SINGAPORE - Monday (Jan 18) at the Shangri-La Hotel resembled a day of normalcy, as hotel guests and visitors strolled around the premises.
But it was the start of an unusual week for a group of guests decked in matching t-shirts, jackets and long pants. They were part of 12 teams here competing in this year's Mobile Legends: Bang Bang (MLBB) M2 World Championship, an e-sports tournament with a prize pool of US$300,000 (S$399,879).
Underscoring these different times were the conditions the players competed in in Monday's group stages.
Instead of a fan-filled arena, they played in the hotel's function rooms, with plastic table shields separating players. Equipment was sanitised between rounds and the five-member teams were kept apart in separate rooms.
Zikry "Moon" Shamsuddin from Malaysian team Todak said: "Having a game in the audience is way better than just having just a camera in front of you.
"While our last two MPL (MLBB Professional League) seasons were played online, it always feels great to be greeted by your fans, it gives you some motivation."
The first day of the tournament saw Myanmar's Burmese Ghouls and the Philippines' Omega Esports finish top of Group A and B respectively to earn a ticket to the upper bracket of playoffs, which start on Thursday.
Omega bagged 2-0 victories over Malaysian team Todak and Cambodian team Impunity KH, while Burmese Ghouls beat Russia's Unique Devu 2-0 and Singapore's RSG, one of two local teams, 2-1.
Omega's players also had to shake off some jitters as two players - Earvin "Heath" Esperanza and Salic "Hadjizy" Imam - were competing in their rooms as they were still serving their 14-day quarantine after flight issues delayed their arrival in Singapore.
They are expected to complete their quarantine on Jan 21.
Jankurt Russel "KurtTzy" Matira said: "We were still a bit nervous because two players are playing in their own rooms so we were worried that would be a challenge, but thankfully everything worked out."
All overseas-based staff and crew were placed on a 14-day stay-home notice (SHN) upon arrival and underwent a mandatory Covid-19 polymerase chain reaction test towards the end of the SHN.
Without the support of the crowd, the players had to rely on each other to hype themselves up.
Celebrations were also mellowed, with fist bumps replacing the usual high fives and hugs.
Naing Linn Swe "ACE", captain of Myanmar's Burmese Ghouls, said: "While it may take some extra effort to take note of these things and it may be uncomfortable to wear a mask, we're just very happy to be playing (in an offline) tournament again."
Brazil team DreamMax, who will be competing remotely after three players tested positive for the coronavirus last week, are in Group D alongside Indonesian team RRQ Hoshi, runners-up at the M1 World Championship, and start their campaign on Tuesday.
Group C's Bren Esports (Philippines), Alter Ego (Indonesia) and 10S Gaming Frost (Japan) are also in action on Tuesday.
This is not the first time that Singapore has hosted a major e-sports event. In 2019, it held the One Esports Dota 2 Singapore World Pro Invitational, when 12 teams battled for a share of the US$500,000 prize pool.
The US$1 million Dota 2 Singapore Major by One Esports was also supposed to take place here last June, but the offline event could not be held owing to the pandemic.