Mara Aquino Has Found Her Niche

But it doesn’t mean she’ll stop there.

Mara Aquino never expected to be in esports. She never even expected to live in the Philippines. Growing up in Canada, she thrived in the healthcare business in Toronto where she worked closely with orthopedic surgeons and physiotherapists to heal injured people. 

“I worked in a hospital as a knee brace specialist, I worked with the orthopedic surgeon and the physiotherapist, so I worked with injured people. I like helping people get back on track,” Mara Aquino told ALL-STAR

“I came to the Philippines for a vacation. It was supposed to be for two months,” she added. 

Her two-month vacation in the Philippines ended up becoming a seven-year stay from 2010 to 2017. 

“I ended up staying… I actually went back in 2018 and I worked in Canada for a whole year. I ended up working there for the Blue Jays, I was a host also, I worked in some commercials. But then there was something about the Philippines that pulled me back, it magnetized me back,” said Mara. 

In 2019, when Aquino returned to the Philippines for a reunion, she decided it would be a permanent stay. 

“I went to the Philippines for a reunion, and then hindi na ako bumalik sa Canada. So I told my work at Omni TV, ‘Guys I’m not coming back, so you should get another host.’”


Mara Aquino ALL-STAR Magazine
Bandana, swimsuit, linen pants by H&M. Accessories by H&M and TALA by Kyla. Photo: Vyn Radovan.
Mara Aquino ALL-STAR Magazine
Bandana, swimsuit, linen pants by H&M. Accessories by H&M and TALA by Kyla. Photo: Vyn Radovan.

Mara Aquino is like the character of Michelle Yeoh in Everything Everywhere All At Once.

She’s a nerd, a martial artist in several disciplines such as arnis and karate, a radio DJ, a television anchor, a reporter, a knee brace specialist, a healer, a voice talent, and now, an esports host. 

“To me, you try everything out. If you don’t know what you want to do, at least you know what you’re good at,” said Mara. 

“Go in that path and then try everything until you see what gives you fire and gives you passion. For me, I did broadcasting in sports, events, and all shows, and then now, esports,” said Mara. 

“When something gives you so much fire, that when you come to work, you feel so excited, to the point that in the pit of your stomach you want to throw up because of excitement, then you’ve found your thing.” 

Mara Aquino found that fire in esports. She doesn’t show it, but she still gets nervous before appearing on air. It’s the same nerve-racking excitement when you finally find something you love. 

Mara Aquino ALL-STAR Magazine
Bandana, swimsuit, linen pants by H&M. Accessories by H&M and TALA by Kyla. Photo: Vyn Radovan.

“Do you still feel excited every time you go to work at the MPL or the worlds?” ALL-STAR asked Mara. 

“Especially when I go to the worlds! When I go on the world stage, I feel so nervous that I feel like I’m going to forget my lines, I prime my mind and tell myself I’m excited. That could give you the strength to go on in front of thousands of people and remember your lines.”

Today, Mara Aquino is the most recognizable host in esports, not just in the MPL but also in MLBB Worlds. Her outstanding work, impact, and influence compelled the MPL Philippines to include her in Season 12’s shortlist of names for awarding, even though hosts are not usually part of the shortlist. She won Best Filipino Talent in Season 12, and shortly after that, the Philippine Esports Awards recognized her as Stage Host of the Year

“I was really surprised when I received the award because normally, hosts are not part of the category. I felt really great in the sense that I must have done everything right in my career, I’ve made the right choices to be able to have the recognition,” said Mara. 

“It always feels good when something you’ve worked so hard on gets a recognition such as an award. And with the latest award from the Philippine Esports Awards, I was really, really, really happy. It made me really grateful about where I am, it made me really grateful where esports has taken me,” added Mara.

Mara Aquino ALL-STAR Magazine
Swimsuit and wraparound skirt by H&M. Accessories by H&M and TALA by Kyla. Photo: Vyn Radovan
Mara Aquino ALL-STAR Magazine
Swimsuit by H&M. Accessories by H&M and TALA by Kyla. Photo: Vyn Radovan

‘When You Think World Stage, You Think World-Class’

It wasn’t just esports that changed Mara Aquino. It worked both ways: She has also changed how people perceived the once-stigmatized industry. 

“I feel that the way people looked at esports before was that it was like a kid’s game, young people’s game. And maybe with my entry into esports, I’d like to think maybe it added more elegance, sophistication, and attention to detail,” said Mara. 

When Mara came to esports, she envisioned it as a stage steeped in prestige. So she started wearing gowns while hosting. That was at a time when esports hosts all wore blazers on stage, even the female hosts. 

“I have a vision that because it’s a world stage, I want it to look like I’m on a world stage like the Miss Universe, so I started incorporating gowns,” said Mara. 

Now, all the female hosts are wearing gowns and national costumes on the world stage of esports, taking their cue from Mara Aquino. 

“That made me really happy because now, even in other esports, they don’t just wear blazers anymore, some actually wear gowns because it’s the world championship, so there’s a certain level of elegance to it and sophistication,” said Mara. 

Mara Aquino ALL-STAR Magazine
Halter dress by H&M. Accessories by H&M and TALA by Kyla. Photo: Vyn Radovan
Mara Aquino ALL-STAR Magazine
Halter dress by H&M. Accessories by H&M and TALA by Kyla. Photo: Vyn Radovan

Mara wanted to set the standard high for the world stage. 

“I like that I was able to influence not just MLBB but other esports hosts as well, because when you think world stage, you think world-class,” said Mara. 

“I also want to represent how world-class should look, and also the Philippines! Because when you’re hosting, it’s not just the players, it’s not just the teams who are representing the country. It’s also the talents who are part of it. I wanted people to know that this is how we do it in the Philippines. This is how professional we are. This is how elegant and sophisticated we are,” she added. 

