Business Lessons: Ronald Robins on Not Letting Skeptics Deter Him From Changing the Local Esports Scene - LA Lives

“All I could do was persevere and try to concretize a future for gaming that only we saw in our imaginations.”

In 2004, during the heyday of places like Netopia, where people would congregate to play Defense of the Ancients
(DOTA), Ronald Robins and his friends formed the first Mineski-DOTA team.

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Spending late nights together to practice for local comp shop tournaments together, Mineski became a force to be reckoned with. “Back then, Mineski was a name synonymous with winning and dominance,” he says. “Nobody wanted to play against Mineski.”

The result of all that success was that no one wanted to play against them. Wanting to be relevant, the team created a space for their community instead. The first Mineski Cybercafe was in Taft, near their alma mater De La Salle University. Unlike most internet cafes, Mineski took pride in offering a haven for gamers: the location was open 24/7, with food, drinks, and comfort on offer, along with a thriving community.

This was always the main goal of Mineski: to connect with the gaming community and enable its players to win inside and outside of the game, and 18 years later, across 6 countries in Southeast Asia (SEA), this is still what Robins calls is the driving force underpinning the vision of the company.

Back then, however, it was seen as an impractical life decision at the time. According to Robins, gaming and esports had a reputation for being “counterculture” and people were very skeptical.

“You must understand that I did not have a shortage of options, my parents worked hard at our family business in Cebu to give their children a good education,” Robins says. “To say in 2009 that I wanted to pursue a career in gaming was crazy talk.”

So crazy that he was criticized by his family, his ex-girlfriend, and the society around them. “All I could do was persevere and try to concretize a future for gaming that only we saw in our imaginations,” he says. Thankfully, the gamble paid off, and his ex-girlfriend eventually became his wife.

Robins says that over the years, there have been many milestones that have made it difficult to point out a single moment of success.

In 2017, Mineski held the largest esports event for DOTA2 in Manila, called the Manila Masters. It saw the best players in the world fly in to play against the winning teams of their major nationwide cybercafés. This innovation synergized Mineski’s two biggest businesses, which made it a treasured experience for everyone involved.

This innovation and Mineski’s ability to prioritize their customers have been integral to their growth story. Robins shares that as the brand has grown, many companies have tried to acquire or shut them down. “We remained bullish in our vision and our beliefs,” he says.

Last year saw them successfully secure their first round of Series A funding. “It felt fulfilling to know that we were now being supported to continue to chase our dream, something we could not have gotten had we taken the easy way out in our early years,” says Robbins.

The skeptics in those early years have watched this Filipino company send all-Filipino teams to compete in the biggest global e-sport tournaments, and put up massive regional leagues where grassroots Filipino gamers can be discovered. “It made our brand carry an emotional promise that gamers wanted,” he says.

To anyone looking to jump on a life-changing passion project, Robins says that he believes in the mantra “Fortune favors the bold.” After all, Mineski is proof of that thinking.

He believes that had he followed what people expected of him and his cohorts, there would be no Mineski today, and the landscape for gamers in the Philippines and Southeast Asia would be less promising. “However, as you pursue your adventurous ideas, always root it in knowledge, experience, and have some guts to withstand failures and criticism,” he says.

Always engaging

The arrival of COVID-19 impacted Mineski, and esports in general, is different than most other businesses. Robins says that the company was able to adapt and thrive easily, as gaming was an activity that people could easily do (and preferred to be done) at home.

Unlike sports events and leagues that had to cease, esports was the last sport standing. “Our teams around SEA were able to adjust old systems and norms to favor a “play from home” setting and broadcast the biggest esports events from the comforts of our homes,” he says.

They were also able to launch new, innovative businesses throughout the pandemic. MGames is a casual gaming platform, on a free-to-play app that allows gamers more choices for fewer investments.

Players can pick between a wide offering of over 200 casual games and compete against family and friends, and share in the growing pool of rewards. “Ultimately, we want to bring happiness to every gamer regardless of age, skill level, gender, or geography.

As employees moved to a remote work set-up, they were supplied with the hardware from the closed cybercafés. Mineski also upgraded its network infrastructure if workers needed better connectivity.

With 2021 being the company’s banner year, Robins and the rest of the leadership group provided their most dedicated staff with employee stock options, profit sharing, and an employee engagement program that utilizes their broadcast expertise to reach employees at home. These seminars focus on professional and personal growth led by experts in their fields.

While Mineski is a Filipino company, they made sure to share the benefits with their international workforce across five other countries: Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Singapore.

As COVID shifts over to an endemic, Robins says plans within Mineski will go on as normal. He points out the fact that the business has become more scalable. “Our values make us sensitive to our customers’ needs whether they know it or not,” he says. “We will continue to provide entertainment and engagement platforms that excite gamers whether they are at home, at work, or already playing.”

Bigger dreams ahead

Robins believes that the future is bright for Filipino esports. The last year was a successful one, with four professional teams representing the country in global tournaments across three different esports titles. An all-female Filipino team just won the gold medal for League of Legends: Wild Rift in the SEA Games in Vietnam.

Beyond Filipino success, Robins points out that esports and gaming have slowly become a more inclusive and diverse space, an accomplishment that has seen gains against other sports. “We can only hope that companies and governments across our region continue to support esports and provide more opportunities for gamers,” he says.

The future of Mineski, says Robins, will grow beyond that of esports. They are looking to expand to affiliate spaces within the gaming industry that resonate with their brand DNA. They are always on the lookout for growth. “The dream is still getting bigger,” says Robins.

Always knowing that he is the kind of person that pushes for achievement despite his back being against the wall, Robins believes this attitude has served him well, especially as they pivoted their business during the pandemic.

He has also realized that his knack for coming up with unexpected and out-of-the-box ideas makes him a crazily creative person. “These ideas and plans have not only allowed us to survive these challenging times but also charter a new growth path for the company in the coming years,” he says.

This story was first published in the June 2022 issue of Lifestyle Asia.

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