Philippine government to give esports players athletic licenses

Teams in the Philippines have had trouble getting to international events in the past. ESPN

High-level esports players in the Philippines will now be recognized as bona fide athletes underneath the country's existing legislation.

On July 19, Philippine Dota 2 players from TNC Pro Team and Execration, both teams competing in this year's The International 7, in Seattle, were invited to visit the Games and Amusements Board, the governmental bureau that oversees the regulation of all professional sports in the country.

Under the guidance of GAB Chairman Abraham Kahlil B. Mithra, the players were granted athletic licenses that will give them official recognition under the law as professional athletes representing their title of choice.

The first beneficiaries of the license include pro players for TNC Pro Team and Execration, who as a result will get to compete in the world's largest Dota 2 tournament without any concern about visa issues that have plagued the teams in the past.

In the short term, the license will help ease the players' struggles in getting visas to LAN events in other countries -- a perennial problem for esports players in the region.

"Hopefully, this will hasten the process and remove the stress and uncertainty of visa applications," Julius Mariano, Twitch's partnerships head in the country, said. Mariano was one of a key group of people who brokered the meeting between the GAB and the players.

Execration missed out on last year's Boston Major because the team failed to secure visas for any of its players. Before that, TNC Pro Team and Execration almost had to skip the 2016 The International before being granted last-minute visas for the event.

As of July 21, both teams have reported that they have secured the visas for all of their players in time for TI7.

Eyeing further support

According to attorney Ermar U. Benitez, GAB's chief legal counsel, the conferment of licenses to esports players is just the beginning of governmental support for the burgeoning competitive games industry.

"We are in the infancy stage of regulation," Benitez said. "We like to think of it as an exploration. We've spoken with industry stakeholders, and we want to serve as a guide for the future development of the industry."

Benitez said that while the GAB's mandate is to undertake "the supervision and regulation over the operation and conduct of professional sports," in practice the GAB prefers to give a certain degree of self-regulation within the bounds of law.

"We will always err toward empowering esports to be a self-governing industry," he said. "Ideally, they can function like our national and professional sports leagues. These more matured spaces have practiced self-governance for decades. We are always there, but we give the industry room to breathe and grow."

For Benitez, the emphasis is on making sure that future stakeholders fulfill the requisite legal responsibilities.

"In basketball, it's no secret that minors often get their break into the professional scene," he said. "Rather than impede that, the GAB just makes sure that all parties -- including the players and their families -- are protected. We want the same for esports."

For the moment, the athletic licenses for the Dota 2 players going to Seattle still follow the provisions set by Presidential Decree No. 871, the executive decree that places basketball and other professional sporting endeavors under the Games and Amusements Board.

Though the legal basis for the licenses was published on Jan. 6, 1976, Benitez said that the interpretation of law can more than accommodate the realities of esports players in the short-term.

"Eventually, in the very near future, we'll have more specific, responsive, in-depth, and relevant supervision and regulation for esports," he said. "We will engage the industry itself to help us with this."