With Mobile Legends: Bang Bang entering the 30th Southeast Asian Games as one of its esports events, SIBOL scoured for talent as early as August.
There were four team slots in the MLBB Combine. The direct invitees were past Mobile Legends: Bang Bang Professional League champions Aether Main (Season One), Cignal Ultra (Season Two), and ArkAngel (Season Three).
The last and final slot for the combine went to the winner of the qualifiers, which had a total of 32 teams participating.
BREN Limitless, who finished the MPL-PH Season Three with a respectable fifth-sixth place, had changed its banner to Sunsparks prior to the qualifiers. They entered the tournament with the goal of clinching the final seat.
Sunsparks showed its vastly improved game, running over Kalmado and Rumble Royale to become one of the final eight teams in the qualifiers.
Unfortunately, though, the team stumbled and failed to advance.
Already ahead in the semifinal-clinching Game Three, Sunsparks failed to close out the game, bowing out of the tournament and kissing their dreams of representing the country goodbye. They sat helplessly on the sidelines as the team that booted them out of contention took the lone slot for the combine.
And the team? ONIC PH.
“Ang fun part diyan, nakatalo sa kanila ONIC. ‘Yun ‘yung unang talo nila against ONIC, sila ‘yung tumalo sa kanila. Nadala si Sunsparks, tinandaan nila na ‘di sila puwedeng matalo sa ONIC kasi,” said Aura PH manager Mitch Liwanag.
“Kumbaga dun nag-umpisa [‘yung] rivalry feeling ko, ONIC against SS sa SEA Games talaga.”
Entering MPL-PH Season Four with the pain of the SEA Games qualifiers still lingering, Sunsparks used it as a motivation rather than a distraction from what they were trying to achieve.
In their first meeting since the qualifiers, Sunsparks sent out a statement, handing ONIC PH with a 2-0 sweep. The men in blue ended the regular season as the top seed, eventually making the Grand Finals, which then solidified the brewing rivalry between the two teams.
ONIC came in the finals with guns blazing, taking a two-matches-to-none advantage over Sunsparks — a win away from winning the Season Four title.
Sunsparks, however, had a few tricks up its sleeves. Through its iconic arrival play, Sunsparks was able to escape elimination, eventually taking out ONIC in the fifth game to claim the title.
“’Yung impact nun sa amin dahil nga natalo kami ng Sibol, parang nag-focus kami nung MPL kahit na gusto naming sumali nung SEA Games.
“Pero parang ano eh, given na hindi talaga para sa amin ‘yun kasi nag-champion kami nung Season Four [pero] wala naman kami sa SEA Games, ganun,” said Aura PH tank Rafflesia in Tiebreaker Vods’ CPT Crossover, presented by SMART and supported by LGR.
The win helped ease the pain of elimination in the SEA Games qualifiers for Sunsparks, but it left them hungry for more.
The two teams met once again during the Season Five finals, with Sunsparks once again reigning over ONIC. With their latest triumph, Sunsparks became the only team in MPL-PH history to win a title and defend it in the following season.
Sunsparks also hasn’t dropped a game against ONIC since the SEA Games qualifiers.
It is clear that ONIC PH brings out the best in Sunsparks. And though Sunsparks’ roster recently already made the switch to Aura PH, the rivalry will only continue to grow for the two squads.
And as for the squad’s dream of representing the flag one day — well, we can say that Aura will be gunning for that slot in the 2021 SEA Games.
“Gusto namin ma-experience ‘yung ganun lalo na pagdating sa ano… Makakalaban mo na ‘yung mga international teams, kasi sobrang challenging na talaga niya. Next level na talaga siya pagdating sa ganun.”