IT ISN'T hard to imagine Johnmar "OhMyV33nus" Villaluna — captain and shot caller for defending champions Blacklist International — getting his start with small-time bets inside internet cafes in his hometown of Antipolo.
After all, what Filipino millennial didn't grow up inside the computer shop?
Still, it's amazing to track the rise of "The Queen", as netizens call him, from these community tournaments to the top of the Mobile Legends Professional League-Philippines.
Any avid follower of the scene also knows that the 27-year-old captain also helped lead Blacklist to a second-place finish in the Mobile Legends Southeast Asia Cup.
And as they continue with their title-retention bid this season 8, OhMyV33nus continues to shines as the leader with "motherly love" for his team.
Back to the beginning
By his own admission, Villaluna estimates that, during his younger years, he often spent more or less 12 hours a day playing online games.
“Hindi techy ‘yung family ko at wala kaming sariling computer sa bahay so sa computer shop lang talaga ako naglalaro,” he told Spin.ph.
“Thirteen years old ako, nagstart ako sa mga RPG games like Ragnarok, then I played WarCraft/Dota 1, kung saan nauso ‘yung mga pusta-pustahan, mga mini tournaments sa computer shop, tapos ‘dun na nag-evolve ‘yung pagka-competitive ko,” continued Villaluna.
He was hooked right from the very start. It already occurred to the young V33 that this is what he wanted to do as a career. From those early games, he branched out into the League of Legends, which got him even more hooked in the MOBA scene.
But back then, the real-life opportunities for gamers wasn't as clear as it is now.
“Mga 17 to 19 years old ako nag-start sa MOBA games. Seven years kong nilaro yon. Ever since, sinusubukan pumasok sa pro, pero hindi ako nabibigyan ng pagkakataon,” he said. “Nakakapagod na, nakakasawa, umabot ako sa point na nagagalit na sakin ‘yung family ko kasi puro computer. Sinasabi sa akin, ‘Magtrabaho ka naman’ para makatulong sa mother mo.”
His mom was an overseas Filipino worker in Japan. At that time, V33 was already 25 years old, unemployed, and on the verge of losing hope that he'd ever turn gaming into a fully fledged career.
He also had troubles doing it side by side with his studies.
“Una, kinakaya pa pagsabayin sa pag-aaral. Pero medyo mas nalulon sa games, dun na nahirapan. Hindi ako magaling mag-multitask, so medyo napariwara din ako before,” he revealed.
V33 went on: “So around mga 2018, nag-decide ako na iwan na, para mag-work. Kukunin ako ng mother and sister ko sa Japan para dun din magtrabaho. Iiwan ko na ‘yung gaming, focus na lang sa life and family."
But as he waited for his visa application to come through, he picked up a new mobile game called Mobile Legends.
“Una kong naglaro non kakatapos lang ng MPL Season 3. [Sa] MSC, naging unang idols ko ‘yung Onic Indonesia. ‘Dun lang nagstart, nung nag-aabang na ako ng visa pa-Japan. May mga friends ako sa Facebook na naglalaro tapos nagka-ayaan, tapos naka-meet kami ng former LoL players [at] naisipan namin gumawa ng group,” he bared.
This small group began joining minor level tournaments like inter-barangay leagues. For the record, their record was unblemished in their handful of games.
Through this, they were able to bring home a good amount of prize money, and that’s when it occurred to Villaluna that this might actually be his long-awaited shot.
“Nanalo lang kami nang nanalo, first, second, third, fourth tournaments, champion kami. Tapos dun na kami nangarap,” he said. “Nakakuha kami ng sponsors, mas malalaking tournaments na nasalihan namin.”
Road to the throne
We all know what happened next: OhMyV33nus went from local covered court games to mall-based tiffs to the Philippine version of that MSC team he admired, Onic.
And then, late last year, he made his big move to Blacklist International... and spearheaded a run that's now scything through the MPL-PH Season 8 in an undefeated run.
It's safe to say, he’s finally achieved his goal to make a living out of gaming.
“Since bata ako ito naman talaga ‘yung pangarap ko kaya sobrang nakakaproud na nandito ako. ‘Nung una hindi agree ‘yung family ko pero ngayon, sinusuportahan ko na sila at natutulungan dahil dito,” he bared.
But V33 revealed the life isn’t as easy as it sounds. Pro gamers, having to live inside a bootcamp, sacrifice a lot of their personal time to continue what they’re doing.
“Akala ng iba naglalaro lang kami, hindi. Maraming challenges na pinagdadaanan sa position na to, pati mental problems ma-e-encounter mo. Eight to 10 hours kaming maglalaro tapos once a week may day off, pero hindi ka rin laging makakauwi sa family mo, so sacrifice talaga na mapalayo ka sa kanila,” he said.
However, he’s certain things will only get better as their industry continues to thrive locally.
For that to happen, OhMyV33nus continues to do his part to #BreakTheCode, especially when it comes to his advocacy of turning pro players into role models.
“Compared sa ibang bansa, ‘yung esports dito hindi pa ganon ka-solid so ang kailangan mag-focus muna sa paano madisiplina ang mga pro players kasi kami ang tinitingala ng mga kabataan,” he said. “Hindi lang dapat i-asa sa ibang tao kung paano maging magandang halimbawa, dapat magsimula sa sarili natin.”
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