PRIOR to his arrival to the MPL, Jomarie “Escalera” Delos Santos was your typical millennial jeepney driver who would often experience the endless loop of traffic and discord alongside EDSA.
This happened four times in a week.
“19 years old po ako eh, jeepney driver ako," recalled Esalera. "Ang biyahe ko lang noon halos apat na araw sa isang linggo. Ang biyahe ko Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday. Yung Wednesday po coding, minsan babiyahe ako kung gusto kong bumiyahe.”
But beyond working the Guadalupe-Taft route, he also had a string of other jobs, including a stint at a popular fastfood chain.
“Bukod sa jeepney driver nagtrabaho rin ako sa fast food, sa may kitchen.”
Yet that never deterred his drive and passion for gaming and esports as he would spend his free time playing the games he loved to the point. On weekends, he even signed up for esports tournaments.
Initially he started his career with League of Legends, alongside current TNC teammate, Robee Bryan “Yasuwo” Pormocille.
But seeing how the League of Legends scene was fizzling out in the PH, it was time to make that leap of faith.
Initially, Escalera was hesitant to transition to MLBB, but he slowly fell in love with the game.
“Na-dicover ko yung MLBB pagkatapos po ng biyahe. Una po binabash ko yung ML kase kapag galing kang Dota or galing kang LoL, parang basic lang yan,” he recounted.
He added: “Sabay triny ko one time, pagkauwi ko ng biyahe, na-feel ko yung na-feel ko sa Dota at tsaka LoL, nag-enjoy din ako, same mechanics lang pala.”
And so began his MLBB career.
PPGL breakthrough for Escalera
Escalera grinded his way across numerous amateur MLBB tournaments during the weekend, hoping for him and his team to finally reach a breakthrough. Initially, the results were dismal.
“Lima kami noon, si Lift, si ISONN, si Keke, ako at si Yasuwo yung gold lane namin ngayon sa TNC," described Escalera. "Sa sobra dami naming sinalihan na smart play, mga 10K-10K, wala po kaming chinampion.”
But amid the numerous disappointments, the team kept on grinding and when one of the biggest amateur tournaments came in PPGL 2019, it was finally time for them to experience their resurgence.
In a tournament that boasted a P600,000 prize pool — a far cry from the usual P10K tournaments they signed up for — Escalera and his team Ignite Esports managed to surprise the amateur MLBB scene.
For a team that was barely recognized in the underground leagues, they garnered the overall championship... and most importantly they were acquired by one of the most notable MLBB organizations in the PH, ArkAngel.
“Sabay pag-champion namin doon, kinontact kami ng ArkAngel kase magdi-disband yung hawak nila,” he narrated. “Hindi pa kami kilala noon eh, nag-champion kami, hindi pa kami kilala sa mga tournament kase puro 10K-10K yung sinasalihan namin.”
He added: “Parang hinugot lang kami sa lupa tapos umangat. Parang mga RG boy lang. Pero kung tutuusin, hindi nga kami RG boy eh, kase diba bumabiyahe-biyahe ako? Hindi ako nakapaglaro masyado.”
This became a sign for him to forego the mundaneness caused by the back-and-forth travels in EDSA to pursue a professional career.
Lipad ArkAngel for Escalera and co.
Joining a prestigious club like ArkAngel was definitely a blessing for Escalera, who could now focus on his playing career. It was also a perfect opportunity for him to hone his skills.
“Yung sa ArkAngel, doon ko na-maximize yung galing ko. Bago kase ako pumasok sa ArkAngel, kaunti lang hero pool. Sabay syung pagpunta ko sa ArkAngel, doon ko mas lalong na-enjoy ang ML and doon ko nakitaan ng potential.”
Then came the MPL qualifiers, where it was time for him to finally apply what he developed, until he reached the biggest stage in the MLBB scene.
But not every story would always have a happy ending. ArkAngel grinded their way to the qualifiers only for them to suffer one of the most painful outcomes: They reached the grand finale in three consecutive seasons, only to lose, robbing them of their shot at the main stage.
“Yung unang talo namin sa qualifiers, yung mga teammates ko umiiyak. Yung pangalawa at pangatlo, masakit na po talaga eh. Ayun lang kase yung way para mapunta sa pro scene bukod sa kukunin ka.”
And, as if to rub salt on the wound, the MPL shifted to a franchise system, meaning that the dreams of amateur teams making it to the big stage were all but crushed.
“Diba nababalitaan na mawawala yung qualifiers?" he asked rhetorically. "Mas mawawalan ng chance na makapunta sa pro scene.”
As the MPL reached a new dawn with their new franchise system, ArkAngel was forced to watch on the sidelines, hoping for a possibility for them to reach the MPL.
ArkAngel’s demise and a new beginning for Escalera
But these setbacks actually paved the way for opportunities. With teams in Season 9 desperate to acquire up-and-coming talents, the players from ArkAngel were considered. Kenneth “Saxa” Fedelin, Marco “Super Marco” Stephen Balancio Requitano, and Vincent “Joy Boy” De Guzman were handpicked by Bren Esports.
As for Escalera? Initially, there was no team that was interested in attaining his services which he took really hard.
“Parang magqui-quit ML na sana ako noon," he revealed.
And then, one last shot. “Noong nalaman ko mag-tryout sa TNC, yung pumunta ako Cerebrum, sinabi ni Boss BLT, ‘Try ko daw mag-tryout sa TNC.’ Noong una ayaw ko kase nawalan ako ng pag-asa syempre yung mga kakampi mo nakuha na eh. Parang walang nakaka-appreciate sa laro ko kaya gusto kong sumuko noon.
After all, he didn't want to grow old with regrets on his shoulders.
“Pero para walang regret, baka sabihin ko kapag tanda ko na, ‘dapat na lang nagganito or dapat nagganyan,' sinabi ko sa sarili ko na huli na ang TNC. Kung kukunin ako, itutuloy ko pero kung hindi magqui-quit na talaga ako. Sa awa ng Diyos ako yung nakuhang Pos 4 ng TNC.”
Finally, he has reached his long-awaited goal of reaching the MPL, as part of the Phoenix and a new beginning awaits him. And what a new beginning it is; TNC Pro Team is currently at the top of the MPL-PH standings, after one week of play.
“Sobrang saya ko lalo na dahil naipapakita ko yung laro ko sa MPL. Ayoko po mag-expect ng mataas kase kung hindi mo makukuha masakit talaga eh. Bahala na si Lord kung anong mangyari sa Season 9, kung mag-champion man or hindi, masaya ako sa mga nangyari.”