The terms ‘mobile esports’ and ‘battle royale’ were up until recently synonymous with PUBG MOBILE. This was more so the case in a country like India where the game has become a cultural phenomenon. Yet, when one zooms out for a view of the global landscape, Garena Free Fire (Free Fire) lays claim to the title of ‘most popular mobile esport’ in 2019, boasting a tournament circuit that attracted a peak concurrent viewership in excess of 2M. Here’s a deeper look at the fast-growing mobile game that has largely flown under the esports radar.
What Is It?
Free Fire is a battle royale game developed and published by Garena for Android and iOS devices. One of the game’s key differentiators is its ability to run on a wider range of smartphone devices. PUBG Mobile is not recommended for use on smartphones with less than 2GB of RAM, whereas Free Fire is playable on devices with 1GB RAM or higher. This optimization for low-end devices coupled with the smaller file size of the game, positioned it as the PUBG Mobile alternative tailor-made for emerging markets.
How Big Is It?
Since the game’s launch over two years ago, it has grossed over $1B USD and according to applications market intelligence and insights website Sensor Tower, it was ranked second by revenue in India in September 2019. According to App Annie, a mobile applications data and analytics website, Free Fire was the most downloaded game of 2019. Reports suggest that the game had more than 450M registered users and over 50M peak daily active users as of May 2019. Meanwhile Adam Blacker, vice president of insights at app analytics company Apptopia reckons that the game is particularly popular in India, Brazil, and Indonesia; while Daniel Ahmad, senior analyst at Niko Partners, stated that it was the highest-grossing game in Southeast Asia and Latin America during the third quarter of 2019.
Garena’s parent company is Sea Limited, which was also formerly called Garena but was rebranded in 2017 after securing $550M in investment at an undisclosed valuation. Prior to this, it raised $170M in September 2017 at a valuation of $3.75B. In addition to Garena, Sea Limited is also the parent company of a popular Singaporean e-commerce platform company called Shopee.
Is it an Esport?
2019 kicked off with various online leagues that led up to an international event in Bangkok, Thailand, called Free Fire World Cup. This event was held in April and the livestream witnessed a peak concurrent viewership of 1M. This record was then broken at the Free Fire World Series, a $400K prize pool tournament held in Brazil in November that saw over 2M peak concurrent viewers tuning in to the livestream.
The publisher has already announced that it is trying to ramp up its esports efforts for 2020 with leagues taking place in various locations across the world, some with their own live-studio structure. The Free Fire Champions Cup will take place in April in Jakarta, Indonesia. The Free Fire World Series will also be returning to Brazil in November. Additionally, Garena has also announced that two additional tournaments will be introduced in June and July with different formats.
Accessibility and a focus on emerging markets seem to be at the center of Garena’s market penetration strategy. For example, the game has fueled its growth in South America by partnering with popular DJ and record producer Alok Achkar Peres Petrillo (popularly known as Alok). As part of this partnership, Alok’s in-game character, outfit, iconic accessories, and signature dance move emote were made available for purchase to players. The game’s esports efforts are already breaking new viewership records and the publisher has announced plans to double down on its esports efforts in 2020.
In what could be seen as an acknowledgement of the game’s fast-growing esports circuit, Team Liquid announced that it was picking up a Free Fire roster from Brazil. With the growth of mobile esports continuing to snowball in emerging markets, one goal for Free Fire will be to position itself as more than just a PUBG MOBILE alternative. However given Tencent’s announcement of a robust esports ecosystem for its own game, this is a task that’s easier said than done.
Nishant Patel is a writer for and the co-founder of AFK Gaming.
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