When the esports titles that would be part of the 2019 Southeast Asian Games were announced, it wasn’t so surprising that the two chosen to be in the mobile game category were both MOBAs. While there are quite a number of popular mobile games in the market, Arena of Valor is undoubtedly one of the few that have built up a strong esports presence in the region over the past couple of years.
Fresh from his stint at the Arena of Valor International Championship 2019, I got to sit down with Jeremiah “1717” Camarillo of the Sibol – Arena of Valor national team at the Smart Sibol Training Facility to talk about his story and how he went from managing the family business to one of the best professional AOV players in the region and part of the Sibol national team.
While 1717 has been playing AOV since it launched in 2017, it wasn’t his first exposure to mobile MOBAs. He first tried out Mobile Legends: Bang Bang when it came to the Philippines in late 2016 but then switched to Arena of Valor a year later. According to 1717, he stuck with AOV because he preferred the visuals and hero balance more than ML:BB.
“I got into playing AOV when I was playing Mobile Legends. I started playing ML for the convenience kasi [“because”] mobile. You can play anywhere. Then AOV was released in the Philippines and I tried it out for a while and actually enjoyed it then I got hooked from there.”
“I guess it was the graphics and the balance of heroes. AOV is a lot more balanced as opposed to Mobile Legends when it comes to heroes. You can play around your counters in AOV and all the heroes actually have counters so there’s no real OP (overpowered) hero in AOV.”
Like many other professional players, 1717 begun his esports career by joining smaller tournaments and growing from there until, as they say, he caught his big break. When AOV held its first Valor Cup tournament in early 2018, 1717 and his team Wil New Era were initially denied the spot for national representative for the Philippines but later on succeeded in not only getting in via the Wild Card but also winning the whole tournament.
“We tried playing as a team in a small tournament. We were just really trying that time and then turns out we saw potential in ourselves. From then on we tried the bigger tournaments when they came. Lahat sinubukan namin [“We tried everything”]. Tapos [“Then”] there was this one big tournament. It was the Valor Cup Season 1. We tried that tournament and we fell short in the national finals but there was a wildcard we eventually won that tournament. That was our first big tournament. From then on we made a name for ourselves in the scene of AOV.”
Their success in Valor Cup Season 1 led them to being signed by MaxBox Gaming in August 2018, which was quickly followed by a 2nd place finish in Valor Cup Season 3. Their stint in MaxBox Gaming lasted only half a year though as most of the team was then signed to Liyab Esports. With Liyab, 1717 and crew has so far gotten 2nd place in Valor Cup Season 4 as well as 1st place in the first season of the Philippine Pro Gaming League.
With their place as one of the best AOV squads in the Philippines and the region as well as their exceptional individual skills, the entirety of Liyab was eventually selected to take five of the seven spots in the Sibol Arena of Valor national team. After achieving so much together and coming so far as to be selected for Sibol, I asked 1717 how he came to meet his long-time teammates.
“My team here in Sibol is actually the team I was with when we won that Valor Cup Season 1 tournament.“
“[We met] Through mutual friends. I was added to an AOV group chat then I was just there looking for people to play with in a 5-man ranked game and then eventually we became friends. We thought of making a guild at that time. And then there was a small tournament, a grassroots tournament for AOV and then we tried it out and we won that. And then the rest is history.”
Before becoming a full time professional player, 1717 was managing their family business, taking over the responsibilities of his late father. But after seeing what his team could potentially achieve, he made a deal with his mother and took the bold albeit risky step of trying out esports full time. A decision, that has obviously paid off not only for him but also his team.
“I was managing the family business. When my dad died in 2017, I was the one left at home and I was the only one who could manage the business. I had the time because I was unemployed at that time. I was just helping with the business. When my dad died, I went full time with the business. I was the one managing it for about a year, a year and a half, something like that. And then I had a deal with my mom with esports because I saw potential in the team. And I was like ‘Mom, you know how passionate I was with esports.’ I was a frustrated LOL pro player and then I quit just to finish my studies. Focus on what my dad was telling me to do because I wasn’t really making a name for myself in LOL at the time. So, I told my mom, ‘Can I do it for a year? If I fail within one year or if I succeed then I’ll decide if I’ll just continue what I finished in college and pursue yung career path ko talaga [“pursue my actual career path”] or maybe I can do this for a living if it succeeds or I can just help with the business again.’ Parang ganun yung nangyari [“That’s sort of what happened”].”
