Though not spared by coronavirus impact, local esports survives
MANILA, Philippines – Not even esports was spared by the havoc wreaked by the coronavirus pandemic.
Local esports leagues like the Mobile Legends Bang Bang Professional League Philippines (MPL PH) and The Nationals had to shut down as the government enforced community quarantine in several areas.
MPL PH suspended its tournament midway through its fifth season while The Nationals postponed the opening of its second season – both in March.
The Nationals and MPL PH hold their games in a studio in front of esports fans, but with the government ban on mass gatherings, they were forced to shelve their seasons and hit the brakes.
"We still wanted to push through because we thought it was an opportunity for us because there was no sporting event going out there," said The Nationals commissioner Ren Vitug.
"We have deals with TV platforms. We know if we were able to push through, we're going to be live in these channels because there are no other sports."
"On the other hand, we've seen the gravity of the situation [and] we started looking at it more seriously," Vitug added.
Doing online tournaments could have been the solution as games like Dota 2 and Mobile Legends can be played remotely.
However, erratic internet connection and the fact that teammates were away from each other posed a major issue.
"I think a good parallel is working from home. It's something people think it's easy enough to do – you have internet connection and you have a device. But there's a lot of other challenges that hinder you," Vitug said.
"There will be problems with the internet. You have to do things at home because you're with your family. When they're competing for hundreds of thousands of pesos, it's going to be frustrating, it's not just annoying."
"That reflects to the broadcast as well. It would obviously suck if we're going to have a broadcast with multiple pauses. That happens in the game, it does not happen in a lot of sports."
Vitug added online tournaments are not necessarily cheap, with several people required to work behind the scenes.
Those include shoutcasters, graphic artists, organizers, and production personnel.
"I think for any event right now, for a mid-level event, you would be expecting instant replays [and] cutscene graphics, which in theory cannot be run by just a person or two, it has to be a production team."
Show must go on
After more than a month in hiatus, MPL PH returned to action in May with an online-only format, with players joining their teams in their respective boot camps for the regular season and the playoffs.
The livestream of the playoffs drew record numbers in viewers as millions watched the three-day event on Facebook.
Day 1 accumulated nearly 4 million views, Day 2 had 3.2 million views, while Day 3 – which saw Sunsparks crown itself as the first two-time MPL PH champions – amassed 3.5 million views.
"[The coronavirus] may have changed the way we operate because there is still a physical aspect in esports," said esports shoutcaster Dan Cubangay in a mix of Filipino and English.
"But so far, I think we're surviving. I think we're doing well, we're doing okay."
Cubangay, though, admitted there is a big difference between online and on-site tournaments.
"Since we lost the physical aspect of esports, it's not as engaging. It's different when you see the crowd, when you're there and you feel the energy," Cubangay said.
"I feel that it became less of a sport, it became more of just watching games, it became more video gaming."
"But that's a pro and con at the same time. I don't know how long it can continue to be just online. I feel that it can."
As the government relaxed quarantine measures, Vitug said The Nationals will seek a return once the government provides proper guidelines and they can assure the safety of their players and staff. – Rappler.com