Since 2020, the professional Dota2 scene has seen an influx of new talent grace the broadcast screen with their distinctive personalities. These people would work alongside the scene’s familiar names to forge a new brand of entertainment and analytical presentation for its audience. Particularly among women, these names include Mira “Ephey” Riad, Natalie “NatTea” Mahoney and Alexandra “Sheepsticked” Roberts.
Entering the 2023 Dota Pro Circuit, hailing from the Philippines, one more person made their debut on the hosting desk: Sophia Mapua. A fiercely devoted Dota fan from a young age, Mapua dabbled in numerous corporate jobs before deciding to pursue content creation in late 2020. From then on, she would dip her toes into working as a presenter, host, and general talent for organizations such as BrenPro Inc. and Talon Esports, the latter of which she became a content creator in early 2022 among additional commitments.
Eventually, at the behest of fellow colleague John "johnxfire" Nathan Fernandez in applying for the hosting position, Mapua was selected to work the 2023 DPC Southeast Asian Winter Tour on the main desk. She would be in charge of guiding viewers through a day’s worth of action at the highest level of SEA Dota, an incredible step up compared to where she started out. From watching competitive Dota as an average fan, Mapua is now at the big time as far as talent goes with a promising future in sight.
Although her debut tour has seen a decent share of mistakes, which is usually the case for rookies, Mapua is determined to build on her initial experience and become a better version of herself as a host. Additionally, she looks to continue women’s presence in the game she holds dear in her heart in her own specific way.
Following the 2023 Winter Tour, BLIX.GG spoke to Sophia Mapua about her early life, how she became a host, her experience as a host in her debut split, working with other talents in the region, and much more.
Pedro Romero, BLIX.GG: I first want to talk about your origin story. In your early life, what were you doing and what was your personality like before you got into working in esports?
Sophia Mapua: I was born and raised in the Philippines and I basically grew up playing video games, I had a good balance between spending time outdoors and spending time indoors but the thing is, a lot of my weekends, like in middle and high school, where I'm usually at home, I spent a lot of time playing video games with myself. My parents never really said, "video games are bad for you" and "they're poison to your brain". They were surprisingly encouraging when it came to playing.
My dad also encouraged us. He would get us new games and they always supported my love for games. Dota-wise, I started playing the game around ten years ago back when I was in high school. I was just looking for a free game to play on Steam so I found Dota because that was free so I started playing it. I played more and more and more and the addiction kind of started there because the game is very fun and a lot of my friends played it as well. If you want to know a bit about me back then and how I developed into what I am now, basically back when I was in high school, I was just a talker.
I talked a lot so I would run my mouth all the time and every single report card I have from all my teachers had something to do with me talking too much. It's always like, "Sophia is a big distraction in class. She's a great student with great potential but bothers her classmates too much" and stuff like that. Putting the pieces together, that's kind of how it all happened and that's kind of just about who I am. Starting with a passion for video games and then to Dota and then developing into a streamer, a host, and a content creator just constantly talking.
BLIX: I want to still cover your early life and I'm wondering what you have to say about Bamboo Television?
Mapua: You did your research, huh? Bamboo Television was basically our school's television, it wasn't really TV because it's on YouTube but, I guess it's basically [programmed as] TV. I was an anchor when I was in high school because my friends were in BTV as editors and producers and I've always wanted to give anchoring a try. Back when I was in high school, actually, my dream was to become a host or an entertainer of some sort.
I just definitely knew that doing the whole 9-5 and working a corporate job wasn't for me. I've tried it as well. I've been there but I always knew at the end of the day, working in entertainment was meant for me and I just have too much energy to just sit down and not use it.
So, Bamboo Television was kind of what I just did for fun and it's kind of funny looking back at it now because little me has come such a long way. Ever since I was in high school, like, when I was playing Dota, I would watch the big Dota events on Twitch, I would see Sheever (Jorien van der Heijden) and I wanted to be her. Sheever was my idol back when I was in high school, but if I wasn't hosting in esports, I always wanted to host my own talk show or pursue any form of entertainment.
My favorite thing is to make people smile and laugh so that's kind of always what I wanted to do. I guess it kind of worked out. Streaming is kind of like hosting my own show. It's like I host the show every day playing video games, and talking to people.
BLIX: Was working in esports always on your mind from the start?
Mapua: Working in esports wasn't like my dream. It wasn't the end goal but I always knew that it was a possibility because a lot of people don't even really know the realm of esports. If you know about esports, it is kind of a whole different world from normal society, but I knew it was there. I played a lot of video games so I knew that it was possible, but I didn't think it was the "end all be all." I didn't think it was the main "end goal" for me. I just thought it was an option. But then I went to college and I studied entrepreneurship as my major and theater as a minor which was super duper fun.
