Philippine government media and esports professionals have teamed up to bring esports on a mainstream scale in the country.
The inaugural season of the Unity League will kick off this February, with tryouts scheduled for five areas in the Philippines: North Luzon, South Luzon, National Capital Region, Visayas, and Mindanao.
The first season will initially focus on Mobile Legends: Bang Bang, where the Philippines has had a four-year title streak in the global professional scene. From 2020-2023, Filipino teams have dominated in the world, among them are two-time and reigning champions AP.Bren (M2 2020 & M5 2023), Blacklist International (M3 2022), and Echo (M4 2023).
The Philippines, thorough national team SIBOL (EN: Spring), had also won 3 straight Southeast Asian Games as MLBB gold medalists (2019 Philippines, 2022 Vietnam, and 2023 Cambodia).
The league has tapped the Philippine Esports Organization or PESO for technical and operations aspects of the league to ensure international-caliber league operations, organization, and officiating. PESO is the duly recognized national sporting association for esports in the Philippines.
Also among those providing logistical support for the event is the Philippine Sports Commission and the PH House of Representatives.
TOURNAMENT FORMAT AND WHAT’S AT STAKE
PESO Executive Director Marlon Marcelo said, 128 teams will be allowed to join from five different regions: North Luzon, South Luzon, NCR, Visayas, and Mindanao.
These regions will hold their own qualifiers, and the top two teams from each region will advance to the national finals. The final ten teams will compete in the national event for cash prizes and a chance to join the national qualifiers for SIBOL’s MLBB team. There are also plans for a LAN or in-person event for both regional and national qualifiers, with the regional winners to be flown to Manila for the grand finals.
Marcelo said, the league will be very strict for those who want to play in the league. Pros playing in both the MLBB Professional League or MPL and the MLBB Development League or MDL will not be allowed to join, and IDs will be required.
“The actual athlete that registers to the Unity League must not have any professional, I would say, inclusions or commitments. That includes the MDL and the MPL. We will be very strict and make sure that the actual athletes provide valid IDs so that you can actually register and its an even playing field,” Marcelo said.
The latter, Marcelo said, is a measure implemented to prevent ghosting, or the act of having one person use another player’s account.
During a press conference held in Quezon City, PH House Speaker Martin Romualdez announced that the country’s Lower House will help boost the prize pool from an initial ₱1 million total.
The cash prizes alone for the top three winners will now amount to a total of ₱3.5 million or US$62,400 – with the champion taking home the lion’s share of ₱2 million, ₱1 million for the runner-up, and ₱500,000 for the third placer.
The winning team will also have a direct invite to the SIBOL National Team Qualifiers, and should they win the latter, can have a spot in the national MLBB team.
More details about the league will be posted on their social media platforms.
ESPORTS ON PHILIPPINE TELEVISION
For the first time in Philippine TV history, government media arms will also be involved in producing and broadcasting the league on television in a bid to make esports and gaming more accessible to the general public, and to also generate buzz and viewership for the state-run media properties.
Government TV networks People’s Television Network or PTV and Intercontinental Broadcasting Corporation (IBC) will broadcast the games to a variety of audiences on free-to-air and digital terrestrial television.
PTV’s reach is currently at over 49.5 million people for free-to-air and over 33.1 million for its digital television broadcast, according to data presented by PTV Network General Manager, Analisa Puod, in a recent Facebook post. The figure is close to half the country’s current population of over 110 million.
“The lifeblood of any sports is at its grassroots, and PTV is proud to be a part of the Unity League, which will become a training pool for esports talent in the country,” Puod said.
She adds, the Unity League is planned to be broadcast on primetime slots on weekdays, with a recap show airing on weekends. Plans for the finals of the Unity League are also being drawn up, including a potential live broadcast on primetime for the Grand Finals.
IBC, meanwhile, has both radio and television stations in various parts of the country, and is also part of the Presidential Communications Office.
Esports has mostly been broadcasted on social media in the Philippines, while tournaments either air as reruns on smaller networks, or on sister channels of major networks. In the past, MPL Philippines had reruns of their broadcasts aired at a late night slot on Net 25, a network owned by Eagle Broadcasting Corporation and is mostly associated with key Philippine religious group Iglesia ni Cristo (Church of Christ).
Even further down the road is The Nationals, a franchise-based esports league that also had limited cable television coverage on major local broadcast player TV5’s sister companies, One Sports and Cignal TV, which started in 2019. It had tournaments for MLBB, Tekken 7, and Call of Duty Mobile – the latter of which aired as early-afternoon and late-night reruns.
Recently, A2Z Channel 11, the current television broadcast partner of the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA), has announced it too will air the PBA Esports Bakbakan (PBA Esports Battle) at a still-to-be-announced date.
Data from Esports Charts show that the 2023 M5 World Championship, held in the Philippines, saw over 5 million live viewers on its social media broadcast streams.
More details about the Unity League will be posted on their social media platforms, as well as those of PTV and IBC.
(NOTE: This story is updated to add additional information from PTV GM Ana Puod.)