Garena (a subsidiary of SEA LTD) announced that its popular battle royale game Free Fire will make a triumphant return to India with the re-release of the game under the moniker of “Free Fire India ” on Sept. 5. In its announcement, the Singapore-based publisher said that pre-registration for the game is open on Google Play.
Free Fire was banned in India alongside hundreds of other apps in February of 2022 by the government, citing national security concerns. Free Fire is one of the most popular mobile games in the world and is the biggest competitor to Battlegrounds Mobile India (BGMI), the most popular battle royale game in India.
According to data from Sensor Tower the battle royale game was the most downloaded game in 2021, with 218M downloads on mobile devices (iOS, Android). It was also the most downloaded mobile game worldwide in January 2022—a month before its ban, with 24M downloads, a 51.6% increase over January 2021, according to Sensor Tower. According to Sensor Tower data, the most downloaded mobile game in June 2023 worldwide was Free Fire (including Free Fire MAX), with nearly 19M downloads. The country with the most downloads of Free Fire during this period was India with 27.9% of that total, followed by Indonesia and Vietnam with 12.7% and 8.1%, respectively. Finally, Sensor Tower data shows that Free Fire generated $1.1B in revenue from January to December 2021.
Like BGMI’s (PUBG Mobile in other regions) ban in India, the removal of the game was particularly devastating to esports teams, organizations, and tournament organizers that built companies and invested capital related to competition in the country.
Esports industry stakeholders in India were happy about the news, for obvious reasons. Several issued statement Thursday celebrating the return of the popular game to the region:
“Only a year ago with the bans on Free Fire and BGMI, the Indian esports scenario was struggling with a dearth of options for the country’s mobile gamers,” said Rohit Jagasia, Founder and CEO, Revenant Esports. “I applaud Garena in their efforts to bring Free Fire India and already make a commitment towards esports which will be a big boost to welcoming old and new players alike. While we don’t currently have an esports roster in the game, we are always on the lookout for potential titles to enter and Free Fire is certainly one on our radar.”
“India has always been a pivotal pillar of Free Fire’s global user base and its return opens the doors to exceptional avenues that will bolster the gaming landscape of the country With the game’s re-launch, there will be a remarkable surge in the frequency of tournaments with lucrative prize pools for players to make a name for themselves, said Animesh Agarwal, founder & CEO of 8Bit Creatives and co-founder of S8UL. “The impact of the game will not be limited to just the competitive scenario as it will be a significant boost to the creators’ community as well. By providing creators with diverse and immersive content, Free Fire India will enable them to grow and expand their fanbase within the industry. As the game gains renewed attention and engagement, there will also be an influx of interest as well as investments from brands into the ecosystem. We are excited for this new chapter to unfold and look forward to witnessing the rise of the video gaming sector in India.”
“Free Fire India’s launch is a game-changer, set to transform India’s Esports scene. It heralds more tournaments, increased earnings, and massive prize pools, mirroring Free Fire’s firm grip on India’s user base, said Devam “Dev” Vyas, VP of Esports at Gods Reign, in a release. “Despite no Indian teams at the Free Fire World Series 2022 Grand Finals, the Hindi stream astonishingly recorded peak viewership. As Free Fire restarts in India, we’re excited for viewership to break new records. This is an exhilarating time for our players who stand to reap huge benefits. At Gods Reign, renowned for crafting championship-winning rosters, we’re in talks with several Free Fire rosters. We can’t wait to announce our new roster soon, adding another thrilling chapter to this vibrant esports story of Gods Reign.”
“The launch of ‘Free Fire India’ (FFI) holds significant implications for both players and the Esports industry,” said Sagar Nair, co-founder, and CEO of Qlan, in a release. It signifies a renewed opportunity for players in India to engage with the game, with tailored features catering to their preferences. The introduction of Mahendra Singh Dhoni as ‘Thala’ adds a local touch, enhancing the relatability factor for Indian players. The introduction of Esports competitions, tournaments, and events with higher prize pools is likely to increase, aligning with Garena’s aspiration to develop a robust Esports ecosystem in India, nurturing talent and fostering a competitive spirit. The focus on India is strategic due to various reasons. Despite challenges, India has a substantial mobile gaming audience & by reintroducing ‘Free Fire India’ with region-specific features and content, Garena aims to rekindle the excitement among Indian gamers and regain its position in the Indian gaming market. Additionally, the partnership with Yotta Infrastructure underscores Garena’s commitment to ensuring a seamless gameplay experience that adheres to local regulations.”
“Free Fire India coming back is definitely the biggest headliner for the industry at the moment,” Rohit Agarwal, founder & director of Alpha Zegus, said in a release. “FFI players have been awaiting this news for the longest time (in fact even longer than BGMI players when BGMI was banned). While some professional players and creators have switched to different titles, the base for FFI remains one of the biggest in India (pre-ban numbers suggested that FFI had a bigger audience base than any gaming title in India). Even if we are able to recover about 70% of that audience base, the game will take no time to start breaking viewership records and compete head-on with other popular titles. It’s been a positive year for esports so far, with games coming back, tournaments getting bigger, more brands taking notice, etc. Fingers crossed to see how FFI adds to this growth.”
Editor’s note: an earlier version of this story noted that SEA LTD and Garena were South Korean companies – both are based in Singapore. We have corrected the story to reflect that and apologize for the error.