If playing basketball can be a professional career, why can’t playing video games be one too?
With esports being included in the competition roster of major sporting events such as the 2021 SEA Games and the 2022 Asian Games, it’s easy to see that the last few years have laid the foundations for video games to become more than just a hobby! As it turns out, people love to watch others play video games just as much as they do playing it themselves. This is why international gaming leagues, whose cash prizes have well been known to exceed a million dollars, have been popping up all over the world.
The Philippines, of course, is not an exception to the gaming phenomenon, having recognized esports as a legitimate sport since 2017. It’s this nationally growing interest that 29-year-old video game enthusiast Ariane Lim looks forward to nurturing with AcadArena, an organization dedicated to the development of campus gaming and esports education across universities in not only the Philippines but also the rest of Southeast Asia.
“We want to be able to bridge the gap for brands, homes, schools, and students on how the industry can be used for character and skill development,” explained Lim.
Previously the head of collegiate of esports organizer Garena Philippines, Lim has stepped into her current role as the co-founder and COO of AcadArena to positive results. Since its inception, the organization has coordinated with over 800 schools across 10 gaming titles, including Valorant, League of Legends, Mobile Legends, and more. Lim has since been featured in the consumer technology category of the Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia list and nominated as the Esports Collegiate Ambassador of the Year at the 2021 Esports Awards for her work.
Video game beginnings
If you asked the now seasoned Ariane Lim what her favorite gaming title is, she’d be hard-pressed to choose: She loves, for instance, League of Legends and Overwatch, but she’s also spent too many hours on Cities: Skylines and indulged an MMORPG phase with Ragnarok Online. Unsurprisingly, having enjoyed an expansive array of video games, Lim developed an interest in esports early on in life, beginning as a sibling-and-friend shared hobby before later blooming into a full-time career.
“My ahya was an avid gamer, so I was exposed to the industry early on. Soon, it just became part of my lifestyle, especially with my college friends being hardcore fans,” shared Lim.
Back then, Lim was pursuing an undergraduate degree in creative writing at the Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU) — a major that at first didn’t click with her. Although she chose the program due to a recommendation from her Filipino teacher in high school, Lim expressed that her initial portfolio for the field was not at the same level as those shared by her classmates. This, however, did not stop her from still performing well in her studies.
Approaching life with what appears to be an ambitious mindset sharpened by years of gaming, Lim graduated the top of her class, cum laude, as the program awardee, and received recognition for literary excellence with the Mulry Award and the Loyola Schools Award for the Arts in Playwriting.
“Early on, I knew where I wanted to be if I was to stay in my course. All my blockmates had huge collections back home, [but] I didn’t. I felt out of place. There were a lot of skills and attributes I had to hone. I set win conditions for myself that I had to absolutely reach sooner than later; otherwise, I [was] going to shift to Computer Science,” explained Lim.
Of course, excelling in creative writing didn’t mean that Lim cast aside her interests in video games. During her free time, Lim participated in projects across several university organizations, including hosting an ADMU-wide League of Legends tournament in her senior year.
Explaining her university years, Lim expressed: “I think what’s important with education in general is to allow yourself to be in a space and mindset where you can discover, try, fail, and learn. That’s actually what makes video games and esports so attractive. You can go into a game [and] lose, but you can just play another, learning each time. You can develop grit naturally this way once you can see how this can apply in real life.”
On “Game Boy” and industry expectations
After graduation, Ariane Lim decided to apply for Garena Philippines, which is renowned for having introduced League of Legends to Southeast Asia. During her time there, Lim handled campus esports under the company, an educational endeavor that she further wanted to pursue despite the hurdles that she had to overcome as a Chinoy woman in the field.
“I had a lot I wanted to do and a lot I needed to prove. Esports and gaming are largely a man’s world. Sexism and discrimination have been a deep issue in the industry ever since they started to call the Game Boy a ‘Game Boy.’ I also received a bit of discrimination because I was a Chinoy,” admitted Lim.
“Supposedly, I was the one who wouldn’t understand the scene — a woman who wouldn’t be seen in those internet cafes in the eskinitas where esports really bloomed. But I understand. Media has portrayed Chinoys as rich folks who wouldn’t go down the grassroots,” Lim continued.
Ultimately, regardless of the discriminatory experiences Lim had faced, her efforts into the Philippine gaming world unceasingly continued. Wanting to go beyond expectations and further develop the local gaming scene, Lim then co-founded AcadArena with Kevin Hoang and Justin Banusing. Since then, the campus education organization has worked with thousands of student gamers from all over the country, providing them with resources and connections that allow them to play in regional and international tournaments.
“I wasn’t free to pursue as much of my educational endeavor with Garena. At the end of the day, my projects there have to lead to promoting League of Legends as a game,” Lim said, expounding on the reasons for her departure from the company.
“Since AcadArena is game-agnostic, I’m free to make this more about the student than whatever game product,” explained Lim. “In AcadArena, it’s our mission to highlight that gaming and esports is #NotJustPlay. We want to create a kinder space for student gamers to explore what they love smarter and without prejudice. It doesn’t matter what you play. It doesn’t matter if you’re good at it. There’s something to learn even outside the screen — something you can put in your resume when you graduate to make you a cut above the rest.”
On advice for aspiring gamers
Whether you’re a Chinoy or not, becoming a professional gamer is a novel profession, one that is not yet entirely understood by both the younger and older generations. In order to prepare for this career, Ariane Lim offers identifying talent and playing smart as her personal advice.
“There’s more to esports than training to be an athlete. For those who do want to be one, you have to be brutally aware of how good you are at the game. For parents: If your child is under 17 years old and is regionally or globally at the top, know that that’s a good sign. They’re only kids for a bit, and esports pros retire as early as 24,” Lim said.
Elaborating on how to build a name, Lim also advised, “Play on the Chinese servers if you can. If you get good there, there’s a huge chance for you to get scouted and seal your career. Character is just as important. You can be number one on the server, but if you have a bad rep, you can get voted out. [Moreover,] always remember to have Plan Bs. Esports is a global industry, and China is the country with the biggest market and biggest video game company. Learn Business Mandarin and Mandarin for games. You can be a project manager, marketer, broadcaster, etc. That will set you up for success here in Southeast Asia. That’s the next big market.”
On a more personal note, Lim added: “My achi has dissuaded her kids from playing video games almost all their lives. Now, I get to tell her my success. My inclusion in [the] Forbes 30 [list] is because I played it all my life.”