
But their M2 win would herald the beginning of the end for Bren Esports’ Mobile Legends squad, as they — and the rest of the Pinoy teams in the popular MOBA — would fall under the shadow of a rising juggernaut: Blacklist International.
Blacklist International becomes new darling of MPL-PH… and the world
With the arrival of Johnmar “OhMyV33nus” Villaluna and Danerie “Wise” del Rosario from ONIC PH, Blacklist International began its ascension in the beginning of Season 7. Anchored in what would become known as their ‘ultimate bonding experience’ or UBE strategy, the Codebreakers would prove nigh unbreakable throughout Season 7 and 8. The back-to-back PH champions would later become world champions in December, as they, like Bren, fought through the lower bracket to soundly defeat their Season 8 finals opponent Onic PH.
The team’s charismatic shotcaller OhMyV33nus also became known for speaking out for the LGBTQ community within the insular scene — ensuring that their impact resonates far beyond the confines of the Land of Dawn.
E-Gilas takes back 2K crown
After falling to Australia in the last Fiba Esports Open, E-Gilas came roaring back with a vengeance. Despite tough opposition from rivals Indonesia, the Philippine national NBA 2K team powered through for a clean sweep and the gold medal in the regional cup.
Meanwhile, earlier this month, Playbook Esports (some of whom are also members of E-Gilas) nabbed the top spot in the NBA 2K League APAC Invitationals, defeating Australia's New Era and earning themselves NBA 2K Draft eligibility.
MSC winner Execration transforms into Smart Omega in new franchise league
With barely so much as a breather following their Season 7 finals showdown, Blacklist International and Execration faced off again in the regionals back in June. This time, it was Execration that got the upper hand in a decisive 4-1 victory.
Riding high on their momentum, Execration would later be snapped up to form the core of the Smart Omega’s new roster, as the MPL-PH professionalized itself into a franchise league, with minimum player salaries, a code of conduct, and eight permanent franchises ready to rumble.
Dunoo passes away
The entire esports industry, both here and abroad, was saddened by the sudden passing of Aldrin Paulo “Dunoo” Pangan. Kuya D, as he was fondly known, was a pioneering Pinoy shoutcaster who, along with Lon Marcelo, turned “Lakad matataaaaag! Normalin! Normalin!” into an iconic Dota catchphrase.
Tributes, including official in-game ones from Dota 2 developer Valve, poured in to commemorate his untimely death.
Kuku, Karl help lead T1 to respectable TI finish
There was no shortage of Pinoys picking up the cudgels for the country in the vibrant Dota 2 scene. But it would be T1 — led by veterans Carlos “Kuku” Palad and Karl “Karl” Baldovino — who would go the farthest in The International 10, ending at 7th-8th place and a cool $1,000,500 in their collective pocket.
It was a rollercoaster ride for T1 that took them from the DPC SEA to the WePlay AniMajor and finally, to a fight for the Aegis in Bucharest, Romania. But they would be sent home by Chinese team Vici Gaming in a 2-1 series at the lower bracket. Upstarts Team Spirit would later go on to win the championships.
Team Secret makes their mark in Wild Rift and Valorant
In two rising esports scenes, Team Secret is emerging as the name to watch.
In League of Legends: Wild Rift, the all-Pinoy squad took 3rd-4th place in the game’s inaugural world championships after being taken down in the Horizon Cup semis by DTK Gaming. This followed a stellar Southeast Asia Cup run that saw the team finish as runner-ups to Vietnam’s SBTC Esports just a month prior.
Team Secret Valorant, meanwhile, had a long and winding journey to the VCT, Valorant’s first world championships, in Berlin. As Bren Esports, the sharpshooting roster barreled through the competition to take the Southeast Asia crown, but their path to Berlin was blocked by unforeseen visa problems.
In a whirlwind series of events, the team parted ways with Bren, Team Secret swooped in to sign them up, and at last the newly rechristened squad was off to Europe, where they reached the quarterfinals — and introduced the world to the wonders of otso-otso.
Blacklist International goes the distance in CODM
But it wasn’t just in Riot’s rising esports titles where the Philippines showed their prowess. They also made their mark in Activision’s Call of Duty Mobile landscape.
And like their MLBB counterparts, it was Blacklist International who took the centerstage, after winning against their Southeast Asian rivals ALMGHTY in a grueling 5-game slugfest — the perfect revenge story after losing from them in the Garena Qualifiers and the group stages of the World Championships.
They didn't only beat them during the finals; they proved to be the resilient team that mounted a comeback against them in the upper bracket finals. Blacklist CODM was ultimately crowned as the best team in the East — and perhaps could have become the best team in the world had the World Finals not been canceled.