MANILA, Philippines — The recently concluded Mobile Legends: Bang Professional League-Philippines (MPL-PH) Season 9 certainly defied expectations. From previous cellar-dwelling teams taking top spots to champions fighting to survive, Season 9 certainly had its fair share of surprises.
The end of Season 8 saw many roster changes in the league's franchise teams.
The biggest of these changes was Team Echo announcing its all-star lineup after acquiring prominent players from three different teams: TNC's Frediemar "3MarTzy" Serafico, Bren's Karl "KarlTzy" Nepomuceno, and Nexplay EVOS' Tristan "Yawi" Cabrera.
TNC Pro Team saw an overhaul, only keeping Ben “Benthings” Maglaque and Daniel “SDzyz” Chuu, and welcoming Jomarie “Escalera” Delos Santos, Robee “Yasuwo” Bryan, Mark “Kramm” Rusiana, and Salman “KingSalman” Macarambon.
RSG's Adrian "Toshi" Bacallo took a season break but the team then welcomed former TNC player Dylan "Light" Catipon, who turned out to be an essential part of their season nine run.
But what was probably the most surprising roster change came from Blacklist International, as tandem VeeWise ended up skipping Season 9 to prepare for the Southeast Asian Games.
Return to onsite competition
MPL Season 9 welcomes back fans after three seasons of online tournaments
The league has been operating remotely since Season 6 due to heightened health and safety protocols due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But for Season 9, the Games and Amusement Board (GAB) finally gave the green light for MPL PH to return to an onsite event.
The regular season beginning Week Three onwards saw teams competing on the MPL stage but still without any spectators. The return of audiences would come in during the playoffs when the venue shifted to the SMX Convention Center in Pasay City.
Though the venue only held a handful of spectators, fans also trooped select SM Cinemas to take part in the MPL PH Playoffs watch party where all games of the playoffs as well as the Grand Finals were shown live.
Smart Omega restrategizing as they face yet another defeat during the Regular Season
The first week of Season Nine's regular season saw the defeat of the Philippines’ known champions, mostly by sweeps. M2 World Champions Bren Esports lost 0-2 to Echo while MSC Champions Smart Omega were also swept 0-2 by TNC and Echo. ONIC PH, runner-up of both the previous season and M3 World Championship, was likewise swept by Nexplay EVOS, and reigning world champions Blacklist International yielded to ONIC PH and TNC.
Titleholders Bren and Smart Omega, along with defending champions Blacklist International, found themselves trailing the pack week in and week out, fighting to stay alive through the playoffs. In the end, Smart Omega managed to take hold of the sixth position, bidding farewell to both world champions.
Phoenix and Raiders rise
Team RSG celebrates their victory as they are one step closer to the MPL PH crown
As the kings were eliminated, the season saw new teams rise to the occasion, particularly TNC and RSG.
TNC, which placed last in Season 8, found themselves at the opposite side of the leaderboard this time around, maintaining a weekly finish of either top two or three. They traded places with fellow leaders Echo and RSG. A defeat at the hands of Bren Esports during the regular season's last day almost jeopardized their position but they managed to hold strong on rank number three, ensuring their upper bracket advantage.
Echo had a promising start, winning five consecutive matches to secure the top seed. But they struggled in the second half of the regular season and dropped to third place.
It was RSG that ended the regular season as the top seed with a record of 11-3, including eight sweeps. They thus earned the right to choose which of the third- and fourth-rank teams they would play in the first matches of the playoffs.
From last to MSC bound, Smart Omega crawls back from sixth seed to face RSG in the Grand Finals
Entering the playoffs at last place, the pressure was definitely on Smart Omega's shoulders, especially with what was at stake: the chance to defend their MSC crown.
Coming into the playoffs at sixth seed, Smart Omega showed their dominance of the game as they swept third-seeded Echo, avenging their regular-season losses with a 3-0 sweep of their own.
Their winning momentum was halted however by TNC, who relegated them to the lower bracket with a 1-3 defeat.
Once again on the brink of elimination, they wasted no time in defeating season eight and M3 runner-ups ONIC PH, 3-0 to set up another clash with TNC. More prepared and hungry for their first Philippine title, Smart Omega once again won with a 3-0 sweep against TNC, rising from sixth place to at least a top-two finish and sealing the opportunity to defend their MSC title.
Raider's dominant arc
Nathanael "Nathzz" Estrologo is overjoyed as he is proclaimed Grand Finals MVP
With Smart Omega on a winning momentum, all eyes were on the top-seeded RSG.
For some of the RSG squad, stepping into the grand finals felt like the turning point in their redemption arcs.
Arvie "Aqua" Antonio was relishing his first grand finals appearance, being always eliminated during the first match of the playoffs in previous seasons. His Season 7-team Cignal Ultra did not even make it to the playoffs altogether. His teammate Dylan "Light" Catipon likewise came up short of a playoff berth last season, having placed last with previous team TNC. But he eventually fought for the crown and had already earned the Regular Season MVP award.
Coach Brian “Panda” Lim thought it was his second grand finals appearance. He failed to enter the playoffs in Season 7 and had an early playoffs exit in Season 8.
Though the matches saw two teams of equal strength, RSG's tactical plays of focusing on objectives gave them an edge over Smart Omega. The defending MSC champions still managed to mount their own defensive and sometimes offensive plays. The turning point came from Nathanael "Nathzz" Estrologo. The EXP laner was one of the rookies to watch back in Season Eight but had a few inconsistent plays during the latter part of RSG's run. Season 9 saw a more disciplined Estrologo with impeccable plays that helped his team reach the playoffs. It was no surprise when the Raiders overpowered Smart Omega, 4-1, and Estrologo's clutch plays helped him win Grand Finals MVP.
A night of proposals as the Grand Finals begin and end with a proposal from TNC's Ben “Benthings” Maglaque and RSG's Coach Brian "Panda" Lim
Though RSG ended up with the crown, one might argue that they weren't the biggest winners of the night.
In an MPL first, a proposal rocked the MPL stage, not once but twice.
Before the start of the grand finals match, TNC's Ben “Benthings” Maglaque took the MPL stage with a heartfelt speech to his longtime girlfriend Dayen Bello. Maglaque initially hope to win the championship title so that he could propose to Bello but though his team fell short of the title, having placed third, he proceeded with his plans as mara Aquino led Bello to the stage where Maglaque got down on one knee and proudly proclaimed that Bello was his trophy before offering her a ring.
Such excitement surely set the tone for what was to come in the Grand Finals. But as RSG hoisted their Season Nine trophy, RSG's Coach Lim seemed to have had the same idea as he asked his girlfriend Jennifer Rigue to come up on stage.
"Si Benthings did it first, but this is my own version," joked Coach Lim before presenting Rigue with a ring, giving the MPL PH Season 9 its second proposal of the night, ending the season with much joy and celebration.
The only question now: how could Season 10 be even more exciting?