Santo Tomas wins Philippine League of Legends Varsity League

Mark Deppe discusses the growth of varsity esports (4:36)

UC Irvine's program director talks about how the Anteaters got their start as a varsity program and how school support benefits both players and the university. (4:36)

MAKATI, Philippines -- The University of Santo Tomas ended a three-year championship drought and became the first winners of the school-sponsored League of Legends Varsity League with a 3-2 win against Technological University of the Philippines on Sunday at the Glorietta Cinema in Makati.

Both universities headed into the bout as strong contenders for the title, having finished the regular season with 10 - 2 records. While the UST Teletigers got the upper-hand in the tiebreakers, team captain Theo "Uomi" Ignacio knew the TUP Monstrum Vel Prodigum would put up a close fight.

"I honestly think our chances against TUP MVP are 50-50 for now," said Uomi in a pre-game interview. "The whole month of preparation after our last encounter with them is a big game-changer."

The game might have changed, but the result remained the same. The Thomasians won PHP 30,000 ($579) in the country's first-ever university-sponsored collegiate esports league, and the runners-up earned PHP 20,000 ($386).

In Game 1 of the best-of-five series, AD carry Laurence "Espiegle" Padilla and support Jan "Cresho" Hortizuela took it upon themselves to secure an early lead for the Teletigers. Key plays from Cresho's Nami allowed him and his partner to stunt the growth of their TUP counterparts and give the rest of the Teletigers leeway to power-spike.

By the 25 minute mark, UST had amassed a sizable lead by isolating TUP's players for pick after pick through superior teamplay. Although TUP showed signs of life in the mid-game, it was not enough to recover from its deficits in the laning phase.

Game 2 was a reversal of fortunes, started by TUP giving JC "Acedia" De Leon a surprise top Yorick pick. The Teletigers once more secured a slight early game lead, but TUP eventually eked out an advantage through skirmishes won by Acedia and Christian "Cza" Fabroa's Skarner. Subbed-in AD carry Rallion "Carrots" Gatchalian was able to push back the penultimate TUP offensive with a pentakill on Xayah, but the Teletiger's base was all but in shambles by then. One more push by TUP tied the score up, and forced UST to bring Espiegle back in.

Fighting for momentum advantage in the third game, the Teletigers recovered their groove by drafting a comfort late-game scaling, front-to-back composition. Knowing this, TUP decided to lock in Skarner alongside Lucian and Braum to try and shut down UST's duo-carry oriented setup. The recollected Teletigers consistently punished their rival's lack of coordination and pressured them into unfavorable setups that would then net UST the win. Despite a slow start to the match, UST came out on top by staying true to its kite-back win conditions.

One loss away from elimination in the fourth game, Cza locked in his undefeated Jarvan IV alongside another Yorick pickup from Acedia. UST's Malzahar-centric draft, which initially proved troublesome, was dismantled piece by piece by the duo as the match went on. TUP's comfort picks paid off, and the team took total control of the match in the mid-game with calculated aggression and extended fights.

The field was now wide-open for either of the two schools to take it all, so both teams accordingly went all-out in the final game by bringing in their best. TUP drafted Ivan "Nav1" Rasco his signature Draven, while UST placed their bets on mid laner Isiah "Cera" Loberiza's Corki.

The Teletigers struggled in the early game. Acedia's Jayce and Nav1's Draven dominated the map early on, leaving no room for the Thomasians to recover. However, a few over-extensions from TUP allowed UST to gain some breathing room and delay the match to the mid game -- the point when Cera's Corki would peak.

Though the rest of his teammates weren't faring too well, Cera was having the game of his life with no deaths. After rallying his team to take a teamfight near the 25th minute mark, Cera's Teletigers then secured two Baron Nashor kills in a row. This signaled the end for TUP, as despite its best efforts, UST had grown too strong to overcome.

The LVL championship marks UST's second collegiate League of Legends title to-date, following the original Tiger Esports' run in the 2015 season of the Garena LoL Collegiate League. No other university in the Philippines has won a national title twice.

"I realized champions aren't born champions," Uomi said. "They are forged to be one."

It isn't only the players who are happy either. Bryan Tan, who had recently been promoted to the head of Garena Philippines' collegiate operations, was satisfied with the successful outcome of the event.

"I was anxious since this is my first live event, and when they told me it was my call to say when we start, I just counted down from 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 and go," said Tan. "Now here we are the end of a historical event in esports and hopefully a step into its future."