MPL Philippines Season 11 was not something Deomark “Mikko” Tabangay would fondly remember. For one, it marked the second consecutive early playoff exit for Smart Omega after being in the top three in Seasons 8 and 9. It was also a time when Mikko had tough battles mentally after becoming the subject of memes on social media due to his misplays in the MPL PH.
Fast forward to Season 12, Mikko is now in the upper bracket semi-finals of the MPL Malaysia with Team SMG. Alongside fellow Filipinos Kenneth “Saxa” Fedelin and coach Ren “Pao” Villanueva, Mikko led Team SMG to the second spot in the regular season to secure their place in the final four.
Mikko’s transfer was not surprising, as star roamer Joshua “Ch4knu” Mangilog decided to return to Omega for Seasons 12. But beyond losing his spot in the starting lineup, Mikko had a deeper reason for taking his talent overseas.
“May sakit kasi sila Mama at Papa kaya kailangan ko talaga ng pera. Hindi ko kayang kitain sa Pilipinas ang kailangan namin. Tumutulong din ako sa pagpapaaral ng kapatid ko,” Mikko told Tiebreaker Times in an exclusive interview.
The decision to move to Malaysia worked wonders for Mikko as he not only led Team SMG to a strong regular season performance but also discovered newfound confidence in his gameplay after doubts hounded him throughout MPL Philippines Season 11, brought about by fan reactions.
“Nung naglaro ako dito sa Malaysia, sobrang na-boost yung confidence ko kasi malayo na sa Pilipinas, kahit maganda yung pinapakita mo, yung pangit na laro mo pa rin yung pupunahin ng mga tao,” Mikko said.
“Benchwarmer lang ako sa Season 10, at maaga kaming natanggal sa Season 11, tapos sobrang dami pang bashers noon. Ngayon andito ako sa Malaysia para dito ko naman ipakita yung talent ko. Ayun, swinerte pa na nasa upper bracket yung team SMG ngayon,” he said after Team SMG secured the upper bracket in the playoffs.
One of the people who guided Mikko throughout his pro career, including his switch to Malaysia, was former Smart Omega head coach Tony “Ynot” Senedrin.
Back in Season 11, Mikko and Ynot’s relationship was visibly seen in post-game sequences where the coach would regularly go directly to Mikko after their games to discuss what happened in the game.
Despite being on different sides in Season 12, the relationship continued.
“Isa sa mga pinaka-lalapitan ko talaga si Coach Tony. Sa kanya pa rin ako lumalapit kapag nahihirapan ako dito sa Malaysia. Sa kanya pa rin ako nagtatanong kung ano bang dapat kong gawin,” revealed Mikko.
Mikko and the rest of Team SMG will take a week-long break before they resume action in the MPL Malaysia to dispute the Season 12 title and the ticket to the M5 World Championship to be held in the Philippines later this year.