DAYS into the lockdown, and PBA players were getting restless.
Some coped with enforced quarantine by getting into TikTok. Others, with home workouts. A noble few pitched in to help the frontliners.
Not a few of them, Chot Reyes noticed, were also blowing off steam through video games.
The former PBA and Gilas Pilipinas coach, who is currently president of the Philippine Collegiate Champions’ League Esports, reached out to esports organization Mineski.
“[He] suggested that we could do something with the PBA players during this quarantine, because they're mostly playing video games to wait [it] out,” said Izo Lopez, lead product manager for Mineski Esports PH, in an interview with SPIN Life.
“It was perfect timing because we were also looking to keep our community engaged during this time," he added. "As we developed the idea, we realized this is a great opportunity for gamers to contribute to the public health efforts.”
You may have already seen some players post about Mineski and PCCL’s partnership — the appropriately named Lockdown Games, which will stream every day at 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. on MineskiTV.
“Panoorin kami nina Japeth [Aguilar], Abai [June Mar Fajardo], at Kiefer [Ravena] sa DOTA2 Showmatch sa April 6,” posted Marc Pingris on Instagram, hyping his upcoming Dota 2 match for the Lockdown Games.
Also part of the lineup of the games — which will run from today, March 24, all the way up to April 10 — are the immensely popular Mobile Legends: Bang Bang, Call of Duty Mobile, plus a fairly fresh-faced new entry, Marvel Super War.
“We believe it has the potential to be the next big esport,” said Lopez. “With a full registration in just a few days, it’s a good sign for its future.”
It’s not just video games for video games’ sake. Funds raised via donations during the Lockdown Games will be donated to the UP Medical Foundation. In fact, Mineski has already pledged P1 million for the medical organization.
Esports: last sports standing?
At a time when the sports calendar is a barren field of shuttered leagues and canceled events — with the sword of postponement hanging over the biggest one of them all, the Olympics — the Lockdown Games is that rare thing in the coronavirus age: an actual, honest-to-goodness, this-is-happening sports event.
Long projected to be a global powerhouse, esports is uniquely positioned to take on a more prominent role as almost a billion people around the world go into stay-at-home mode.
The League of Legends European Championship is being conducted remotely, with teams playing from their training facilities (while practicing proper social distancing).
After a rousing call to arms by Spanish YouTuber Ibai Llanos, twenty La Liga players represented their teams in a FIFA 20 online tournament, with Marco Asensia steering a virtual Real Madrid to victory in the LaLiga Santander FIFA 20 Challenge.
Even F1 is moving online. Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen, who was on track to challenge Lewis Hamilton’s dominance before the races were canceled, is still racing — but from his living room, joining many other pros in The Race All-Star Esports Battle and other virtual races.
Many of these events also double as fundraisers for various charitable causes.
Esports is uniquely suited to the age of lockdowns and enhanced community quarantines. “We are no stranger to running online tournaments," said Lopez, "and when we introduced the concept to our work teams, everybody was excited to execute it.”
He added: “We have our shoutcasters commentating the games via video call, and we are equipped and able to run the show from our homes.”
It helps, too, that many pro athletes are also avid gamers.
Pingris even has an Instagram hashtag for fellow fanatics in the PBA, like June Mar Fajardo: #Dotaboys.
In the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, these esports events reaffirm what sports can still offer, even in these uncertain times: “[M]oments so thrilling or outlandish that they connected complete strangers,” as the Associated Press’ Jim Litke wrote.
“With this crisis hanging over everyone's heads, we wanted to create a breath of fresh air for our gaming community,” said Lopez. “Even if we're just helping the effort to stem the outbreak by staying at home, there are still things we can do as a community and as esports fans.”