While the world is down, it’s Game on

I’m not a gamer. Unlike my youngest brother Michael, whose favorite is Call of Duty: Warzone, my last gaming console was Atari. Ha-ha. Yes, Pong, Pac-man and Space Invaders!

Yesterday, I did a quick Google search on the sports that have thrived since the world changed 12 months ago. Not surprising, the No. 1 answer is Esports.

The “e” stands for “electronic” and it’s a sport involving multiple gamers playing video games. Before Covid-19 struck, a large stadium would be jampacked with overflowing fans watching a Jumbotron. This time, the games are happening remotely — at home. 

Gaming is a huge, huge, huge business. Of the planet’s 7.9 billion people, about 57 percent have access to the internet. And of that 4.5 billion Web users, a huge 2.81 billion play computer games. 

The global video game industry is $159 billion. How huge is that? It’s four times the box office (movie) revenues and three times the music industry market.

COVID-19 has increased the number of gamers worldwide. Told to strictly follow stay-at-home protocols, the Internet Protocol (IP) has ruled. The length of time people spend online playing games has substantially increased during this pandemic.

For Esports, this is good. It is officially a sport. During the 2019 Southeast Asian Games in Manila, a total of six medals were at stake. At the end of the six-day tournament held at the Filoil Flying V Centre in San Juan, our Filipino e-gamers collected the most hardware: We won 3 gold, 2 silver and 1 bronze medals. 

The games played included Arena of Valor, Starcraft II, Dota 2, Mobile Legends: Bang Bang, Hearthstone and Tekken 7. The popular “NBA2k” game was planned to be one of the titles but a license was not secured before the game’s start.

Later this year in Vietnam, when our ASEAN neighbor hosts the SEA Games, they will offer 10 medals for Esports, including CrossFire and FIFA Online 4.

The Olympics is not ready yet. Esport aficionados, knowing how popular video games are in Japan, pushed to have Esports included in the Tokyo Olympics. But the IOC declined. Had the Games pushed through last year, an accompanying event (“The Intel World Open”) was to have been staged in Tokyo coinciding with the Olympics.

Here in Cebu, I remember an event I attended in September 2014. My good friend Brian Lim, an entrepreneur-triathlete, was then the chairman of the Phil. E-Sports Organization (PESO).

Brian helped organize the event, “eSports Festival: Rigs. Cosplay. Games.” that attracted over 500 participants at the Cebu Trade Hall of the SM City Cebu. 

Sven Macoy Schmid, an avid gamer, wrote this in his blog, “I was stunned by how many spectators the event drew… there was the cosplay event, the rig competition and the beautiful creatures called ‘booth babes.’”

Brain Lim explained to me the attraction of this game.

“ESports is the modern-day equivalent of Chess,” he said. “It’s a mind sport but without any physical boundaries as it can be played across the internet and across different genres or game types.”

Categorized as Covid-19

Mental Health

The mind and body are intertwined. This COVID-19 pandemic has disturbed our lives. One aspect that has been affected is our minds. Since March, we have added fears and anxieties. Many cannot sleep well. Depression is at an all-time high. This pandemic has spared no one — including world-class athletes.

I remember Mary Joy Tabal’s honest confession to me a few months back: “Grabeh ako prayers (I prayed a lot), like every night jud, praying for something that would divert my worries, my overthinking. I always want to be productive and the lockdown was so difficult.”

Elite athletes are not ordinary people. They push their bodies and minds to the extreme levels. They are restless, often sweating for hours everyday. They set targets. The best of them, including Joy, wanted to run the Tokyo Olympics last August. They had to stay in bed and watch CLOY.

Stanford University and Strava partnered in a study, “Impacts of COVID-19 on Professional Athletes.” They interviewed 131 top U.S. athletes to check on the effects of COVID-19. The results are not shocking.

A good 22.5% of these elite athletes reported feeling down or depressed during the COVID-19 restrictions — a 5.8 times increase compared to last year. Before the lockdown, only 4.7% reported feeling anxious more than half the days in a week. This pandemic: 27.9% of them feel nervous — a six-fold increase in anxiety levels. Seventy one percent of them are worried about their finances.

“It’s pretty obvious that people right now, given everything that’s been going on in 2020, the calamity across the board, that people are going to have mental health struggles and difficulty exercising and a lot of these symptoms,” says Dr. Megan Roche, in a Time.com article by Sean Gregory, “COVID-19 Shutdowns Have Taken a Massive Toll On Elite Athletes’ Mental Health.”

Rebecca Mehra, a respondent who was preparing for the U.S. Olympic trials, said: “It makes you feel more normal to know other athletes have been frustrated and having a tough time. I was just in such a rut. I didn’t want to get up and go to practice. I barely felt like running.” 

Pedro Gomes, an Ironman triathlete, added: “Mentally, I was definitely lost. I just did not know how long the (swimming) pool was going to be closed for. The uncertainty of not knowing when this is going to end and being completely out of my control, it was something scary.”

This study was conducted from March to August. The good news is that many restrictions have been lifted. But if elite athletes, whose minds and bodies we’d consider superior and invulnerable, get affected mentally, how much more us, ordinary mortals?

My learning from this: Take care of yourself. Mind and body are one. If you take care of your physical self, it will improve your mental state. One of the best ways is to exercise regularly. Exercise clears the stress hormones out of our system and helps us relax and calm down. It improves our mood. Exercise is the most potent and underutilized antidepressant.. and it’s free. 

