Following the Philippines' demolition of Vietnam in the Dota 2 winner's bracket finals, none could be prouder than Coach Paolo "Sandata" Bago. After all, the national esports team had already been through a lot, even before lifting a finger to play in the 30th Southeast Asian Games.
When Philippine Southeast Asia Esports Union announced the official lineup for Sibol three months ago, a lot of fans were visibly upset upon learning that the obvious big names were left out. It was Bago who had to play fireman, explaining why such decisions were made and why the other players opted not to represent the country.
Fast forward to the Games, and so far, doubts have been silenced. The Filipinos almost went undefeated in the group stage, only dropping a game against a resilient Myanmar side. They followed the stellar run by romping the Vietnamese in the upper bracket finals to secure the PH's third podium finish for esports.
"I understand where they (critics) are coming from, kasi siyempre they are fans of these players (and their) teams," Paolo told SPIN Life shortly after qualifying for the gold medal round. "I don't really have anything negative to say to them. Ang sa amin lang is, I hope we have been able to change their minds. We believe in this team."
Sibol Dota 2 is composed of Martin Salvador "Boomy" Rushton, MC Nicholson "Mc" Villanueva, John Anthony "Natsumi" Vargas, Jun "Bok" Kanehara, Bryle Jacob "CML" Alvizo from Adroit, as well as Van Jerico "Van" Manalaysay and James Erice "Erice" Guerra of Cignal Ultra.
"Most importantly, I believe in the reasoning why we chose to do the selection this way. And the reasons why the other players declined the invitation, for me, it's nothing negative," assured Paolo, who also served as international squad Fnatic's analyst during Dota Pro Circuit 2018-19.
He revealed, "Even the players na nag-decline, I know they are cheering us on. They send us those messages every day." As for their next opponent, which turned out to Thailand after it beat the Viets in the lower bracket finals, Paolo is confident that the team is more than ready for anyone:
"Number one, we have time, and second, we've already fought two out of three. And third is I know two players from Thailand because they're from my old team (Fnatic), so we're good. Ang sa amin lang ngayon is we're going to rest, we're going to eat, and we're going to study (them)."