Nowadays, having gaming as a profession isn’t a joke. Your seemingly average on-screen “nerd” could be on par with professional athletes—in terms of status and salary—as Electronic Sports (or Esports) athletes. Gamers witness these tournaments either through viewing them live or through online streaming services such as Twitch, or by having the guts to join these big tournaments as players themselves.
However, before tournaments are held in huge stadiums, they start in smaller venues held by fellow players to promote the game’s competitive reputation. It’s not different in the Philippines. It all begins from averages age gamers holding their phones playing Mobile Legends or PUBG, or visiting in-game rental establishments such as TechTite or Man Cave in Taft Avenue to play DOTA 2, CS:GO or NBA 2K19. Now, a new game seems to be entering ranks of Philippine Esports, with a young star player—studying in the University—leading the charge.
A new foe has appeared!
Martin Lukas Garcia (Grade 11, STEM), known as Luke in school, goes by the name BNKR | Regerets in the Super Smash Brothers Esports scene.
Before becoming the number one Filipino player for Super Smash Brothers for the Wii U, the series’ fourth installment, Luke started out as a casual player. “I started playing Brawl (the third installment) casually,” he explains, “I was like ‘woah this is pretty fun’, [but] I didn’t think I would go competitive.”
Smash Bros. was initially marketed as a party game that could accommodate up to eight players at a time, and it employed the use of items with Nintendo’s side scrolling fighting mechanics. Its fan base was able to push for its competitive play as a fighting game by limiting it to a one-on-one match and disallowing item use on the battlefield. Its prominence abroad quickly generated clips of high-level tournaments and highlight reels available on Youtube. This made it easy for Luke to become familiar with the competitive ruleset—it was only a matter of breaking into the local scene to begin joining tournaments.
The first steps of a champion
Shyness aside, Luke found the local Smash Bros. fan base through a Facebook group and began participating in its competitive offerings. Though the transition from casual to competitive play may seem daunting for most, the shift in mindset came naturally for Luke. “I always had a competitive mindset, it was more of where [to apply it]. Even when it’s a casual party game, I still see it competitively in a sense [that] I want to win.”
However, that drive to win comes with an extra challenge. Knowing that every decision you make will affect the overall flow and outcome of the match often increases pressure to perform. With no other players to share the burden with, the nervous energy—or what Luke calls “tournament nerves”—can quickly set in your body. “It affects your hands. They start being very shaky. You might start pressing buttons you didn’t mean to press. It [goes] downhill from there.” Nevertheless, Luke has learned to hone his concentration after playing in tournaments often. “As you grow more as a player then you start getting used to it. You start getting into the game without thinking about [other] stuff.”
A smashing success
Luke won his first tournament for Super Smash Bros. for the Wii U on July 21, 2018. He made quite a smashing entrance in the competitive scene by winning both the Singles and Doubles categories in his first tournament—a first for the community. “It was an accident. I wasn’t expecting to win. I just wanted to go as far as possible. I stopped caring about whether or not I wanted to win or lose. I just wanted to play the game.” Since then, Luke was able to get consistent “Top 8” placings for the rest of Super Smash Bros. for the Wii U’s competitive lifespan.
Despite finding success in the Smash Bros. scene on numerous occasions, Luke mentions how the prize pools don’t compare with other big name Esports games such as League of Legends. These games have yearly competitive circuits with huge prize pools sponsored by their companies, and often with the games’ creators themselves attending the tournaments.
Meanwhile, Smash Bros. tournaments—even international ones—are organized by the player base and rely on registration fees and other external sponsors for their prize pools. The current developers may be periodically updating the game with balance changes and new characters, but Nintendo’s appearance in tournaments has yet to be seen. Despite this, the competitive community has been growing strong with the recent competition last February 23 in Playbook Makati peaking at 94 players. BNKR | Regerets, of course, added another victory to his accolades—this time for Smash Bros. Ultimate, the most recent installment in the series.
Though a Smash Bros. Ultimate tournament may not be shown next to DOTA 2 on television in the near future, it has a fighting chance. Luke believes that a push from Nintendo could bring the franchise into Esports status. And it can give talented players like Luke a better chance to cement a stable career in the competitive scene. In the end, all sports—whether in console or on court—are founded on the love of the game. Their committed players and organizers are dedicated to their craft and they take the time to truly develop their skills. They love the game, love the players, and love the journey. That’s all a game needs to reach the stardom of the stadiums.