Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 7) — Female gamer Hananeel Talatala would purposely hide her identity like a thief in the night when playing in competitive online video games.
As soon as she steps in the shoes of her character in Dota 2 or Counter-strike: Global Offensive, everything else is but a memory— her name, her gender, and what goes on beyond the computer screen.
During those moments, Talatala— or 'h4rt' as she'd normally type to login— is just your usual gamer. The fleeting dissociation from reality becomes an avenue for her to prove her worth in a field arguably dominated by men.
"'Pag equal nila, it's fun— parang masaya siyang maglaro kung hindi nila alam kung sino ka," Talatala, taking up Nutrition at the University of the Philippines-Los Baños, told CNN Philippines.
[Translation: When they see me as an equal, it's fun. It's fun to play when they do not know who you are.]
It was a personal decision, Talatala said. She noted there will always be added pressure for women to prove themselves in the rising field of esports.
"I think mas cautious tayo maglaro kasi naiisip natin kung anong sasabihin (nila)... Kasi next time, baka ayaw na tayong kalaro," she added.
"Hindi naman siya gender issues, pero may times na parang mas nire-research natin 'yung tungkol sa games. 'Yung mas nagpa-practice tayo compared (sa normal)... parang ganun."
[Translation: I think we're (women) just more cautious to play because we're always thinking of their (men) perception of us. Because maybe next time, they wouldn't want to compete with us anymore. It's not about gender issues, but there are times when we really study the games. We practice more compared to normal, something like that.]
The first video games ever invented trace back to the 1970s, but it wasn't until the 2000s when esports, or the practice of professional and competitive gaming, started to rise.
Esports pertains to organized competitions where multiple players face off in video games.
Some of the most prominent games globally include Dota (Defense of the Ancients), Counter-strike, League of Legends, and Fortnite, among others.
What started off as a small event pitting amateur players against one another, esports is now recognized as a professional sport, luring contestants from all over the world with its million-dollar cash prizes.
Women in esports
It wasn't the normal playhouse for Talatala when she plunged into the world of gaming at a tender age of 9.
As the only daughter in the bunch, she ditched the usual little-girl toys and opted to tag along with her brothers in computer shops.
Talatala, who has been playing for 15 years now, even quit school for two years to concentrate on esports.
A 2017 study by international market research firm Newzoo bares that out of the roughly 30 million gamers in the Philippines, close to half (48 percent) are female.
But even with the current statistic, discrimination— intentional or not— still hounds the world of esports in the country.
The 24-year-old gamer admitted she has considered joining professional competitions, but a few obstacles hindered her from doing so.
"Umiyak actually ako, noong first time kong maglaro... Takot talaga ako," Talatala said, reminiscing her first Dota competition during late teen years.
[Translation: I actually cried the first time I played competitively. I was really scared.]
"I tried playing competitions pero laging may discrimination sa girls. Ayaw nila minsan na sumali sa mga teams. Parang if girl ka, wag ka na sumali kasi mahina ka. Medyo discouraged na, so wala na," she added.
[Translation: I tried playing competitions but there's always discrimination when it comes to girls. Sometimes, some teams do not like girls joining them. It's like if you're a girl, don't bother to join because you're not good. So we get discouraged, and we end up not playing anymore.]
She noted how there has been discrimination for female gamers even in China, the biggest market for esports thus far.
"Professionally... may point na magta-try na ko. Pero kasi may time sa China na nag-try sila na mag-input ng girls pero hindi siya naging successful, so hindi ako na-motivate mag-play professionally."
[Translation: There was a point when I almost tried to just play professionally. But there was a time in China when (teams) tried to input girls, but they haven't been successful, so I wasn't really motivated to play professionally.]
Currently, Talatala is part of Desoladies, an organization solely dedicated for female Dota 2 players.
The group, composed of female gamers of different nationalities, aims to create, as well as promote opportunities for women in esports and gaming.
READ: An online space made for queer and female geeks and gamers
The local esport scene: Birth of a new league
Another 2017 research by Newzoo reveals that the Philippines ranked 29th in the top esports markets in the world, accumulating a total of 29.9 million gamers from the country.
As of present, Filipino esports players have been officially considered as national athletes— this after the Games and Amusements Board (GAB) in 2017 announced it will recognize and grant athletic licenses to local gamers.
"While esports is different from the traditional competitions that we are used to, it cannot be denied that esports requires tremendous amounts of skill and training, and in the case of [multiplayer] online battle arenas (MOBA), careful planning and strong teamwork," GAB said in a statement posted by Mineski.net's Facebook page.
"With its growing popularity and commercial success in recent years, it has caught the attention of the government since up to now there seems to be no supervision and regulation in place," it added.
The rise of the industry was further heightened following reports that the Philippines will run its first ever esports franchise model in the country— the Nationals— early next year.
The league will cater to different field of esports such as games in PC, mobile and console. It will likewise serve as a pool of athletes aiming to qualify for international events like the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games.
Esports will make its debut as a medal sport for the 2019 SEA Games, which will be held in Manila.
With the rise of esports in the country, Talatala can only hope more Filipina gamers will step up to make their own mark in the online community.
"It's an open community right now. (There are) a lot of female organizations na nagfo-focus lang sa female gaming. Right now, andaming female competitions lang sa (there are a lot of female competitions for) esports," Talatala said.
"I would say just go for it. It's 2018, ano pa bang kinakatakot natin ngayon? (what are we still afraid of)," she said, addressing aspiring Filipina professional gamers.
And if this upward trend continues, the day will come when Talatala and other Filipina gamers won't have to lurk in the shadows of the gaming world anymore.