In 2018, Free Fire was the most profitable app in Brazil, surpassing well-known names like Tinder and Netflix. The 2019 data has not yet been consolidated by SensorTower, a consultancy company specialized in app stores, but it would not be risky to bet on a double championship of the free game app from Garena. After all, if in 2018 Free Fire advanced quietly until it reached the top, in 2019 it stole the show and dominated Brazil‘s gaming scene.
Free Fire is a “battle royale” style shooting game, in which dozens of players are dropped on an island filled with weapons and other items. The last survivor wins.
The great thing, what sets it apart from the many similar games available out there, is to be more accessible: while the pioneers of the genre, Fortnite and PUBG, require advanced and expensive cell phones to run, Free Fire works well on any intermediate device and does not consume lots of data when connecting to the internet.
In addition, playing Free Fire does not cost anything. The company’s revenue comes from the sale of in-game cosmetic items, released with high frequency, to keep players interested. Another aspect, highlights Fernanda Domingues, CEO of FD Comunicação, a company specialized in advising and promoting companies in the games sector, is that “the items [in Free Fire] are not so expensive. When the player is excited, he buys ”. Betting on volume, Free Fire became a (prolific) goose that laid the golden eggs.
“We knew from our experience in Southeast Asia that players in markets where mobile devices are growing like games that are lighter in data and processing power,” explains Fernando Mazza, head of operations at Garena Brasil. In the third quarter of 2019, the average price of the smartphone sold in Brazil was BRL 1,165, according to IDC, a value far from the BRL 5,000 that top-of-the-line devices, such as iPhone 11 and Galaxy S10, cost.
Free Fire had 450 million registered players worldwide in May 2019, the most up-to-date number provided by Garena. Mazza does not disclose other numbers, but gives clues that suggest the title’s vertiginous growth and, at the same time, the importance of Brazil for the developer in this context.
This is the case with official competitions. In 2020, the Brazilian Free Fire League (LBFF) will have three divisions and three stages throughout the year, with the participation of professional teams and hundreds of aspirants from all over the country.
The A series matches, which are the main ones, will be in person, played in Studio 1, inside the Quanta Studios complex, in São Paulo, a studio over 1,200 m², where the matches will be broadcast live via YouTube. “It is a way to further engage our local community and bring relevant content to our audience,” explains Mazza.
The games of the first phase of the LBFF 2020 were hold this Sunday (15th), with the stadium closed to the public due to the coronavirus. Liquid team was the winner of this first split, surpassing favorites LOUD and Vivo Keyd.
In November, the Free Fire World Series (FFWS), one of the world tournaments Garena organizes, returns to Brazil. The first edition took place in Rio de Janeiro, and the champion was Corinthians–yes, the same Corinthians of the popular Brazilian soccer team.
“The name Corinthians brings a great sense of responsibility,” says Fernando Hamuche, of IGC, a group that has the rights to the Corinthians brand for esports (with the exception of virtual soccer games). In less than six months since its creation, Corinthians’ Free Fire team had already won the LBFF and the FFWS.
Among all the competitive games available on the market, the choice by Free Fire to kick off Corinthians in esports was due to some factors besides its popularity. “It is a new game, in development, and democratic, because it is not only due to the size of the public, but its type–all ages, from children to entire families”, explains Hamuche.
Corinthians’ Free Fire team was assembled from scratch, with professionals who had not played together before. They live in a house in the capital of São Paulo and, in addition to the name of the soccer club, they have the support of Nike, that sponsors the club’s soccer team. In another sample of how these universes, soccer and Free Fire, mix, when inaugurating the residence of Free Fire players, some decorative lights were green, the color of Palmeiras, Corinthians’ biggest rival on the fields. “We received feedback from fans saying that in a Corinthians’ home there is no green, so we had to switch to white lights,” Hamuche recalls, laughing.
Garena’s last step to capitalize even more with Free Fire was the launch of its own streaming app, BOOYAH!, for Android and iOS. Mazza explains that the app comes to “complement and bring better experiences to Free Fire players”, allowing simultaneous live streams to be carried out with other platforms, an important aspect in order to not be surprised by a sector that grows almost symbiotically to that of esports, which are the live streaming platforms.
Garena’s official championships are broadcast on YouTube and the game’s professional teams and streamers/influencers work under exclusive contracts with Twitch and Nimo, for example. “We don’t plan to compete directly with other platforms,” says the executive.
To convince the millions of Free Fire players to give the new app a try, Garena included some exclusive benefits for those who broadcast on BOOYAH!, such as special items and the ability to insert your voice into the game.
The Brazilian Free Fire operation began to be set up in late 2018, an indication that Sea, a conglomerate that owns the brand in Singapore, may have been taken by surprise by the game’s success in the distant South American country.
Surprised or not, in 2019 intense work was done to support and expand the popularity that, before that, was already evident in the many memes on social networks and in the millions of Free Fire matches played in Brazil.
For Garena, Free Fire is just the beginning.