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Quite Like Filipino: The Untold Story of CHMA, Cambodia’s Esports Star

Sour Mara, aka CHMA, is Cambodia’s preeminent esports celebrity, and it’s not hard to see why. He looks like a K-pop idol, and dresses like one, too. Even in the Philippines, CHMA has a decent following. The 19-year-old esports star had endorsement deals with Cambodia’s largest bank, skincare brands, telcos, smartphone brands, and more. And it’s only been two years since he started his career in esports. 

Now a celebrity in Cambodia where he is recognized everywhere he goes, CHMA cannot believe he is famous. “Sometimes, I think to myself, ‘How did I deserve that?’ It’s unbelievable. I don’t know how I got fans. I really don’t know and it surprises me,” CHMA told ALL-STAR in an exclusive interview. 

He only realized he was famous after people started sharing his photos on social media. His face went viral overnight after his team, Burn x Flash, won in the grand finals of MPL Cambodia in 2022. 

“Before I joined esports, life was just normal. I was just normal. I study, but I also play games. I was an RG boy,” said CHMA.. 

RG boy” is a term he picked up from his Filipino teammates. RG means ranked games, and RG boy means someone who persistently grinds in ranked games in Mobile Legends: Bang Bang to achieve very high ranks. 

But it’s not just this gamer parlance that makes CHMA very similar to Filipinos. His life’s story could have been told by someone who lived in the Philippines. 

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Cambodian esports player Sour Mara
Sour Mara aka CHMA. Photo: Courtesy

CHMA grew up in a province where everything was simple. 

“In the province, life is very different from the city. We don’t have modern things like in the city. We just focused on studies. It’s really different,” said CHMA. He could not put into words the disparity of life in the province and in the city, a situation much like in the Philippines. 

Surrounded by fields of potato crops and rubber plantations, CHMA knew nothing but school and home. His parents are hardworking farmers who had very high ambitions for their son. They got angry when CHMA decided to enter esports and paused his studies. 

“When I first joined esports, my family was not really happy because I needed to pause my studies or skip classes sometimes so I could train and play in the tournaments. They were not so happy. But after I became successful, they started supporting me. But they still want me to study! So I will follow that,” CHMA said.

A common refrain Filipino parents tell us in interviews is how they initially opposed their children’s esports careers, telling them to prioritize their education. CHMA’s parents were not so different. 

“My parents know that I’ve wanted to play ever since I was a child. I told them to please give me a chance to go to the city. When I was an RG boy, I lived in the province. I pleaded with my mom to give me a chance. I told her I just needed one chance to follow my dream. I really want to join esports. She allowed it. I’ve been living in the city for two years now,” CHMA told ALL-STAR.

We are reminded of how KarlTzy begged his grandmother for twelve pesos so he could play, or how Renejay grew up in the province hauling pigs to the market, and even how Dogie, already living a good life in Belgium, went against his mother’s wishes and returned to the Philippines to pursue an esports career. Esports in the Philippines was an unattractive and untested career until these people made it what it is today. CHMA is blazing the same trail for esports in Cambodia. 

CHMA recalls the first day he set foot in Phnom Penh. 

“At first, it was so complicated because I didn’t know the place. When I first came here, I only stayed in the room,” said CHMA. “But that’s normal for me because I always stay in the room. I rarely go outside in the city.”

Just like most Filipino esports players, CHMA is partly a breadwinner and is supporting his little sister in school. 

“I have my little sister, and yeah, I always help her. I send her money, I always send her something. I buy her materials for her studies. Sometimes, when she needs money, she comes to me and I give as much as I can,” said CHMA. 

“Esports changed my life.”

CHMA
Sour Mara aka CHMA. Photo: Courtesy
CHMA
Sour Mara aka CHMA. Photo: Courtesy

There are many parallels in the stories of Filipino pro players and CHMA, from the initial resistance of their parents to esports, to the meteoric rise to fame and fortune 

“Esports really changed my life. I can have money. Before, I ask money from my parents but now, I can earn it by myself and I appreciate it,” said CHMA. 

One of the most expensive things CHMA bought using his own money is the iPhone 15 Pro Max, which costs up to P108,000. Right now, CHMA is saving up to buy a house for his family.

“Money is important but I don’t focus on that too much because I want to play and I want to win more achievements and more.”

CHMA wanted to be a singer.

When we asked what his ambition was when he was younger, CHMA laughed and shyly answered. “ I wanted to be a singer!” 

CHMA revealed he’s always dreamed of being a content creator and a YouTuber. Even now, he regularly uploads content on his social media. 

“I wanted to be on YouTube as well. When I was a child, I always watched YouTube. And I just wanted to be a YouTuber!” CHMA suppressed laughter as he felt embarrassed by this revelation. 

CHMA
Sour Mara aka CHMA. Photo: Courtesy

The Filipino Effect

CHMA earned his first MPL championship in 2022. A lot has changed since then. The league became more competitive because of the many Filipino imports in Cambodia. Last season, he unflinchingly told the world that the Philippines is the strongest country, even stronger than it’s Southeast Asian rival, Indonesia. 

“I’m a pro player. I see the gameplay. I see so much difference in the playstyles of Filipinos and Indonesians. The Filipino teams are really tough! They do amazing things. And other regions are runners-up to that region, MPL Philippines,” said CHMA. 

At Burn x Flash in 2022, he was teammates with Filipinos John Michael “Zico” Dizon, Jhonwin “Hesa” Vergara, and Michael “MPDKing” Endino. A year later, he was joined by Marius “Donut” Tan, who became one of his closest friends. 

“The Filipinos push us to try harder to become champions again. Right now, MPL Cambodia is getting tougher because every team has imported players from the Philippines and Indonesia. Every team is improving, and they are pushing us to try harder. It’s getting tough!” 

When Donut left Burn x Flash, CHMA was shocked. 

“We are really close. We’re friends. I was surprised when he left our team. He left immediately. I did not even know he was leaving,” he told ALL-STAR

CHMA and Donut share the same level of celebrity status in Cambodia, both having almost the same number of endorsement deals with brands, and nearly the same number of followers. The two became best friends in Cambodia, with each featuring prominently on their TikToks and feeds. 

It was heartbreaking how Donut left the team abruptly without telling his plans to his teammates. CHMA only found out about the departure on Facebook. 

“He just posted on social media and I was so surprised and shocked.”

CHMA pauses for a moment. 

“I can say that I’m okay with it and I accept that. It’s okay.”

But Filipino players such as Donut taught CHMA valuable lessons in esports. 

“They taught me patience. Patience in tournaments, in gameplay, and mentality,” said CHMA. 

Is CHMA afraid of losing fame and fading in esports?

CHMA likes to keep it real when it comes to being famous and being on top of his game. But is he afraid of losing these someday? 

“Yes. But it will be fate,” said CHMA. 

It’s something that’s always on the back of his mind, and it’s something he’s prepared to face. 

“It’s a bit sad at first but I am okay with that because nobody’s going to stay strong forever,” he added. If he ever retires in esports, CHMA wants to become a full-time content creator and commercial endorser. 

It was another echo of what nearly every Filipino pro player feels in the short-lived limelight of esports careers. Cambodia and the Philippines have no significant cultural linkages historically. But as esports bring the two countries together, similarities arise. CHMA’s journey mirrors Filipino resilience and ambition, reminding us that we’re not so different after all. 

Sour Mara
CHMA. Photo courtesy of CHMA / Instagram

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