As the dust settled in the battle for supremacy at the Mobile Legends M3 World Championship, Jonmar “OhMyV33NUS” Villaluna and Blacklist International (BLCK) emerged triumphant.
“Para sa Pilipinas ‘to! [This is for the Philippines!]," the Qu33n exclaimed as BLCK broke the code and swept fellow Filipino team ONIC Philippines to become the new MLBB world champions.
Such are the memories BLCK fans clung to while they watched their team limp through Season 9 of MPL PH. Due to crucial roster changes, the reigning champs of MPL PH looked mortal once again.
Let's dive into how BLCK unraveled in MPL PH Season 9:
V33Wise skip MPL-PH Season 9
Following BLCK’s win in the M3 World Championships, the team announced that OhMyV33NUS and Danerie “Wise” Del Rosario, the famed “V33Wise” duo, would be skipping MPL PH Season 9 to “pursue personal goals and spend more quality time with their families”.
While experiencing tremendous success in 2021, the V33Wise duo also received unwanted backlash. Most notable were the sexist and homophobic remarks against the pair by Smart Omega Gold Laner Grant “Kelra” Pillas during his stream.
MPL PH organizers quickly responded by handing Kelra a two-week suspension at the start of MPL PH Season 8 and fining him an undisclosed amount. Kelra promptly apologized.
“Ako po ay lubos na humihingi ng pasensya sa mga taong nasaktan ko, sa buong LGBTQ+ community at sa lahat ng tao na naapektuhan (I wholeheartedly apologize to the people I’ve hurt, to the entire LGBT+ community, and all of the people that have been affected)," Kelra said in his apology.
In a Facebook post explaining their reason for going on hiatus, OhMyV33nus alluded to this, along with other difficult situations throughout the year, as the reason for opting to stay on the sidelines for Season 9.
“Napakaraming eksena ang nagdaan na tinest talaga ang patience ko as a person [Many situations have occurred where my patience as a person was really tested]," OhMyV33nus said in the post.
On the other hand, Wise mentioned needing to rest and stay with his family after finally winning the World Championship.
“Ngayon na naabot na natin pangarap nating maging world champion, oras na para magpahinga muna saglit para mas makasama ko naman family ko this season [Now that we’ve reached our dream of becoming World Champions, it’s time to take a break so I can be with my family this season]," Wise said in his Facebook post.
Retooling the championship roster
With BLCK’s star duo out for the entirety of Season 9, the team immediately sought to retool and reorganize their championship-winning roster.
Mark Jayson “ESON” Gerardo was moved to the starting Support role and brought a new player, Kent Xavier “Kiever” Lopez, to replace Wise as the team’s Jungler.
BLCK still kept three of their original starters in Salic Alauya “Hadji” Imam, Edward “EDWARD” Jay Dapadap, and the M3 World Championships MVP Kiel Calvin “OHEB” Soriano.
Hadji also took the reigns from OhMyV33nus as the team’s captain. Meanwhile, Dexstar "Dex Star" Louise Cruz Alaba transitioned into an analyst role while still being the team’s main substitute.
The team also hired Anie “Master the Basics” Jiandani to be coach Kristoffer Ed "BON CHAN" Ricaplaza’s second-in-command.
According to BLCK’s announcement of the new roster, Master the Basics was instrumental in the team’s drafting and strategy during the ONE Esports MPL Invitational (where BLCK finished second) and the M3 World Championship.
As Season 9 approached, coach BON CHAN explained some of his team's challenges while preparing for the new season.
“Nagsstruggle tayo ngayon pero tiwala parin ako na kakayanin natin ‘yan [We’re struggling right now, but I still believe we can do it]," the coach said in a vlog posted by the CEO of BLCK parent company Tier One Entertainment, Tryke Gutierrez.
BON CHAN compared the team’s previous struggles with their current struggles as they trained for Season 9. He mentioned that the V33nus-led squad used to have some difficulty in the early game when they were preparing for the 2019 SEA Games. On the other hand, the current roster struggles with their late-game execution.
“Yung sa Sibol, yung problema nila early tapos mid to late, goods na sila. Dito naman, okay tayo sa early. Pagdating sa mid to late, baliktad. [Back in Sibol, the problem was in the early game, but during the mid to late game, they were fine. Here, we’re okay in the early game. But, when it comes to mid to late game, it's the opposite]," said the coach.
But, despite the early signs of the team’s troubles, BON CHAN was still confident heading into the season that they would be able to reach the playoffs.
“Aabot tayo ng playoffs, ‘yan ang nakakasigurado [We’ll reach the playoffs, that’s a sure thing]," claimed the coach.
With BLCK’s roster retooled and ready to go, the team embarked on its journey through MPL PH Season 9.
Early struggles and adjustments
BLCK stumbled out of the gate in week one, having dropped the first two matches and only earning one point.
With V33Wise out of the picture, so was the UBE (Ultimate Bonding Experience) strat — where all five players grouped up to take team fights and objectives — that BLCK popularized.
