Esports pioneer Mineski Global and collegiate sports powerhouse the Philippine Collegiate Champions League (PCCL) have joined forces to launch the National Interschool Cyber League (NICL) under their Youth Esports Program.
As part of the country’s largest esports program, the NICL will initially engage more than 1,000 teams from over 200 schools. This long-term project will build the country’s next generation of esports athletes.
“It’s all about responsible gaming and youth development,” said Mineski Global Founder and CEO Ronald Robins.
Building a grassroots program
Robins said the program is more than just a tournament, and instead will bring esports to the grassroots.
He stressed the importance of building the country’s ecosystem and starting the training of esports athletes early. This is why the NICL is targeting schools as the ideal backbone for this nationwide infrastructure.
He said they will work closely with parents and teachers to dispel the myth that gaming is detrimental to education. Instead, the program will show how esports, just like any other sport, will instill discipline and teach important life skills. It also gives them the chance to represent the country in international competitions, while providing good career opportunities after graduation.
Robins added that apart from helping schools with the curriculum, Mineski also plans to set up esports labs, which can also be used for different information technology courses.
Training the next generation
“This is a giant leap for esports in the Philippines,” said PCCL Chairman Rey Gamboa.
The PCCL has almost two decades of experience in bringing together collegiate basketball leagues. These include the University Athletic Association of the Philippines, the National Collegiate Athletic Association, and the Cebu Schools Athletic Foundation, Inc.
Gamboa, a former Philippine Basketball Association chairman and governor of the Shell PBA team, said that just like the national sport of basketball, esports needs a grassroots sports program.
He said that the NICL will further legitimize esports in the country, thanks to the PCCL’s existing partnerships with schools. Moreover, the gold medal-winning performance of Philippine esports athletes in the 30th Southeast Asian Games has proven that Filipino gamers are world-class.
“We can’t stop with the players who won in the SEA Games,” Gamboa said.
Instead, the Philippines should look beyond tournaments, and invest in discovering and training future stars.
He added that esports now gives more options to students who want to represent their schools.
“Not all of them want to play basketball, or volleyball, or other traditional sports. Many of them have wanted to represent their schools, but for years they were set aside,” Gamboa said.
Gamboa echoed Robins in saying that the NICL will promote responsible gaming. He said they will teach students the right balance between esports and academics, just like other college sports.
Winning more medals for the Philippines
“I think there’s a bigger chance for the Philippines to get that elusive first Olympic gold in esports than in other sports. And wouldn’t it be cool to be part of that?”
PCCL Esports President Chot Reyes, a Philippine basketball coaching legend, made this declaration at the NICL launch. He said is likely only a matter of time before esports becomes an Olympic medal sport. Last year, the SEA Games already proved the drawing power of esports in bringing in a huge audience. He said that the gaming community is enthusiastic in supporting the best players, and that this audience will keep growing over the coming years.
Indeed, more and more people all over the world are watching gaming tournaments, with League of Legends, CS:GO, and Dota 2 as the most-watched in 2019.
A five-time PBA champion coach who also oversaw the men’s national basketball team, Reyes said he sees his new role as a natural evolution.
Engaging new audiences
“My advocacy really is youth development,” he said.
Reyes said that even he was the CEO of broadcast network TV5, he already saw the importance of esports, noting that it appeals to the youth and that the future is in digital entertainment.
“I always pride myself in being part of something never done before,” he said.
For his part, Robins said this partnership was “one-of-a-kind” because it brings together years of video game and sports expertise.
“We really want to collaborate. Building this industry requires many hands,” Robins said.
The inaugural NICL tournament will kick off in Q3 this year, according to Robins. While the networks have not been finalized, Robins said they will target at least 500 hours of NICL coverage.