Going into my interview with Angelo Kyle Arcangel, or more popularly known as Pheww, at the Smart Sibol Training Facility, I didn’t really know what to expect. With Mobile Legends: Bang Bang being only 3 years old and its esports scene being even younger, it’s understandable that it and its players don’t have the same amount of history as other esports titles that have been around for much longer.
But after sitting down with the 20-year-old captain of the Sibol national team’s ML:BB squad, I found that despite his age and just a little over two years of professional experience, his thoughts and insights on being a pro player and the esports scene sounded like they were coming from someone with many more years than that.
The eldest of 5 children, Pheww first saw ML:BB through his siblings and cousins. He was previously a casual Dota 2 player, like many people in the country, but quickly switched to the mobile MOBA after trying it out. I asked him what he liked about ML:BB and why he decided to switch to it completely from Dota 2:
“MOBA siya sa cellphone. Portable. Hindi na kailangan ng PC. Kahit saan ko laruin, kahit naka-data lang ako, puwede ko siya laruin.”
[“It’s a MOBA on a cellphone. Portable. No need for a PC. I can play anywhere, even if I’m just using mobile data, I can play it.”]
Pheww began his competitive career by playing in small barangay or online tournaments with people he met online.
“Tinry ko. Nagulat ako may MOBA na laro sa cellphone. Tinry ko at nagustuhan ko naman. Tapos nagtuloy tuloy lang ako. Casual na laro hanggat sa sumali sa mga tournament hanggang sa maging pro.”
[“I tried it. I was surprised there was a MOBA on smartphones. I tried it and liked it then I just kept going. I played casually until I started joining tournaments until I turned pro.”]
His first big tournament was the inaugural season of the Mobile Legends: Bang Bang Professional League (MPL) in the Philippines which began back in April 2018 where his team at the time, Digital Devils, got second place. It can be said that MPL Season 1 was the turning or starting point in Pheww’s professional esports career. He even purchased a new phone for the event.
“Yun kasi yung parang pinakaunang malaking tournament ng Mobile Legends. Yung MPL 1. Dun ako nag-start maging pro. Nag-invest pa ako noon para sa magandang cellphone. Kasi naka-Android lang ako tapos nung nag-start ang MPL 1, bumili ako ng iPhone.”
[“Because it was the first big tournament of Mobile Legends, MPL 1. That’s where I turned pro. I even invested in a good cellphone. Because I was only using an Android but when MPL 1 started I purchased an iPhone.”]
Soon after the end of MPL 1, his team also competed at the second Mobile Legends: Bang Bang Southeast Asia Cup (MSC) in Indonesia where they finished second as well. His team’s performance at MPL 1 and MSC back in 2018 led their team to be sponsored by Cignal TV.
Under their new banner, Cignal Ultra, the team would then go on to win the second season of the MPL in the Philippines earlier this year as well as get second place in the first Mobile Legends: Bang Bang conference of The Nationals, the first franchise-based esports league in the country.
With almost two years of professional experience under his belt, I asked Pheww how the journey has been for him so far:
“Okay naman. Tuloy tuloy lang yung pag-grow hanggang ngayon. Lumalaki na lahat eh. Yung sahod, yung mga prize pool ng tournament, halos lahat ng team ngayon may sponsor na. Kasi dati parang bilang lang yung may sponsor. Tapos ngayon halos lahat ng team na kasali sa tournament may sponsor na.”
[“It’s been okay. The growth has been continuous until now. Everything is getting bigger. The salaries, the prize pools, almost all the teams have sponsors now. It used to be that only a few teams had sponsors. Now, almost every team that joins tournaments have sponsors.”]
With Sibol, Pheww was one of the 30 players in the training pool for the Mobile Legends: Bang Bang squad. As one of the directly invited players, he didn’t have to go through the qualifying tournaments. But with a total of 30 players competing for a spot in the final seven-person roster, there was still a lot of competition.
“Nagkaroon ng training pool nun eh. 30 kami lahat. One month kaming nag-training tapos hanggang mapili kaming pito sa dulo.”
[“They was a training pool then. There were 30 of us. We trained for a month until the seven of us were chosen by the end of it.”]
Being only twenty years old, there’s still a lot for Pheww to experience in his professional career. And with the continuing growth of esports and Mobile Legends: Bang Bang, the opportunities for him and other players are expected to increase even further.
For now, Pheww hopes to compete in even bigger stages, such as the recently held Mobile Legends: Bang Bang World Championship (M1) or even the Olympics (if esports becomes an event).