I had so much fun doing it. I got to take classes like costume making, dialects, and voice acting. I eventually graduated college early. Typically, people graduate in four years but I pushed it to three years because I took summer classes and extra courses. This was because I wanted to spend one year pursuing whatever I wanted. I have a side of my family that isn't typically traditional so working as a struggling artist isn't encouraged. It isn't highly sought after. It isn't very praised so that's why I took the business major. That's why I graduated early. I wanted to pursue one year to do whatever I wanted. That was my year because I earned it. That would have been going on auditions or just doing this and that, but COVID hit.
I graduated in 2020, the year of the pandemic, so I came home and started streaming because I was just playing video games all day. And then you grow a following and then you realize," Oh, I'm back into following esports again and enjoying the Dota scene," and it kind of just escalates. It was then that I realized, "Wait, doing entertainment, content creation, and hosting esports is probably my best shot right now at finding work, enjoying life, and following my dream."
BLIX: For someone who talks so much to plenty of people whenever the opportunity presents itself, being forced into staying home and trying to stream to grow an audience must have been a massive change for you. Was there any sort of sense of difficulty in trying to navigate through the COVID-19 pandemic?
Mapua: Actually, not at all because, as I said, when I was growing up, I wasn't able to hang out with my friends a lot. I definitely talked to a lot of people, but honestly, I wouldn't say that I formed very close bonds with a lot of them. When you're in high school, everyone wants to hang out and see each other all the time and I couldn't because I just lived so far away. It was very troublesome for me and my family to have to bring me to places and stuff like that. When you stop going places, you stop getting invited to stuff.
I was just kind of friends with a lot of people but not really that close to a lot of them. And so my friends in high school were my gaming friends because it was very convenient. When we would just hop on TeamSpeak we would be like, "Hey, do you wanna play Dota or Team Fortress?" Honestly, I never really struggled with the whole indoor thing, and, quite frankly, I enjoyed staying at home and just being in my peaceful happy place which is my bedroom with my PC. And the people I cared for were all online anyways so it wasn't that much of a struggle.
Translating focus to Dota
BLIX: In talking about content, you were pretty active in doing BTV and, as matter of fact, you were behind the video that generated the highest views in that channel's history. It speaks volumes about the kind of content that you did, so how have you translated that kind of focus in content creation to Dota specifically?
Mapua: I just looked at the thumbnail on it and it brought back memories. I think it's just bringing the same energy into content creation and bringing the same energy into Dota. I think the Dota community is... you and I both know that the Dota community can be a little toxic. There's quite a bit of negativity. It's a bit dark and a lot of people seem a bit tired.
I guess my goal was kind of just to be that very upbeat, young, a little goofy and silly, and be a bright personality. That's because, for me, Dota just sucks away your soul and I don't want to let it do that. I want to bring that same energy that I had as a kid into this new environment which I think it's lacking a bit of that energy. I think people just need to have fun with it again.
BLIX: How close do you think the Dota community is to reaching your idealized version of positivity?
Mapua: Not that close. I would say there's a lot of work to be done. The Dota community is very passionate. The game is so old and people are constantly posting on social media on Reddit and Twitter. But I feel like the scene, in general, I don't know what it is exactly but I feel like something's missing. I don't know if it's a lack of content or support from Valve. Gosh, that's a hard question because I feel yes, the Dota community is doing great in a lot of aspects. There are so many people that are so talented. There's this one guy who makes earrings and stuff like that out of 3D models. His name is Necrolytus.
There are so many people that do really cool things in the Dota community, but the thing is, I feel there needs to be more love given. I don't know exactly what it is. I don't even want to compare Valve to Riot Games or anything but when Riot does watch parties for Valorant and stuff, they get a bunch of creators and streamers and send gift packages which then makes them want to play their game more. The only people that get to do watch parties are the really big streamers, you know what I mean? They get to do watch parties with Gorgc or Bulldog, people who are already super duper big. There are a lot of people who stream Dota. It's just that I feel there's not enough support for content creators.
(Credit: Sophia Mapua/Instagram)
BLIX: Is that the biggest thing that Valve has to do to cultivate a greater following within the Dota community?
Mapua: I don't know if it's the biggest thing, but I think several things maybe need to be changed. One thing that should be worked on is just the support given to content creators. They need a content creator program but that's the thing. It's like are they willing to invest in it?
A lot of people like to say that Dota is a dead game and that is there a point to investing in it, but if we look at it statistically, the game isn't dead. There are so many people who engage with Dota content on a daily basis. Dota content is very much alive. There just needs to be support for it.
BLIX: I can see it through clips of streamers and Instagram posts of guides and stuff like that. The attention is there so it's not like it's dead as you mentioned.
Mapua: It's so true. I love Dota so much and Valve for making the game, but I feel there has to be more care given to the game. There are a lot of people that care. That's 100%.
I mean, hello, we've been on the same patch for how long and everybody has been like, "When is the new patch? When is the new patch?" I mean, what do I know? I'm not a game developer or whatever. It's not as easy as some people might say. Maybe Valve just needs to give more love to the community and listen to the community too.
To hear more thoughts on Dota and the DPC from Mapua, be sure to check out part two of our interview!