Cesafi: A trailblazer in eSports

I know that for most of his critics, long-time Cesafi commissioner Felix Tiukinhoy may seem a traditionalist individual who is adverse to change. They don’t know that the veteran sports commissioner who was already into sports when cellular phones were the size of books is very much open to new ideas.

Before the barnyard dung hit the ceiling fan that was 2020, when we’d regularly meet, Sir Felix and I would often talk about the league and sometimes the topic would spill into the new sports that could be included. Among those that we discussed but didn’t really pan out were billiards and bowling — sports where Cebuanos really excel.

HOW DID YOU DO IT? Ryan Abarquez Balbuena, the tournament director for Cesafi eSports, has gotten calls all over the country asking him how he managed to include eSports in the collegiate league. The answer? Felix Tiukinhoy.

To be honest, I was quite disappointed with the Cebuano bowling community. It was their chance to be included in a school-based league, a first in the country, but somehow they were lukewarm to the idea.

A few years ago, when I learned that esports was being pushed as an Olympic event, I suggested to Sir Felix that Cesafi add it too and I was surprised to learn that the league was already considering it. Mobile gaming was already on the rise and one of the concerns was that it was taking too much time from academics, with some students failing their subjects because of too much screen time.

So, I suggested to Sir Felix to add another layer of protection. Cesafi athletes are usually required to pass at least 60 percent of their subjects and for the gamers, I suggested that they have to pass ALL their subjects.

It was a go, and in 2019, Cesafi announced it was adding esports to its calendar, with the console-based NBA as its first event which would be held in the second semester together with academic and cultural events.

Then 2020 said hello and life took a standstill.

There’s a silver lining to everything and the cancellation allowed Cesafi to look at how esports was done in the Southeast Asian Games and Asian Games.

When it announced its resumption two years later, NBA was dropped and the mobile-based Mobile Legends was added, with Ryan Abarquez Balbuena as the tournament director. Balbuena told me recently that groups from Manila and other parts of the country got in touch with him to ask him how he managed to get esports included in the Cesafi because the UAAP and NCAA don’t have it.

One name is the reason: Tiukinhoy.

And esports in Cesafi is the only event that has 100 percent participation with teams from the University of San Carlos (USC), University of the Visayas (UV), the University of Southern Philippines Foundation (USPF), University of the Philippines (UP)-Cebu, University of Cebu (UC), UCLM, Cebu Eastern College (CEC), University of San Jose Recoletos (USJ-R), Cebu Institute of Technology-University and Southwestern University (SWU)-Phinma. Last weekend, USC beat UP, 2-0; SWU drew USJ-R, 1-1, and CEC beat USPF, 2-0.

Unlike in other sports, no school holds an advantage because esports doesn’t need any facilities or a large recruitment network like UV has in basketball — it’s a level playing field.

And it shows in how it is only in esports that all Cesafi members have fielded teams, the first and only time that has happened.

Thanks to Sir Felix Tiukinhoy — a trailblazer.

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