“Gusto ko maglaro rin sa world championship. Kung sakaling magkaroon ng ML sa Olympics sana kasali ako, hindi lang sa SEA Games.”
[“I also want to play in the world championship (M1). In case ML is included in the Olympics, I hope I’m included, not just in the SEA Games.”]
But Pheww doesn’t just look at his current position as a professional player. Even at his young age, he’s already looking beyond that, with aspiration of becoming a coach after he retires from professional play.
“If ever mag-stop ako maging pro parang gusto [ko] mag-coach.”
[“If I ever stop being a pro player, I think I want to be a coach.”]
I asked Pheww about his thoughts on the effects of esports being included in the SEA Games and, hopefully, in the Olympics in the future, he said:
“Para magtuloy tuloy na yung paglaki ng esports. Marami kasing opportunity sa paglalaro ng esports. Hindi yung parang laro ka lang. Casual lang. Sayang lang oras mo. Kung ganon, puwede mo na siya gawing trabaho mo.”
[“So the growth of esports continues even further. Because there are a lot of opportunities in playing esports games. It’s not like you’re just playing casually. Wasting your time. If that happens (esports grows), you can turn it into your career.”]
Before getting into esports full time, Pheww was taking up Electronics and Communication Engineering (ECE) at Rizal Technological University, the course chosen for him by his parents. But after seeing an opportunity in esports, Pheww decided to put his studies on hold to pursue his professional career. While his parents were initially apprehensive of his choice, they understood Pheww’s desire and decision to become a full time pro player.
“Noong una, syempre lahat ng parents ayaw nun, yung mag-ddrop yung anak nila, hindi naman sa nagalit sila talaga sa akin. Inintindi nalang ako na gusto ko ito. Tapos ngayon sobrang proud na nila sa akin, mag-rerepresent na ako ng Philippines.”
[“At first, of course, any parent doesn’t want their child to drop out of school, they weren’t really angry at me. They just understood that this is what I wanted. And now they’re really proud of me, now that I’m representing the Philippines.”]
Now, Pheww’s parents watch not just his games or tournaments but they even watch ones he isn’t competing in, as a way to better understand his career and also because they’ve grown to enjoy it as well.
“Natutuwa rin sila kasi kahit hindi ko naman laban nanonood sila. Tulad ngayon, yung M1, wala naman ako doon pero nanonood sila. Natutuwa ako kasi dati hindi naman sila mahilig doon. Inaaral din talaga nila para maintindihan nila yung career ko.”
[“They enjoy it because they still watch even if it isn’t my match. Like now with M1, I’m not even competing there but they’re still watching it. I’m glad because it wasn’t something they liked before. Now they study it so they can understand my career.”]
At times, his siblings also give him advice on his and his team’s performance, which he often oftentimes agrees to since he knows they also play and compete.
“Yung dalawa parang susunod na sa akin kasi ang lakas nadin nila eh. Nananalo sila sa mga tournament din. Pero ayaw na ng parents ko. Para sa kanila okay na ako lang muna tapos mag-aral muna sila. So ayun sumasali lang sila sa tournament pero sinasabay nila sa pag-aaral.”
[“The two look like they’re about to follow me because they’re already pretty strong. They’ve also won in tournaments. But my parents don’t want them to (go full time). For them it’s fine that I’m the only one for now and they should study first. So they just join tournaments but they still study at the same time.”]
Becoming a professional player isn’t without its challenges though. Pheww and the rest of the Sibol ML:BB team practice around 10 hours a day while also keeping up with their own respective teams’ practice and competition schedules. I asked Pheww if he experiences burn out from the amount of playing and practicing they do daily, he said:
“Hindi naman kasi may day off parin naman kami. Kasi ang training namin sa Sibol ay Monday to Friday lang.”
[“Not really because we still have a day off. Because our training with Sibol is only from Monday to Friday.”]
According to Pheww, one of the biggest challenges of being a pro player are the sacrifices he has to make. From long practice hours and the distance from loved ones to the pressures of winning or performing well for the fans and the team.
“Siguro yung mga sacrifice mo. Kasi mag-boobootcamp kayo malalayo ka sa pamilya mo. Sa partner mo. Madalas kulang yung tulog mo dahil babad sa practice.”
[“Probably the sacrifices you have to make. Because when you’re bootcamping, you’re distanced from your family. Your partner. Oftentimes you lack sleep because of practicing so much.”]
Pheww said that while it was initially difficult, regular communication with his partner and making time for each other during his days off are some of the ways he deals with the challenges of being a pro player.
