WHEN ECHO PH debuted in the scene, their "super team" status was quickly humbled by their first-round playoff exit in Season 9.
So when Season 10 arrived, there were many doubts surrounding the Orcas. RSG PH was proving to be the new sheriff in town after winning the MSC, while Omega Esports was making waves especially with the improvements from Duane “Kelra” Pillas.
Then there was the return of the V33Wise tandem.
ECHO PH were vindicated with a runner-up finish in Season 10. In M4, they further made a statement in the world stage by defeating two revitalized and determined teams in Onic Esports and RRQ Hoshi.
Now, with a rematch set between ECHO PH and Blacklist International for MLBB supremacy, here's the chance for the Orcas to finally end the dominance of Blacklist International.
But their appearance in the finals is also a moment of retribution for the team.
Yawi is more than just a TikToker in ECHO PH
Ever since his days with Nexplay, Tristan "Yawi" Cabrera has sometimes been branded as a "TikToker" — an insult that marked him in the eyes of fans as a content creator and not a professional player.
Fans had the same opinions about his Nexplay teammates John Paul "H2wo" Salonga and Renejay "RENEJAY" Barcarse, who also pumped out numerous social media vlogs.
In a sense, this was inevitable. After all, Setsuna "Akosi Dogie" Ignacio was also in the same bootcamp as the "big three."
But when Yawi switched to ECHO PH, his playstyle evolved. From celebrity gamer, Yawi became a potential finals MVP in Season 10 and one of the most explosive roamers in the M4.
And when asked what sets him apart from his former teammates H2wo and RENEJAY, here's what he had to say.
"Siguro ano po, ibang-iba na po ako sa kanila kase ako po, alam ko sa sarili ko po yung priority ko simula pa lang po kaya po nandito ako ngayon. Sila po kase siguro hindi po sila ganoon kasigurado sa decision nila kaya ayun po."
He added: "I think they know (their priorities), pero hindi lang nila alam kung ano yung pinaka-uunahin talaga."
At hindsight, Yawi's decision brought him to new heights, while both H2wo and RENEJAY are currently in a career limbo. Historically, players who left Nexplay have made leaps and bounds: Yawi and Sanford "SanFord" Vinuya's in ECHO PH, as well as Coach John Michael "Zico" Dizon and Jhonwin "Hesa" Vergara's MPL championship in Cambodia's Burn X Flash.
The return of KarlTzy
But it wasn't only Yawi who has a lot to prove as Karl "KarlTzy" Nepomuceno's post-match statement was an exclamation point against his critics.
"Gusto ko lang po patunayan sa mga nag-doubt sa amin na kaya rin namin sumabay. Kasi since [Season 9] kakalipat ko ng ECHO, lagi kaming tinatawag na first round exit. Kaya saan kayo ngayon?" said KarlTzy in an interview with Mara Aquino.
His statement was a testament to his efforts as KarlTzy came a long way from that painful Season 9 stint.
Back then, KarlTzy was criticized for being stubbornly loyal to assassins and the Killing Spree emblem, even though tank junglers and Demon Slayer emblems were already shaping the meta. Karl has even been branded by some as a 'selfish' player.
But recall his statement after their Onic victory: "I think we're the best team. I'm a team player right now, so I don't care about stats or MVP. I've been there." Witness, also, his decision to become a punching bag for a team with jungle Fredrinns and Barats.
In M4, KarlTzy has shown that he is willing to put more effort in winning for his team.
Is he the best jungle Fredrinn in M4? His Blacklist counterpart may disagree. But KarlTzy has managed to become a pest with that hero, as seen with RRQ and Blacklist's decision to ban it.
And back in the world stage, KarlTzy is determined to regain his crown as the best jungler in the world.
Bennyqt, the gathering storm
But besides these two veterans, Frederic Benedict "Bennyqt" Gonzales also has a point to make.
If previous seasons saw him viewed as a talented player who struggles in the playoff rounds, his M4 outing proved the opposite.
To some, Bagyong Benny is already the best gold laner in the world after mechanically outplaying his foes. A key reason for his emergence stems from a change in mindset.
"Para sa akin, yung pinakabinago ko talaga is unang-una yung mindset ko e," he explained. "Mindset ko bago maglaro tsaka sa in-game. Kumbaga noong mga previous seasons sa MPL, kadalasan sa laro ko, parang nagho-hold back po ako. Baka [kasi] kapag nagkakamali ako, anong maririnig ko sa kakampi, sa ibang tao... Although hindi ako sinisisi ng kakampi ko.
"Pero this M-series, parang all-out ako kung anong mangyari, yun na iyon."
With so much at stake for ECHO PH, expect the Orcas to make their final push and spoil the Blacklist dynasty.