Predator League Philippines 2024 Hometown Heroes: Virtual Grounds Esports’ Quest to Give Back to the Mindanao Esports Scene

It could be said that it’s only natural for players to compete for pride and glory. But most players are often after the glitz and glamour so that they can be put in the spotlight and become well-known in the field of esports. For Virtual Grounds Esports, they don’t deny that they are also after the recognition of their peers. But apart from personal glory, the players don’t want to be alone in the spotlight - they want their beloved Mindanao region as well as their hometown of Cagayan de Oro to be highlighted at every victory they gain along the way.

“We just have to win. Us winning will be like a valuable learning opportunity as opposed to losing. If the players here see us win against teams from Luzon, we can become role models to players in our region,” says Christian Rey “sang” Portillas, Virtual Grounds Esports’ duelist. “To motivate and mentor them, especially since other people see Mindanao as a weak region. We just want to win.”

They also believe that the region has a lot of potential; possibly even more still untapped, as evidenced by strong performers that have found their way in the professional scene of VALORANT in inter-regional teams based outside of Mindanao.

“Marami namang individual players galing Mindanao,” says sang. “For example, nandyan sila EJAY, kellyS, Markyyy, JRemy - lahat yan sila, dito lang (galing), mga teammates ko dati sa ibang laro, ang layo na ng narating nila. May future ang Mindanao.”

(“There are many individual players who hail from Mindanao. For example, there are EJAY, kellyS, Markyyy, JRemy - all of them were from our region, they have been my teammates in other games before, and now they’ve gone far. Mindanao has a bright future.”)

Admittedly, the VALORANT esports scene in Cagayan de Oro is still nascent, and while there are small-scale, local tournaments being held in the area, opportunities for tournaments that link up to national and international competitions can only be found in far-away places. This has been the case even before the pandemic, and their “dayo” to far locations has continued after the pandemic.

“In CDO, the esports scene here is still rising. It’s like, premature, also because of the pandemic,” says Vince Joseph “DOGi” Llamis, the team’s Controller. “In our city lang, may mga small tournaments pero hindi connected sa mga Manila. Usually, basta mga high-end na mga top-tier tournaments tulad ng Predator (League), we have to dayo talaga.”

(“In CDO, the esports scene here is still rising. It’s like, premature, also because of the pandemic. In our city, there are small tournaments but they are not connected to the ones that lead to Manila. Usually, we really have to travel far for the top-tier tournaments like the Predator League.”)

Virtual Grounds Esports had to travel eight hours for about 300 km by land to TNC Digos to participate in the first LAN qualifier for Predator League 2024 Philippines VALORANT. It was the longest trip some of them had to make just to participate in a LAN event, and it was worth the trip - from the experience and for the exposure. The team admits that had they lost, they wouldn’t have tried playing in any of the subsequent LAN qualifiers and would have had to test their luck on the online qualifiers.

By qualifying for the Predator League Philippines 2024, they succeeded in bringing attention not only to themselves but also to CDO. With more wins, they hoped, they could put Cagayan de Oro on the map and bring more opportunities to their hometown. If there could be qualifiers at their place as well, then more players from CDO would get the opportunity to showcase their talents and make their way to the grandest stages of Philippine esports.

Having been beaten by NAOS Esports and Valhalla in their group, however, this has been the end of the line for VGE. But even though they fell short of their objective this season, they hope that their performance was enough to bring more opportunities to their local scene.

“I hope we can (become the beacon of hope) for Mindanao,” says sang. “We just need more polishing, kasi bago pa eh (“Since our team is still young.”).”

Hometown Heroes, an initiative of Predator League 2023, aims to spotlight the regional players of the Philippines. These players often qualify through LAN Qualifiers and can be local heroes from the city hosting the qualifiers or regional heroes who travel across the country in pursuit of challenges and opportunities. Regardless of their backgrounds, they all share a common goal: to bring pride to their hometown and region by triumphing in increasingly prestigious tournaments. 
Zach Golez

A lifestyle blogger based in Iloilo City

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