IT WAS a different time back then.
It was only three years ago (and one year before his gold medal at the first-ever esports clash in the Southeast Asian Games), but back then, Jeniel “Haze” Bata-anon was just worried about when he was going to eat next.
“Ang struggle kasi namin, yung bootcamp po namin, nasa Cubao pa,” Haze recalled with a laugh in the latest episode of online talk show MPL: Chillax. “Minsan, tag-gutom, kasi nakakahiyang humingi ng pagkain. Kumakain talaga kami ng sitsirya lang.”
With MPL-PH Season 7 action postponed until next week, MPL-PH took the time to gather the remaining veterans of the league’s heady early days into a throwback episode. Along with Haze was Bren Esports’ Ribo and Pheww, Nexplay’s AkoSi Dogie, and Execration’s Z4pnu and Coach P4kbet.
Haze is a tank/support for Omega Esports now. But back then, YellyHaze, as his IGN was known at the time, was part of Aether Main — the squad that would eventually end up winning the Mobile Legends: Bang Bang Professional League’s first season.
His teammate at the time was Carlito “Ribo” Ribo. And on the shoulders of their team jersey was the logo of their then-coach and manager: AkoSi Dogie.
Dogie, whose real name is Setsuna Ignacio, is often credited as the godfather of MPL-PH, thanks to his entrepreneurial efforts during the pioneering, wild west days of the esports league.
“Sinasabi ngayon ng mga tao, [it was for] business purposes, ganyan,” explained Dogie to Chillax hosts Mara Aquino and Dan ‘Leo’ Cubangay. “Sa akin kasi, hindi ko yan [tiningnan], kasi gusto ko yung structure ng esports dito sa Pilipinas, which [was] not yet established talaga. E nakikita ko talaga yung MPL nun ang magbibigay pundasyon sa lahat ng esports, lalo na dito sa Pilipinas.”
He added: “Sobrang laking gamble nun. Kung titingnan niyo kasi, parang, mag-i-invest ako, pero wala akong kikitain. Ginawa ko yung para matulungan yung mga player na magawa nila ang gusto nila.”
Demonstrating his trademark savvy for a good storyline, Dogie also explained how he had engineered a rivalry between Aether Main and Obsidian Gaming.
“Sina Z4pnu yung good guy. Si Z4pnu yung image of Obsidian Gaming,” he said of Billy ‘Z4pnu’ Alfonso. “AE (Aether Main), sila yung bad guy. Walang kilala sa kanila nun. Sabi ko, you know what? Kunin ko yung bad guy, para lalong manood yung mga tao, ma-engganyo sila na may bida, may kontrabida.”
Dogie also spoke briefly about Bren Esports’ acquisition of Aether Main.
“At that point, to be honest, ambaba ng sahod nila sa akin. I’ll be totally transparent. Ang sinasahod nina Haze nun, which is para sa akin masakit, cause yun lang ma-afford ko, was P5,000 a month,” Dogie admitted.
He felt his players would get a better shot and a better opportunity if a professional esports organization would take over the management of the team. And so Aether Main would rebrand and become the first incarnation of Bren Esports’ now-legendary Mobile Legends squad.
“Ngayon, super proud ako para sa kanila, to be honest. Di lang as a friend, di lang bilang dati nilang colleague. Ibang klase nagawa nila,” Dogie said.
At one point in the show, the hosts asked their guests if there was anything they missed about those wild old days of MPL-PH Season 1.
Angelo Kyle "Pheww" Arcangel, who is now part of Bren Esports’ world champion team, answered honestly, “Yung pinaka-namimiss ko siguro is, mas mababa yung pressure nun. Parang mas less stress yung Season 1 e, kaysa ngayon.”