Categorized as Covid-19

Queen Mary’s Kitchen

I am here to promote one of the thousands of new businesses that have sprouted since Covid-19 struck.

If you want to savor delicious muffins, you ought to type “Queen Mary’s Kitchen” in Facebook and place an order. The baker behind these muffins? Clue: Though she uses her hands for this venture, her main profession involves her legs and feet.

Mary Joy Tabal, the queen of running, is now the princess of her kitchen. Used to running hundreds of kilometers outdoors, she was confined indoors, like all of us, starting March.

“Grabeh ako prayers (I prayed a lot), like every night jud, praying for something that would divert my worries, my overthinking,” Joy said of those early weeks. “I always want to be productive and the lockdown was so difficult. I realized that I needed to be creative and think of something that I love and have control of. I believe that whatever we feed will grow.”

Joy’s business started on June 21, Father’s Day.

“I dreamt about my Papa (Rolando, who passed away in 2017) before opening Queen Mary’s Kitchen and he has been my inspiration,” she said. “My papa was a very good cook and I was beside him when I was young. He taught me a lot in the kitchen. When I bake, I always think of my Papa.”

The 6-time Milo Marathon champ opted for baking muffins instead of cooking viands because, she said, “It’s an achievement when you get the right recipe and you’re able to give those who like it joy.”

Since Joy started, she has sold (as of yesterday) 2,755 muffins. That’s impressive (over 40 per day) for a first-time entrepreneur.

“The work is draining because I don’t only do the baking,” she said. “I also work on the packaging, the logo, the designing, the Facebook postings, the promos.”

But it’s all worth it, said the first Filipino to run the marathon in the Olympics (2016 Rio Games). When someone tells Joy that it’s “lami” or “perfect ang sweetness” and when they do repeat orders and become a “suki,” Joy is overjoyed.

I ordered four boxes last Friday. Inside was an assortment of colors and flavors: Banana, Choco-cheese, Banana Milo, and Coffee-choco. The verdict, in the words of my daughter Jana, “the muffins are moist, filling and tasty!” And the package came with a bonus: a Milo powdered drink sachet whose star model was none other than Ms. Joy Tabal. She autographed it with a note of thanks.

“My biggest dream,” she told me, “is to put up my own cafe. A place where I can display everything about my journey while you sip your coffee. You can roam around the shop and read my stories and the journey I’ve had while displaying my goodies. I want to start slow and learn along the way but I look forward to achieving that dream.”

Joy’s determination is evident in both the track oval and the kitchen oven.

“I promised myself that I will put the same hard work and passion (from running) to baking,” she said. “You have to love what you’re cooking or baking and put your heart into it. Papa once told me that the perfect recipe is the one made of pure love and joy.”

Risk factors

I just read, “Will Your Soccer Club Ever Meet Again? A Guide to Outdoor Sports This Summer,” an article penned by Christie Aschwanden (of the website Elemental). It will help me explain the Covid-19 hazards of certain sports.

BASKETBALL. This sport is risky. You’re in close proximity to each other; you may wear masks but there’s sweat jumping off your body and you’re breathing hard beside one another. Plus, you’ve got one ball that’s being passed around.

You must have read about Japeth Aguilar, Thirdy Ravena and their group playing 5-on-5 last week. They got fined and reprimanded. Solution? Shoot hoops alone. Or invite a family member and play one-on-one. 

TENNIS. In a previous article, I labeled tennis as low risk because you’re standing 78 feet away from your opponent. But I’m mistaken.

“If you’re sweating and touching your mucous membranes and then touching the ball, you could potentially spread the infection on the tennis ball,” read the article; that quote was by Syra Madad, a special pathogens specialist at NYC Health + Hospitals. 

You can use your racket to pick up the ball and pass to your opponent. The problem is: how are you going to serve? Ha-ha. You need to touch the ball. The USTA offers a few tips: stay six feet apart, wash hands before and after playing, and don’t touch your face.

FOOTBALL. To play an 11-A-Side game might not be permitted until the vaccine is out. This is because football is a contact sport. Although less risky than basketball because the field is much bigger, you’re still pushing each other shoulder-to-shoulder in 90 minutes worth of close contact play. The advantage of football is you don’t touch the ball with your hands. Still, it’s best to pick a partner, find an open grass area and just kick the ball to each other. 

RUNNING. This is one of the safest because it’s an individual pursuit. If you run alone in a park, you’re in a very low risk situation. And even if you’re with two other runners, it’s safe as long as you keep distance. It’s even safer if you wear a mask. (I wrote an article about that last month; I couldn’t breathe and had to take off my mask.)

BIKING. “Cycling is one of the safest things you can do, because you’re outside and there’s lots of airflow, Snoeyenbos Newman (an infectious disease physician at the University of Washington) says,” the article reads. 

If you can bike alone and wear a mask, you’re at your safest. But even if you ride with a group, it’s the same advice: keep a distance of six feet. It’s also advisable not to be directly behind another cyclist because the respiratory discharges can fall on you from the rider’s slipstream. Lastly, no sharing of anything: food, water bottles, gels and bike pumps.

SWIMMING. “There’s very little risk of getting Covid-19 from water,” says Ms. Aschwanden. And since swimming is the most individual of sports, you’re safe, right? Yes, underwater. But while outside, beware. The shower areas or locker rooms are usually space spaces and you’re near people.

Categorized as Covid-19