The Philippines can be ‘Korea of Web3’, says Axie Infinity Co-Founder

Saying salamat (thank you) to Filipinos for being inextricably linked to the Axie Infinity story, Sky Mavis Co-Founder and Growth Lead Jeffrey Zirlin cited blockchain gaming as a possible vehicle for the rise of the Philippines as a digital powerhouse.

“The Philippines can be the Korea of Web3,” Zirlin, known to legions of Axie Infinity fans by his nickname Jiho, said in his speech at the Philippine Web3 Festival.

This weeklong Web3 celebration in the Philippines, touted as the “epicentre of Web3 adoption”, includes the three-day main conference from November 15 to 18. Besides the conference and other side events and activities, Axie Infinity developer Sky Mavis is also holding the Axie Open Manila esports tournament. The biggest onsite Axie Infinity tournament in the Philippines to date, Axie Open Manila, is offering a prize pool of US$120,000 or almost PHP7 million.

StarCraft and South Korea

Zirlin pointed out how Blizzard Entertainment’s StarCraft changed South Korea and spurred the growth of its broadband internet infrastructure on its way to becoming virtually the national pastime.

This 2010 Kotaku article sheds light on how StarCraft became a phenomenon in South Korea.

Also Read: Axie Infinity hack reminds us about the vulnerabilities in crypto markets: Advance.AI’s Ravi Madavaram

“The game’s popularity in South Korea is due to, in part, good timing. When Blizzard launched StarCraft in the late 1990s, South Korea was building up its (sic) online infrastructure and creating the fastest internet in the world. Online cafes began sprouting up, and the cafes needed games.

“It’s a matter of which came first — the chicken or the StarCraft — but the game ended up in more and more net cafes. The release of the game also coincided with the creation of South Korea’s first pro gaming league in 1998. A couple of years after the game launched, pro gamers began organising into teams, and big-time sponsors like Samsung moved in.

“Yet, StarCraft’s success in South Korea was not simply good timing. Blizzard did get lucky, but luckily for Korean gamers, the studio offered a compelling title. StarCraft was (and is) fun. A series of events might have set the stage for the game, but the compelling experience the game offers is why generation after generation of Korean gamers continues to enjoy the title. At this point, StarCraft has become something like the Monopoly or Chess of online gaming. It’s a classic title that continues to pull in new players.”

Axie Infinity and the Philippines

Meanwhile, Axie Infinity, a Pokémon-like NFT game that enables players to collect, raise, and battle fantasy creatures, transformed the Philippines during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Simply put, when players win battles in Axie Infinity, they are rewarded with Smooth Love Potion (SLP) tokens, which are the in-game currency. They can then use these tokens for breeding the digital pets known as Axies to win more battles and earn more SLP. By using a cryptocurrency wallet, players can accumulate SLP and convert their digital wealth into real-world money.

The Axie Infinity story is also linked to the decentralised autonomous organisation (DAO) Yield Guild Games, one of the organisers of the Philippine Web3 Festival. It was Axie Infinity that inspired YGG Co-Founder Gabby Dizon to launch the DAO in 2020, together with Beryl Li and another individual known as “Owl of Moistness”, who is represented by a plush toy owl.

In August 2021, YGG raised US$4.6 million in a financing round led by venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz (a16z), the first time a16z has invested in a Philippine startup.

Filipinos and play-to-earn revolution

The meteoric rise of Axie Infinity in the Philippines brought global attention to play-to-earn, which was the term coined for blockchain games that allowed users to own the game characters as NFTs and earn from playing. Axie Infinity even led to the birth of the blockchain gaming platform startup I work for, Playfix.io.

“The interesting thing about play-to-earn is that through the act of gaming, which billions of people around the world can do, you can actually enable financial inclusion by the element of having NFTs that earn yield. What excites me the most as a gamer is that there are so many ways you can express yourself by playing these different games. There are just so many games to look forward to and so many creative ways to earn an income,” Dizon told this author in an interview last year after their financing round.

The birthplace of play-to-earn in the Philippines is Cabanatuan, Nueva Ecija, a province in the Central Luzon region, as recounted in a YouTube documentary that YGG commissioned Emfarsis to produce.

Among the Axie Infinity players interviewed for the documentary were an elderly couple, sari-sari (small neighbourhood store) owners Lolo Silverio, 75, and Lola Vergie, 65. To them, play-to-earn wasn’t a buzzword but a godsend that enabled them to keep earning an income amid the hardships of COVID-19.

Also Read: Play-to-earn: Understanding the popularity of Axie Infinity

In the documentary, Lolo Silverio said playing Axie Infinity was his only form of entertainment, sharing that sometimes he can finish 100 games a day.

Sana huwag mawala yung Axie (We hope that Axie won’t go away),” he said.

E-sports and grassroots transformation

The growth of Axie Infinity and play-to-earn faced challenges this year due to the influx of players that affected the game economy, causing the price of SLP to plummet. It also took a serious blow because of the exploit on Axie Infinity’s Ronin network that resulted in the loss of over US$625 million in USDC and ETH. This was followed by the current bear market in cryptocurrencies and NFTs, the so-called Crypto Winter.

Axie Infinity, however, has evolved, with Sky Mavis announcing new features and products during its first-ever AxieCon conference.

At the Philippine Web3 Festival, Zirlin gave attendees a sneak peek at new Axies and other improvements to the game.

Sky Mavis is also doubling down on turning Axie Infinity into an e-sport, just as what was then known as pro gaming helped StarCraft transform South Korea.

“We need to democratise e-sports,” Zirlin said, emphasising the importance of supporting grassroots e-sports tournaments.

Judging by the reception that Zirlin has gotten at the Philippine Web3 Festival and wherever he went, the love affair between Filipinos and Axie Infinity is far from over.

Just ask the couple who posed with Zirlin with their baby named Ronin.

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