Is Pro Gaming In The Philippines Worth It?

Goście Intel Extreme Masters (photo by Piotr Drabik)

Goście Intel Extreme Masters (photo by Piotr Drabik)

What was your dream job when you were little? Did you want to be an astronaut or a professional basketball player? Or, if you grew up in this age of computers, did you wish that you could play online games and get paid for it? For some, that dream is already a reality. Professional gaming (or e-Sports) is a hit in different parts of the world. In fact, some pro gamers are earning $100,000 – $500,000 annually. That’s a lot of money for playing your favorite games all day. But what’s the scene like in the Philippines?

Philippine Professional Gaming Scene

Most adults might see Defense of the Ancients (DOTA) or Starcraft II as just a game; not anything you can make a career out of. What they don’t know is that there is a niche for professional competitive gaming.

Philippine pro gaming has been around for over a decade now. Mineski, a local professional e-Sports organization, was founded in 2004, and has been joining tournaments since 2005. Other local teams include Manila Eagles, Pacific, Dreamz and iZone. The Philippine eSports Organization and the National Electronic Sports Commission have both been founded to organize the pro gaming industry in the country.

One of the first local professional gamers was Byron “SteelHeart” Bongon, who qualified for the World Cyber Games, an international eSports event sponsored by Samsung and Microsoft, in 2007. “WCG really kickstarted the professional gaming scene here,” says Richardson Jacinto, editor-in-chief of Mineski.net.

From then on, the growth of pro gaming in the Philippines was “exponential”, Jacinto says. “Even small organizations, cybercafes and individuals are now sponsoring teams/players.”

Players earn money from competing in tournaments, and some sponsors give their players a constant allowance whether they win or lose. In the Philippines, tournaments usually have a total prize pool of P50,000. According to e-Sports Earnings, a site that compiles info on how much professional gamers make, the highest-earning Filipino game player has made $19,600 total (P855,109) playing League of Legends, and 77 players have earned a total of $170,890.96 (P7,455,630). In 2012, four Filipino teams took home a total of P1,470,710.69 in prize money from one Malaysian DOTA tournament alone.

But this is peanuts compared to South Korea, whose total earnings surpass $20 million (P872,560,000), and whose highest-paid gamer has made a total of $528,914.26 (P23,075,500).

Thus, it is common to see serious professional gamers dream of competing in larger gaming formats, similar to what China or Korea have. In those types of games, a grand prize of $60,000 (P2,617,680) is more common.

How to be a pro gamer

Before you decide that playing League of Legends (or whatever game you’re into) professionally is the career for you, think about all the steps needed to become a successful pro gamer first.

1. Practice constantly. Preparing for online gaming requires a lot of the same skills needed for sports such as basketball — you need to dedicate a lot of time to training individually and with teammates, training on specific maps, and improving at every aspect of the game. Pro gamers have structured practice time in which they compete against better players to increase their own skills; this time can stretch up to six, seven hours a day.

2. Improve your skills. A particular skill needed for pro gaming is a high actions per minute (APM), a measurement of a player’s load-handling capacity — in other words, how many productive actions you can perform (such as building an attack unit, ordering it, training it, etc.). A casual gamer can do around 50 APM, but  one aspiring to a pro gaming level should be able to do over 200 APM. For example, MarineKing.Prime, one of the top Starcraft 2 players, is incredibly good at micro-managing his marines, spreading out his ships faster than you can blink (and he’s the best at it — check out this footage.)

3. Do your research. Just as aspiring basketball players study the way Steph Curry shoots his threes, beginning pro gamers watch match replays of expert pro gamers to learn tactics and strategy. And every pro gamer scrutinizes footage of past matches of their opponents, so they can learn how to exploit their weaknesses and defend against their attacks in advance.

4. Build teamwork and community. Many online games require teams, so aspiring pro gamers should build a team that can work well together and can discuss strategy and tactics without erupting into fistfights. It’s also important to make friends in the pro gaming community to increase your network, improve your skills by playing with/against them, and it’s good for your social life in general.

5. Understand the challenges Filipino gamers face. Although Filipino gamers have done pretty well, and local teams have competed in WCG Crossfire, WCG Assaultfire, The International (a DOTA tournament) and the League of Legends World Championships, they still have disadvantages compared to other Asian nations, mainly: lack of proper support and lack of good internet connections. “In Malaysia, Indonesia, South Korea and China, their eSports athletes are supported by their government,” Jacinto says. “Here, they only see gaming as a bad habit.”

As for the internet problem, the Philippines has been shown to have the slowest internet in southeast Asia, which means that most Filipinos can’t join online games which require very fast connections. This in turn means less practice, less competition, and less competitiveness on the global scene.

Despite all these setbacks, though, Jacinto says that “international casters or personalities always see Filipino gamers as one of the most talented gamers in the SEA scene, and even the world.”

6. Don’t jump in all at once. Not everybody that can kick a ball can become Leo Messi; not everyone who can play League of Legends can be Faker. Before you set out on your pro gaming journey, don’t suddenly quit your day job — do gaming part-time first, and once you’ve proven that you can win tournaments and make money, then scale up your gaming. If not, at least you still have your other career to fall back on.

Is pro gaming for you?

The allure of big money and worldwide popularity is a big draw to pro gaming, but it’s an incredibly difficult gig. You need to train day and night to get your skills to a world-class level, to build a good team that will attract sponsors, and to have a plan for your finances. You must research all the effects that going into pro gaming full time would have on your life.

But if pro gaming truly is your dream, then go for it. You might just become the Philippines’s very own Lee Jae Dong.

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