The meta’s shift towards using the Demon Slayer talent for Jungle emblems prompted teams to use more aggressive, assassin-oriented lineups focused on taking multiple objectives simultaneously.
This shift forced BLCK to draft and strategize differently, compounding the problems of their newly rebuilt roster.
In the very first game of the season against ONIC, BLCK lost in under 15 minutes after Kevier’s Balmond fell way behind in farm against the more experienced Kairi and his Lancelot.
The team bounced back in game two but ultimately lost the match. BLCK finished the first week with a 1-4 record, having lost 1-2 against ONIC and 0-2 against TNC Pro Team (TNC).
Dex Star enters the fray
The lackluster performance of the reigning champs in week one prompted a swift change in the starting lineup — Dex Star replaced ESON to provide veteran leadership for the struggling squad.
However, the team continued to lose matches even with BLCK’s “Kuya” back in the lineup.
BLCK finished week two with a 1-4 record, losing 1-2 against Nexplay EVOS (NXPE) and 0-2 against ECHO Esports. It took the defending champs until week three to finally get a win on the board, defeating the M2 World Champions BREN Esports 2-0.
"Di ko nga ineexpect na makakalaro pa ako pero ang kailangan lang talaga nila siguro yung mag-guide [I didn’t expect that I’d still be playing but they just really need someone to guide them I think]," said Dex Star in a post-match interview after their win against BREN.
While Dex Star’s transition back to a starting role didn’t result in wins for BLCK, he did provide the roster with vocal in-game leadership, a quality coach BON CHAN believed Hadji hadn't achieved yet.
“Alam natin na si Hadji yung itinalagang captain pero di pa talaga siya captain material di pa siya hinog kailangan lang talaga nila ng taong magli-lead [We know Hadji was chosen to be the team captain, but he’s not captain material yet so they really need someone to lead]," added Bon Chan.
As the team struggled to find consistency and identity, their losses piled up. After notching their first match win of the season over BREN in week three, BLCK lost 1-2 to RSG Philippines, then lost 1-2 to OMG in the following week.
Looking to rally his troops, BLCK’s new assistant coach boldly proclaimed that the defending champs would undoubtedly make the playoffs.
“For me, there is still a 99.9% chance we can make it to the playoffs because of how the team is growing every week,” said Master the Basics, following a disappointing week five where BLCK saw their record drop to 1-6.
Uncle ESON back in the starting lineup to make one final push
BLCK entered week six with a 1-8 record and sat at the bottom of the standings. With Dex Star in the lineup, BLCK only went 1-6 in their matches.
Two more losses against ONIC (1-2) and TNC (1-2) in the previous week prompted the team to reinsert ESON back into the starting lineup in place of Dex Star.
The lineup change immediately bore fruit for BLCK as they won 2-1 against NXPE, with “Uncle” ESON winning the MVP award in the match-clinching third game.
Unfortunately for BLCK, their winning ways didn’t continue. The team lost their next two matches, winning only one game out of five against ECHO and BREN.
Needing a win as their playoff chances dwindled, BLCK faced the league-leading 10-2 RSG squad. The team needed at least a 2-1 win to move back up to the sixth spot and keep their playoff hopes alive.
Against all odds, BLCK defeated RSG from down 1-0, thanks to masterful performances from their two new starters.
ESON delivered another clutch MVP performance in game three with his Franco, while Kevier and his Lancelot finished with a 10 KDA.
BLCK’s win also halted the league leader’s rampage throughout the field, ending RSG’s 7-match winning streak.
Securing the critical win against RSG kept the door open for BLCK to slip into the playoffs.
Winning 2-0 against OMG in BLCK’s final game of the season would’ve immediately booked them a spot in the playoffs. Drop a game, and BLCK’s playoff hopes fall to their opponents; lose the series, and their season is finished.
BLCK started game one with a solid 4,000 gold lead by the 12th-minute mark and reached as high as 8,000.
However, after a pickoff of Kevier’s split pushing Ling on the top lane, OMG secured the third lord of the game and marched down the middle lane to end the game.
On the brink of elimination from playoff contention in game two, BLCK held on for almost 30 minutes against OMG.
It took OMG until the sixth lord of the match before they breached BLCK’s defenses to seal the match in their favor.
BLCK's heartbreaking loss to OMG put the team in seventh place and four points out of the playoff race.
The reigning champs finished the season with a league-worst 3-11 record and never had a winning streak, rounding out a tumultuous Season 9.
Return of the Qu33n? An early glimpse into BLCK’s future
As of 15 April, five days after the end of the regular season, the V33Wise duo haven't given any hints at a possible return for Season 10.
Still, they won't be out of pro competition for too long.
Back in late January, BLCK won the honor of representing the Philippines in the 2022 SEA Games in Hanoi, Vietnam.
OhMyV33nus will be joining Wise and Hadji alongside replacements Kyle Dominic “Dominic” Soto and Lee Howard “Owl” (due to age restrictions) in May as the Philippines try to defend their crown on the world stage.
Only time will tell when the famed duo will return to try to bring Blacklist International back to their winning ways.