Garena Free Fire, the most popular mobile battle royale game, delivered a premium battle royale experience to players all across India. It was the most downloaded mobile game globally. However, the government has recommended a ban on 54 Chinese mobile applications, including the popular game Garena Free Fire citing that these apps pose a threat to national security. The game has a loyal fan base in India and the decision of the government of banning it has come as a shock to many gamers.
Dhanu Dino, a gamer and streamer whose channel Telugu FF has over 200 million views on YouTube, said, “I play Free Fire only to make entertainment content for my YouTube channel and play for more than 7 hours a day. As a YouTuber, my whole family is dependent on the income that comes to me. Now, we have no income source because this game is banned”.
Dino who has a follower base climbing up to two million said, “As a Free Fire player, I spent a lot of money on this game, but because of this ban, I can’t get my money back”.
It was a mixed Valentine’s Day for the Indian gaming community. On February 14, the Karnataka High Court clamped the state’s previous ban on online gaming as unconstitutional and by evening the news had petered in that Garena’s Free Fire (once the most downloaded mobile game globally and still a mainstay of international gaming tournaments) was among the 54 Chinese apps that the Ministry of Home Affairs has recommended banning, citing national security risks. As reported by PTI, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) is set to formally issue a notification banning these apps from working in India.
For pro gamers and streamers like Dino (real name Dhanunjay), who rely on the big prize pools of national and international competitions as well as sponsorships and monetization, this ban can have dire consequences. And the impacts are felt far beyond the individual level, impeding the otherwise rapid growth of the Indian gaming market.
Lokesh Suji, Director, Esports Federation of India & Vice President of the Asian Esports Federation (AESF), notes, “It has come as a bolt from the blue for the Indian esports community, especially for the extremely popular Free Fire esports athletes who have been competing on national and international platforms and connecting with their fans through the virtual setups.”
Free Fire, which is one of the most played and best-earning apps in the last couple of years, was a mobile battle royale game. It was much like PUBG, which was banned by the Government of India in a previous tranche of Chinese apps. While PUBG was relaunched last year as the newly christened BGMI by original South Korean developer Krafton, Garena Free Fire’s fate is yet to be determined. Interestingly, even Free Fire was created by Garena, a subsidiary of Sea, a Singapore-based company, but has still fallen under the purview of Chinese apps that pose a threat to national security.
This is scant comfort to the games’ many fans, even as it’s disappeared from both the Android store and Apple iOS. Sagar Nair, Co-Founder & CEO, Qlan, The Gamer’s Social Network observes, “The Free Fire community is one of the largest and fastest-growing esports communities in India. The sudden banning of the game has surely blindsided a massive number of gamers. We’ve seen this happen before with the PUB G ban and if we are to learn from it, it seems like it may be a long-drawn battle to bring back the game.”
Vishwalok Nath, Director, of World Esports Cup and Esports Premier League, with both internationally followed tournaments having featured Free Fire in their rosters, says he hopes that Garena can work with the Government of India to address the concerns raised around Free Fire. “We have seen this happen in the past where titles made their way back after fixing the compliance issues. The entire creator and esports community around Free Fire is waiting for a positive and quick resolution to the move.”
For gamers, the sooner this is, the better. As Dhanunjay states, “My whole family depends on my income so it impacts us greatly. I can’t find any alternatives to play. If I find anything similar to Free Fire, then it’s BGMI. And then I have to start my career again from scratch.”
Others have seemingly accepted the inevitable. As Suji says, “We fully support this and will fully support any such decisions taken by our government, when it comes to safeguarding national integrity and security.”
He adds, “There is no need to be disappointed, we believe this will diversify the gaming industry as new players will be introduced and will encourage homegrown video gaming developers, allowing them to curate games based on Indian ethos and culture and showcase Indian capabilities when it comes to developing world-class video games.”
However, Nair does offer one measure of comfort, with a caveat, saying, “While the community handles this setback, gamers do have an alternative in the form of Free Fire Max which is still available for download. Unfortunately, it’s mostly a wait and watch game here till we learn more.”
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