“Noong una ayun yung mahirap. Hanggang sa ngayon na nasanay nalang kasi ang tagal ko narin nag-boobootcamp. Nag-vivideo call naman kami araw araw. Hindi naman nawawala yung pag-uusap namin. Update lang kami lagi sa isat-isa. Tapos kapag may tournament laging nandun yung partner ko.”
[“At first that’s what was difficult. But now I’m used to it because I’ve been bootcamping for a long time. We video call every day. Our communication doesn’t go away. We just update each other. And when there’s a tournament, my partner always attends.”]
It’s Pheww’s openness to everything that comes with being not just a professional Mobile Legends: Bang Bang player, but also a national athlete, that best exemplifies “Lakad Matatag“, to walk strong. In his young esports career, he has achieved a lot but also had to sacrifice so much in order to make his dream a reality. From being apart from family and loved ones, to school, Pheww now takes on the burden of leadership for the Sibol – MLBB team, something he never takes for granted. Like all his experiences before, Pheww has taken this new challenge on as he strides forward, knowing full well that everything he has done and left just to be on this path will be worth it.
As previously mentioned, some of the challenges he and his new teammates face include juggling their Sibol practice schedules and other competitions with their respective teams. Fortunately, his and his teammates’ respective teams have given them the leeway to focus on Sibol, which seems to have paid off for them as the national team was able to win over the Indonesian, Thai, and Malaysian teams during the recently held SEA Games Test Event.
“Nakakatakot rin kasi malakas talaga ng Indonesia pero nanalo naman kami 3-0. Sana sa December, ganon ulit.”
[“It’s scary because Indonesia is pretty strong but we ended up winning 3-0. Hopefully in December, it happens again.”]
I also asked Pheww about how its been like playing with his Sibol teammates, who all come from different teams, and the challenges they face as a team:
“Okay naman kasi matagal ko na silang nakakalaban. Matagal ko naring nakakasama. Ngayong parang tropa tropa narin. Nagkakasundo naman kami eh. Kaya siguro napili din kami ng coach kasi alam na magkakasundo kami.”
[“It’s been okay because I’ve competed against them for a long time. I’ve been around them for a long time. Now we’re all friends. We get along. That’s probably why we were chosen by the coach because they know we get along.”]
With Pheww being exposed to the ML:BB community so much because of his career, I asked him about his thoughts on the community as well as how the game has grown so far:
“Yung ML community dito sa Pinas sobrang laki. Parang ito yung #1 na laro dito sa Pinas ngayon eh. Mas malaki pa siya sa Dota. Yun ang napansin ko.”
[“The ML community here in the Philippines is really big. It’s the #1 game here in the Philippines right now. It’s bigger than Dota. That’s what I noticed.”]
He attributes the rapid growth of ML:BB in the Philippines to the game’s accessibility and affordability. In his experience, just 1GB of mobile data is enough to play ML:BB for a week (if the data is only used for the game).
“Maraming na-engganiyo sa Mobile Legends. Kasi parang madali lang siya laruin. Tapos sa cellphone lang. Kahit sino puwede maglaro. Kailangan mo lang ng data. Mag-load ka lang, puwede ka na mag-laro.”
[“A lot of people are encouraged to play Mobile Legends. Because it’s sort of easy to play. With just a smartphone. Anyone can play. You only need mobile data. You just load up your phone and you can start playing.”]
After becoming one of the biggest games and esports titles in the Philippines and Southeast Asia over the past few years, Pheww feels like ML:BB can only grow bigger and reach further. The recent M1 World Championship featured a total of 16 teams across 14 countries, showing that ML:BB is definitely beginning to make its mark in the international esports scene.
“Feeling ko kasi nag-iinvest na yung Mobile Legends (Moonton) sa mga mas malalaking tournaments. Tulad ngayon may ongoing na first na world championship (M1). Kasi laging Southeast Asia lang yung focus. So tintry ngayon ng Moonton na i-extend yung sakop ng Mobile Legends.”
[“I feel like Mobile Legends (Moonton) is now investing in bigger tournaments. Like the ongoing first world championships (M1). Because Southeast Asia has been the only focus. But now Moonton is trying to extend the reach of Mobile Legends.”]
With the Sibol Mobile Legends: Bang Bang squad able to win at the recent test event, hopes are high for them to win the gold at the SEA Games. To close our interview, I asked Pheww what he’d like to say to all the supporters of the team for the upcoming SEA Games and he said:
“Abangan niyo kami sa SEA Games. Kukunin namin yung gold medal. Kayang kaya namin yan.”
[“Watch out for us at the SEA Games. We’re getting the gold model. We can do it.”]