PLDT’s mobile subsidiary Smart Communications, Inc. (Smart) powered the Philippine esports industry in 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
For the past years, Smart has been one of the foremost brands to recognize and empower the Philippine gaming community by going all-out with mobile promos and events, supporting teams and tournaments, and actively playing a role in the Philippine Esports Organization (PESO), the official National Sports Association that governs and develops esports in the country.
In 2020, Smart launched the Free Games for All promo, which allowed Smart and TNT prepaid customers to access their favorite mobile games like Mobile Legends, Clash of Clans, Arena of Valor, Clash Royale, and the newly added mobile game to its roster – Call of Duty Mobile.
The launch of Free Games for All followed a report by the games market insights and analytics firm Newzoo, which cited that, in 2019, 74% of the Philippines’ online population played games on mobile devices. With 43 million online players, this number is expected to grow further this year as many Filipinos turned to mobile games as a form of entertainment amid the pandemic.
Smart also held one of the biggest events for the domestic esports scene, Siklab Saya. Pre-pandemic, esports had already become a competitive online battle arena. And during the COVID-19 health crisis, it even shone brighter as people shifted to online gaming and entertainment.
“Recognizing the Filipinos’ innate passion for competitive online gaming, Smart has constantly pushed for opportunities to be available for emerging Filipino esports athletes while promoting responsible gaming achieved through training, hard work, and discipline,” said Alfredo S. Panlilio, Smart president and chief executive, and PLDT chief revenue officer.
5G use case in esports
Smart is also leveraging on its mobile games and esports market insights in driving 5G. Mobile Legends professional players from Smart Omega and Cignal Ultra Warriors battled it out in the first-ever 5G-powered esports exhibition match at the PLDT Headquarters.
Smart also upped the ante with another milestone in the industry: the first Smart 5G-powered gaming hub at the Gariath Concepts esports venue in Quezon City. During the launch, esports athletes came to participate in the country’s first mobile phone vs PC crossplay exhibition match via cloud gaming, to show the advantages of 5G when it comes to game play.
“There are over 43 million gamers in the Philippines and we expect this to continue to grow as video games come naturally to the younger generations. We believe that esports is the next frontier in sports,” said Jane J. Basas, senior vice president and head of Consumer Wireless Business at Smart.
“Gaming is at the forefront of technology and we believe 5G will pave the way for innovative platforms and exciting products that will dramatically enhance the experience of gamers. Our goal is to unlock the many benefits of 5G and make these available to Filipinos,” Basas added.
Bright spot during the pandemic
The pandemic did not hinder Smart from becoming more active in supporting the country’s esports industry. The wireless leader launched several online tournaments like the Mobile Legends Professional League, and the Mobile Legends Pro League – Invitational, among others. These were made possible by Smart’s partnership with Mobile Legends: Bang Bang developer and publisher Shanghai Moonton Technology, as part of its commitment to the growth of esports in the Philippines.
These efforts also recognized that Mobile Legends and other games have kept Filipinos connected during this health crisis, allowing them to socialize and bond over their favorite games. In fact, the ML Pro League’s concurrent viewership approaches half a million on Facebook Live. This rivals the viewership of traditional sports and proves that esports is now part of the cultural fabric of Filipinos.
Aside from MLBB, PLDT and Smart also powered the NBA 2K Team Pilipinas, who had an excellent showing during the inaugural international esports tournament sanctioned by FIBA. PLDT provided the Philippine team the fiber connectivity that they used in the competition.
“It’s a collaboration between sports and technology. We are grateful to FIBA for allowing us to be a part of this historic event,” said Panlilio, who also heads the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP). Just like Gilas Pilipinas, the NBA 2K Team Pilipinas will also be supervised by SBP.
Smart did not stop there. They went on to team up with the PESO and the Esports National Association of the Philippines (eSNAP) to further champion the nation’s bid for basketball dominance by supporting the country’s representatives to the first-ever Pacific Pro-Am Tournament featuring NBA 2K20.
“It’s both an honor and a privilege to be able to bear the torch of athletic competition during these trying times. We embraced this opportunity to unite gaming fans and rally support for our esports athletes, who brought to the inaugural Pacific Pro-Am Tournament the same passion and dedication that we Filipinos have in the hardcourt,” said Basas.
Esports for women, non-pro players
Smart also supported ‘Liga Adarna: Laban Para sa Korona,’ an all-female esports league to support COVID-19 relief initiatives.
Spearheaded by Eplayment Entertainment, the first esports multi-platform in the Philippines, the league featured various esports and mobile gaming events including Valorant, DOTA 2 and Mobile Legends: Bang Bang.
Now on its second season, this all-female esports league is in line with Smart’s ‘Connected Filipina’ advocacy to put the spotlight on remarkable women who are embracing digital technology in various fields and inspire more Filipinas to do the same.
And most recently, the telco launched Smart Play: Squad Up, the country’s biggest non-professional Call of Duty®: Mobile – Garena tournament.
Smart Omega, the official esports team backed by the telco giant, will be one of the professional teams representing the Philippines in one of the biggest tournaments in the esports world: the Mobile Legends: Bang Bang M2 World Championships.
Happening from January 18 to 24, 2021 in Singapore, the M2 World Championships will be the first in-person competition for Mobile Legends since the pandemic began.
“Our support for Filipino esports athletes through the years is rooted in our firm belief that our players have the skills, talent, and dedication to be at par with the world’s best players. We hope that Smart Omega can be an inspiration to Filipino casual players and fans to help them realize and pursue their passion for esports,” added Basas.
Strong resilient network
All of these efforts to bolster the fast-growing esports industry in the country are supported by the resilient network of PLDT and Smart.
PLDT’s fiber infrastructure, the most extensive in the country, is now at more than 422,000 kilometers. This fiber infrastructure supports Smart’s 5G, 4G, 3G and 2G networks, which cover 96% of the population and are present in 95% of cities and municipalities. As of November, Smart has also increased the number of its base stations to over 58,000, increasing the number of base stations by 20% compared to end-2019. Smart has also rolled out additional 5G sites as it accelerates its 5G commercial services nationwide.