Historic SEA Games gold couldn’t have come in better fashion for Sibol Mobile Legends

MANILA, Philippines – The odds were stacked against Sibol Mobile Legends. Indonesia had their dream team, made up of members from the winning squads of the Mobile Legends Southeast Asian and World Championships. These were some of the most decorated guys in the game currently. 

But all throughout the best-of-5 match, you wouldn’t have known that. They shocked Indonesia with a game 1 victory, with one of their players sneaking from the weak side, destroying their towers, and eventually their base – the game’s most important play. Kenneth Villa said it was just instinctual to go for the tactic. They had been losing the team clashes, so when a fight broke out on one side of the map, he took the opportunity to wreak havoc in the undefended lane. 

The crowd went ballistic with the first win. Indonesia recovered with a champion’s dignity in the next 2 games; first, a dominant game 2 victory, and a competitive game 3 where they came back from a poor 0-4 start on the kill tally. 

It was Indonesia’s series to lose at that point. Their collapse came at the start of game 4 when they decided not to ban Esmeralda. As expected, Karl Nepomuceno picked the hero, and gifted the Indonesians with a triple kill in the first team clash, consistently adding more throughout the game. Indonesia banned Esmeralda in the next game but that wouldn’t matter as they completely fell apart in game 5. 

Nepomuceno was puzzled too with the free pass for Esmeralda, “Hindi ko alam sa kanila [kung bakit hindi sila nag-ban]. Baka hindi sila natatakot…” said the 15-year-old. (I don’t know with them. Maybe they weren’t scared.) 

Indonesia may have wanted to have Nepomuceno intentionally pick Esmeralda so they could use a lineup specifically designed to handle the hero. But the gamble cost them, and they opened the door for the underdog Philippines for the comeback, and a place in history. 

Prior to the match, Allan Castromayor said he knew what they were up against but that he and the rest of the team were not about to settle for the silver medal: “Alam naming malakas sila pero gold talaga ang gusto namin dahil gusto namin i-prove na kami ang the best,” (We know they’re strong but we really want the gold because we want to prove we’re the best.)

They wanted gold, and they got it, and along with it, an incredible sense of achievement and pride. This being the first time that esports are a medal game at an event supervised by the International Olympic Committee, they've said before that they sometimes still can't believe they're a part of it. 

Their coach, the Korean Changrok Im, held back the tears in the post-match interview. “I’m Korean but I always feel like, in my heart, I’m a Filipino. Today, I put my right hand on my heart when the national anthem was sung, and it felt so meaningful that I can’t express it in words.”  

If there were people though who had no problem expressing it in words, it was the home crowd. Exploded at the slightest provocation. Great to see live.

Jeniel Bata-anon was in a more jocular mood, jokingly apologizing to his family for making their last name famous as "Baxia-anon." He was referring to the hero Baxia, whom he effectively used throughout the tournament, sometimes facing 4 opponents on his own without being killed – again to the delight of the home crowd. Baxia was countered however in the finals, and Bata-anon had to go for a different hero pick. 

The team also expressed optimism for the remaining Filipino competitors in the esports event, and said they hope that their victory would help fuel the momentum in the gold medal matches in the upcoming days.

Sibol Mobile Legends are Kenneth Jiane "Kenji" Villa, Karl Gabriel "KarlTzy" Nepomuceno, Carlito "Ribo" Ribo, Jeniel "Haze" Bata-anon, Angelo Kyle "Pheww" Arcangel, Allan Sancio "Lusty" Castromayor, and Jason Rafael "Jay" Torculas. – Rappler.com

Gelo Gonzales

Gelo Gonzales is Rappler’s technology editor. He covers consumer electronics, social media, emerging tech, and video games.

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