But despite the glitter and glamor that comes with esports, the reality is that a career as a stage host does not guarantee the next paycheck. Usually, contracts are per project only and not per year. For talents like Mara Aquino and other casters, it’s a no-work, no-pay basis. 

Ironically, Mara had a more stable job in the medical field and TV industry in Canada. She left all that to pursue a life and career in the Philippines. 

‘Money is not everything to me.’

“My mom definitely did not like it,” said Mara, when asked about her parents’ reaction to her decision to live in the Philippines. 

“My mom felt that we left for Canada for us to have a brighter future because it’s more secure. There’s healthcare there, when you have children there’s free education, it’s more secure, it’s safer, there’s government help, everything is by the book, everything is so proper,” she added. 

But even as a developing country, there’s something about the Philippines that pulled Mara Aquino to live there. 

“I feel like I’m not done here yet, I like it here and I’ve built my life here, all my friends are here now,” said Mara. 

“I said ‘Mom, it’s working for me. And while I’m young, I want to live my life in a way that I’ll enjoy it.’ A lot of people and my mom believe in working 9 tro 5, having a secure pay. But with my job, it’s no work, no pay.”

Mara Aquino ALL-STAR Magazine
Swimsuit by H&M. Accessories by H&M and TALA by Kyla. Photo: Vyn Radovan
Mara Aquino ALL-STAR Magazine
Swimsuit by H&M. Accessories by H&M and TALA by Kyla. Photo: Vyn Radovan

With a job like Mara’s, if you have no endorsements, connections, or gigs, you could literally get zero. It’s a very scary situation, especially for people in the Philippines. 

“One month you could get a lot, and for the next three months, you might not earn anything. My mom did not like that,” admitted Mara.

“But to me… money is not everything to me. I want to be able to do what I love to do.”

Although Mara understands that some people have no choice but to live with a 9 to 5 job that has secure pay but little space for enjoyment or fulfillment, she knows that it’s a privilege to be able to pursue a career that one enjoys. 

“I don’t think I’ll be happy with a 9 to 5, I’d be sacrificing my well-being. My long-term well-being. So to me, money is not everything. I want to be able to enjoy what I’m doing. And if you really love what you do, if you enjoy it, and you’re good at it, and you find the right market for it, then you’d be able to make something out of it,” said Mara. 

Right now, Mara is an endorser for several brands, a content creator, a host, and a businesswoman. She is one of the founders of Morii, a cosmetics line for women. It’s part of her plan to branch out of esports. 

Mara Aquino ALL-STAR Magazine
Swimsuit by H&M. Accessories by H&M and TALA by Kyla. Photo: Vyn Radovan
Mara Aquino ALL-STAR Magazine
Swimsuit by H&M. Accessories by H&M and TALA by Kyla. Photo: Vyn Radovan

‘I don’t see myself in esports forever.’

During the conversations we’ve had with Mara in the past years, she’s told us that she doesn’t expect to be in esports forever and that she constantly thinks about what mark she’ll leave behind in the world. 

We’ve known Mara as a charismatic and compassionate soul who can be fierce when she’s fighting for you. Her warm and engaging demeanor makes her relatable to many people. She has a natural curiosity about you that is not perfunctory or superficial. Her empathy and ability to connect with others have been key factors in her success. 

“Have you finally thought about what your legacy would be?” we asked her. 

Mara’s eyes lit up with excitement. 

“I don’t see myself in esports forever because I see myself branching out.  I want to be able to do lots of things… The reality right now is I’m a host. What is the possibility? It could be so far-fetched, it could be suntok sa buwan. The possibility for me is to be like an Oprah.”

For five whole minutes, Mara talks about becoming her own version of Oprah who helps give people the boost they need. 

“The possibility for me is to be like an Oprah. To have my own talk show where I can provide opportunities for people, and Oprah provides that for people. Everyone she guests on her show becomes successful. The people who get rejected on Shark Tank, she would guest them, and then their product would boom. I want to be that type of person whose show opens doors for people, and everyone in my show is having so much fun, and I’d be like, ‘Look under your seat! You get a car, you get a car, you get a car!’ That is a possibility.”

Mara was referring to the viral Oprah meme when she surprised her entire audience with brand-new cars. 

“It is so far-fetched, I don’t know maybe it’s just a two percent chance that I’m going to get there, but I want to be able to reach that, maybe somewhere close to that, and it’s not just in the Philippines. My vision is to be wherever I go, whether I go to Europe or back to Canada or North America, or maybe to Indonesia,  they’ll have a show for me there where I can do it for their people, in different parts of the world. So I’m not just limited to one country. I can travel, provide opportunities to people, and make people happy. So perhaps, one day, that’s the show that I can have!” Mara added.

As the sun sets on our balcony in Westin, Mara brushes off any worries about her career in esports.  

“I don’t know how long my career will last in esports. Instead of stressing over how long I will be there, I’m just enjoying the moment.”

Mara Aquino ALL-STAR Magazine
Sundress by H&M. Photo: Vyn Radovan

Publisher and Creative Director: James Leonard Cruz. Producers: Joemar Moscaya, Paolo Gonzales. Art Director: Karlota Tuazon, Interview and Cover Story: Mario Alvaro Limos. Photo: Vyn Radovan, Video: PZBX Productions Inc., Makeup Artist: Cats Del Rosario. Hairstylist: Marj Cabarrios. Styling: Bettina Erquieza. Shot on location at The Westin Manila. Cover Story Brought to You by Infinix. Special Thanks: H&M and Robinsons. Land Corporation

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