AOV wasn’t 1717’s first attempt at becoming a professional player though. Back in college, he tried to become a professional League of Legends player but didn’t quite get there due to him and his team still being in college. At the time, he was taking up a Bachelor of Science in Information Technology course at the University of Perpetual Help in Las Piñas, a course he chose because he was into gaming and wanted to be near computers.
“At that time, I made a team with a group of friends I met at a computer shop and then we tried joining tournaments. We joined small tournaments, like Teemo Cup, and we won a lot of those. Maybe five. We were aiming to go pro but we were in college so the conflict with the time for practice plus your finances because you’re going to be spending money playing in computer shops just to be together as five so it’s really hard to practice and manage your finances with going to classes plus we were in different courses so our times didn’t really go together. Parang sobrang [“Too much”] conflict with each other.”
1717 has come a long way since his League of Legends days and I asked him how the past couple of years have been for him. He said:
“It’s fun and there’s a lot of pressure. From the interviews and meeting expectations. We’ve represented the Philippines on various occasions in different tournaments so there’s a lot. It’s not just playing for fun, playing for yourself. It’s playing for the honor of your country, your organization. It’s really stressful.”
I asked 1717 how he felt when he found out that he was going to be one of the seven players that would be part of the Sibol Arena of Valor national team. He said:
“I was happy because I was anxious about it. Because we were invited directly, we didn’t have to go through the qualifiers. Noong time na yun happy ako at first then I was thinking may chance pa pala na hindi ako makuha because they’re only going to get seven. I don’t know how many teams are going to be part of Sibol Combine so I was kind of anxious that time. So I was, all the time, thinking dapat manalo ako sa lane ko. I should show na I can do better than the opponent. So lagi akong nag-papractice. Lagi akong nag-iisip, nag-ooverthink. So anxious ako about kung makuha ba ako or not. Tapos when I found out I was chosen for Sibol, I was really happy. I was relieved. Nawala yung stress ko. You get to be a part of the very first esports medal event in this kind of tournament.”
Fortunately, 1717 has a really good support system in his mom, older siblings, and even her girlfriend and her family. He says their support is what helps him deal with the stress and pressure of being a professional player.
“She’s always been supportive of me with the path I chose, with the career I chose. She’s really proud that I’m right now part of Sibol and SEA Games. For the very first time we’re going to have esports in SEA Games. She’s really happy about it. Seeing yung mga interviews ko [“Seeing my interviews”]. If she sees me on TV, in commercials. She’s really proud of me.”
“She knows it’s a difficult career because it hasn’t really been accepted in our society. But when ML made it big medyo unti-unti ngayon na nakikilala ang esports [“bit by bit esports is becoming recognized”]. Na-rerecognize that it can be a career. It’s not something na laro laro lang [“that’s just playing around”].”
“She watches our games, every time. Tapos every time she gets really nervous. Lalo na when she sees that we’re losing. She understands the concept of the game. She knows you have to break towers, you have to take down the core to win the games, you have to kill, stuff like that. She tried to understand. The first time she watched me play, I think that was in the Valor Cup Season 1, and we were down 1-3 in a best-of-seven series. So it was a do-or-die match every game until game 7 so she was really pressured that time because a lot was at stake. I think it was PHP 400,000 and a chance to represent the Philippines in AWC, the world cup of AOV. Una hindi niya na-gegets [“At first she couldn’t understand it”] but my brother-in-law was there, he understands the game because he plays, so he explained it to my mom. From there, every tournament we play, she understands na [“already understands”].”
“They’re [older siblings] just really happy for me that I found something I’m passionate about and I’m making money doing it.”
“Pati yung family ng girlfriend ko nanonood din sila ng games namin minsan.”
When he’s training or competing in tournaments, 1717 likes to spend his time reading manga, watching anime, spending time with his family, and working out. He also still takes time to help his mother with the family business whenever he gets to go home to Las Piñas. I asked him how he balances his career and his personal time and interests as well as some of the things he’s been reading.
“When I have time to spare. I go home to Las Piñas. Kapag kunwari off season or long breaks. That’s the time I spend time with my mom. I spend time with my mom sa araw and my friends sa gabi. I go to their place and hang out. I find time in between for the leisure stuff like reading, watching anime, working out.”
“I’m into manga, manhwa, and manhua. Solo Leveling, The Gamer, Tower of God, Apotheosis, Vagabond, Demon Slayer, Vinland Saga.”
Being a professional esports player can be pretty challenging in general, with the constant training, the pressure to win, dealing with criticism, and more. I asked 1717 what part of being a professional Arena of Valor player has been the most challenging for him.
