Last September 19, 2017 marks yet another momentous occasion in the Philippine esports scene. The Gaming and Amusements Board (GAB) gave a hero’s welcome for Filipino teams Execration and TNC Pro Team at Legazpi Tower 200, Makati after their commendable stint at this year’s The International. They announced their recognition of professional video gamers as athletes July this year but the awarding was an even bigger public gesture of their support.
Chairman Abraham Kahlil B. Mithra allowed them to apply for athletic licenses (for a small fee) which helped both TNC Pro Team and Execration secure their visas for The International 7. The International is the world championship tournament for Dota 2 and regularly sets the record for largest prize pool in any esport event.
The partnership of the government and the local esports industry took another step forward as they recognized the efforts of the TNC Pro Team and Execration during the last TI in Seattle. Julius Mariano, Head of Twitch SEA Partnerships,and Ronald Robins, founder of the Mineski Corporation, were in attendance. Key members of the GAB were also there to oversee the awarding.
But what does the GAB actually do?
The GAB under the Office of the President is tasked to regulate and supervise professional sports and allied activities and to combat or prevent the existence and proliferation of illegal bookie joints and other forms of illegal gambling connected with all-play-for-pay sports and games. As they add esports to the list that includes basketball and football, players of the future will have an easier time shooting for their goals. Also with proper documentation, it will help remove the negative belief that video games have no future.
"We're very glad to now be involved in esports shortly after our help in establishing the professional Philippine Football League which has long been considered just an amateur league under the UFL name”, the Chairman of GAB, Mithra said.
In the past even athletes have been denied visas and the recent pleases were that of esports athletes so we are glad now we have a hand as part of the government in helping them out. We look forward to this hopefully long-term and mutual partnership with esports on a larger scale"*
Commissioner Eduardo B. Trinidad of GAB who recently just assumed office adds to the group's start in becoming involved in esports.
"Drei Natabio called me one day, and he asked whether I would be interested in helping local Dota players who would be competing in Seattle, USA with their papers." Trinidad begins. "So we discussed probable needs and Julius (Mariano) told us exactly what the players needed in visa endorsements. For us to have any power on the matter, we first had to recognize esports as part of our jurisdiction. Eventually we signed the papers and they got the visas they needed.
The licenses that we give out to can't just go out to anyone however. They have to be world-class players. How do we determine it? We ask organizations, the stake holders of esports, the teams to give us a proper evaluation whether they deserve them or not. But rest assured that getting a license will be worth the trouble as we will do everything in our power to assist you if you need it."
Also Trinidad said so himself that despite not being involved in esports longer he thinks it might even hit the academia setting sooner rather than later.
Julius Mariano, a catalyst in the GAB esports recognition, recalls, "Me and Roro have been at it for years and to see this change is really something. We all know in the Philippines there is the stigma that gaming is bad. Our culture is very old-fashioned. Gaming? That won't get you anything. Since my time with Mineski me and Roro have been promoting responsible gaming.
We want to say gaming is not is not a dead end. It's not an addiction, it doesn't promote negative traits. Remove the persisting stigma. Now with the government involved, it will go a long way. There are many available careers in gaming if you have the skills and the passion for it."
Ronald Robins himself could not express enough how important this is for the local scene and the country moving forward.
"We have been hoping for this day to come for nearly a decade. Now finally we have this government support for esports on our shoulders," Robins began.
It really is something of an emotional moment not just for me but many players out there. If you qualify for a LAN event you can apply for a license. The player can go back to their home and show their parents. This is what I am. In the end it really is about legitimacy and with the help of GAB, esports is here to stay."
The Philippines is only the second country after South Korea that gives out licenses to professional esports athletes. Currently only TNC Pro Team and Execration hold said licenses but Heroes of the Storm team, Dizzy Kittens are currently in the process of acquiring one in preparation for their tournament over at BlizzCon in Anaheim, California later this year.
Interestingly moving forward future local events will have to get GAB's approval and will have to pay a small fee after the event concludes. With all the documentation and support that GAB will provide in the long term it is a very acceptable fee to pay.
As 2017 winds down and esports meteoric rise to mainstream shows no sign of slowing. The Philippines have adapted and with the government recognizing what the esports can become, things only get better as we look ahead to 2018 and more and more brands want to get a slice of that sumptuous esports pie.