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    Here's why the PBA is launching its own esports venture

    For the PBA, esports is more than just a competition
    Jan 25, 2023
    PHOTO: Courtesy of PBA

    FROM THE collaboration between PBA players and MLBB personalities during the King's League to the appearance of Setsuna "Akosi Dogie" Ignacio during the PBA finals, the connection between basketball and esports has finally reached aa whole other level.

    And while combining these two industries may seem like an ambitious endeavor, the PBA revealed that the plans of fulfilling their esports dreams are slowly becoming a fruition — especially with the upcoming league-sanctioned Mobile Legends tournament, the PBA Esports Bakbakan.

    PBA Commissioner Willie Marcial said that the partnership with the PBA and esports org Dark League Studios is a win-win situation.

    "We in the PBA po ay extremely proud and grateful for this partnership with Dark League. With the history of the PBA sports entertainment, combined with the D-League, [as well as the] growing influence of modern technology, I think it’s a win-win situation for both parties in the PBA and D.League."


    He even said that he'd been talking with longtime MLBB impresario AkoSi Dogie, even during the heated Ginebra-Bay Area finals.

    "Tina-target namin yung mga youth. Alam ko magkaibang sports ito e. Kausap ko nga si Akosi Dogie doon sa Game 7 na, ‘Sana magsama nga yung naglalaro sa amin ng basketball, makalaro sa esports. Yung mga naglalaro sa esports, maka-experience naman ng basketball..." he said.

    "Sana mapag-isa namin itong dalawang sports na ito."


      How the PBA's esports league will operate?

      In an exclusive interview with Spin.ph, Dark League's head of operations, Carlo Giron, mentioned how the rosters will be formed.

      "Our initial plan kasi for PBA esports, yung roster namin for 12 PBA teams will consist of two PBA players, one ML influencer, three PBA fans/grassroots players, and one player [from the academe]," revealed Giron.

      And while this could raise some concerns about the tournament's credibility and competitive nature, Giron mentioned in the press conference that the league has made steps to maintain their integrity.

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      "For the qualifications, we made sure na medyo somehow competitive tayo, like 600 points yung major qualification para makasali. Since sobrang daming aspiring MLBB PBA na nag-apply, it’s like 3,878 yung total ng applicants...

      "With the help of my department with league operations, tinawagan [sila] mano-mano, for the last week. So lahat sila, ininterview, tinanong gaano ka-sincere sumali, bakit nila gustong sumali sa PBA esports, tsaka kung totoong legit na fan sila ng PBA, and kung totoong naglalaro sila."

      And while the thousands of applicants may seem like a daunting task, the league was able to trim it down to 70, said Dark League's program director, Marc Chua.

      "So as of now, we’ve already finished picking the pool of 70 fans that will be drafted soon, but besides that we’ll just say that we have a lot more things in store for you. But we will be starting with Mobile Legends: Bang Bang," said Chua.


      Influencers, sports execs, officials at the PBA Esports Bakbakan press conference.

      Tournament format and schedule for PBA Esports Bakbakan

      With only 70 applicants gunning for a slot, Giron already revealed the target dates for the draft. He also revealed when the tournament will commence.

      "For the calendar, right after this press conference, we'll start with the PBA esports draft by February 13. Then right after ng two weeks, we will start the tournament proper," said Giron.


      As for the format? "Sa tournament format natin, it’s single round robin, so everyone gets a chance na makalaban lahat ng teams sa PBA.

      "Then tatagal siya ng five weeks every Monday lang, livestream din siya sa Facebook page ng PBA and Dark Leagus Studios, then after noon, kukunin namin yung top four na magpro-proceed sa ating playoffs. For the playoffs, gagawin namin siyang interesting."

      Giron hinted that they will draw inspiration from the NFL's Super Bowl.

      "So aside from the best of five matches ng top four, kalagitnaan may halftime show. Magi-invite kami ng guest, artist, gagawin namin siyang sports plus esports plus music, all in one, para maging kakaiba talaga siya and makaka-deliver ng kakaiba sa community natin."

      Commissioner Willie Marcial (third from left) join Dark League Studios officers in PBA Esports Bakbakan presscon.


      More than just the competition

      But more than the competitive side of esports, the PBA wants to use the upcoming tournament to bridge their two separate worlds apart. With tens of thousands attending the recently concluded Commissioner's Cup finals, the league's name will be a good platform to educate the general public more about esports.

      “We want to bridge esports and conventional sports and make people know that esports is not something that is ‘kaka-computer mo lang yan,’" said Chua, who is himself an avid gamer. "It’s something that is going to grow and will continue to grow and it’s something that...esports isn’t something that you use in your free time. It’s a culture, it’s something that all of us can enjoy."

      Dark League's chief revenue officer Cherry Valdenor also pointed out that the PBA was tapping influencers from the esports world to also connect gamers to traditional sports.

      "So just like in PBA esports, it is our way to give back to the community by educational programs like, ‘Hey, we’ll teach you basketball because everything is not just about Mobile Legends or CODM," she said.


      During the press conference, the likes of Akosi Dogie, Elyson "Wrecker" Caranza, and Eric "Eruption" Tai were present. Their presence there was strategic. Said Cherry Valdenor: "We’re teaching the PBA to strategically communicate with esports through our influencers kasi talaga nga naman, yung mga batang ito, kailangan namin mag-usap sa kanila through gaming and esports.

      "I think that value we give to PBA esports, starting with the showmatch of the PBA players and also the influencers doon sa finals day ng Kings League, is our kickoff to [tell the] community that, ‘Hey, it’s your time to be given opportunities in both worlds. Maglaro tayo ng basketball, maglaro tayo ng esports."

      In the end, after all, it's all sports. "It’s one community, it’s one culture, in the future," she said.

      Get more of the latest sports news & updates on SPIN.ph

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      PHOTO: Courtesy of PBA
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