“It’s the constant grind. You have to play at least, constantly, 5 to 6 days a week. You have to keep the muscle memory. Especially with certain heroes. Kailangan hindi mo napapabayaan yung pag-practice. Lalo na in AOV. AOV has this pick and ban system that’s very different from other MOBAs. It’s the global ban pick. So, in a series that’s best-of-seven nag-appear yung reset at Game 7. In a best-of-seven series, if your team uses certain heroes, those five heroes you picked that game, you won’t be able to pick until Game 7. So you’re going to have to be practicing a lot of heroes. Yun yung pinaka-challenging for me. Yung kailangan lagi kang nag-papractice. Even in your downtimes you have to practice. Because if you don’t practice, it’s something you lose. You lose yung muscle memory, yung skill. Parang nag-rurust ka.”
While playing games casually can be quite enjoyable, getting into esports and turning gaming into a profession is a radically different experience. With several years of experience and a number of achievements under his belt, I asked 1717 what he would tell someone who wanted to attempt to become a professional player.
“If you’re just into it to have fun. I wouldn’t suggest getting into esports. It’s not all about fun lang. You’re just not going to play all the time. You’re going to be spending a lot of time practicing a certain hero. Specifically for MOBAs. And you’re going to get frustrated and then you’re going to start playing again. It becomes a cycle until you understand it truly. So it takes time, it takes patience, determination. If you’re really determined. I guess you’re going to past this stuff. There’s going to be a lot of pressure if you’re in an organization and if you want to make a name for yourself in esports. It’s going to take a long time. If you’re lucky, baka sobrang galing mo, you make a name for yourself agad. It takes patience, determination, and getting past the criticisms of people.”
I followed up by asking about the criticism he’s received over the last couple of years he’s been a professional AoV player as well as his thoughts on why fans and viewers can so easily throw criticism or negativity towards players.
“Ang dami. We played in AIC (Arena of Valor International Champion), right? So we were expecting the best of the best teams out of every country or region. There were times when I read the comments medyo diyahe [“unpleasant”].
“I don’t expect people to understand yung ginagawa mo [“what you’re doing”]. They don’t see you in your training. They only see you when you’re in the tournaments. They don’t see I grind for eight hours a day or more. I still play after training, I watch the games. They don’t see that kind of effort you put in just to apply it in the game that they see tapos matatalo kayo [“then you end up losing”]. Yun yung hindi nila nakikita [“That’s what they don’t see”]. The pressure is very different. AoV, like ML, is a lot faster in terms of game speed as opposed to something like Dota which takes like an hour to play. On average you play for 12-20 minutes. You don’t have a lot of time. Every detail you miss is very big. Kunwari [“For example”] your enemy isn’t in the lane or is missing, if you don’t call that out in the span of 5 seconds, he’s going to be in mid, he’s going to be in the jungle. Every little bit of information you miss can turn into a lead for them. AOV, like our coach said, is a talking game. So you should share all the information na makikita mo [“that you see”]. Mas mabilis yung gameplay, mas maliit yung mapa [“The gameplay is faster, the map is smaller”].”
For 1717, embodying the concept of “Lakad Matatag“, walking strong amidst challenges, started taking shape when his father passed. The pressure to earn a living for the family became the focus of his life back then. He had to grow up and be a responsible adult. But at the same time, the call of gaming – AOV in particular – put him in a very difficult position. Nevertheless, 1717 never lost track of himself and his responsibilities, be it for his teammates or for his family.
One of the things I was reminded to do before I went into my interview with 1717 was to ask about the meaning of his gamer ID/name. So after we talked about his background, his career, his entry into Sibol, and everything else, I closed out our interview by asking him the meaning behind his name – 1717 – and it along with the rest of what he mentioned in our interview reminded me of the importance of family or having a good support system to help us deal with the challenges of our careers. It clicked that this is who 1717 is. This is how he walks strong. This is his “lakad matatag“:
“It’s actually a date. It’s the day my dad died. January 7, 2017. It’s my tribute to him. I know he would’ve been proud kasi he wanted me to find my own path. He didn’t push me into doing the business. He was very supportive. Nung time hindi pa ako sure kung ano bang gusto kong trabaho or career tapos sabi ko that time I was into editing photos, ganyan ganyan, hinahanap niya ako ng mga friends na kilala niya na nasa ganong line of work tapos pinapa-apply niya ako. Very supportive siya. So I think he would be proud if he was still alive. He would be proud of where I am right now.”
1717 and the rest of the Sibol Arena of Valor national team will be competing at the 2019 Southeast Asian this month at the San Juan Arena, the venue for all the esports tournaments for the multi-sporting event.