The Indian government has reportedly banned popular mobile esport title Garena Free Fire alongside a wave of 53 other blocked applications, according to Indian outlet ET NOW.
The applications have allegedly been blocked on the grounds that they pose a threat to India’s national security, as stated by Indian news agency ANI.
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Garena Free Fire is a prominent game within the Indian esports ecosystem. The Free Fire India Championship 2021 Fall season had over one million peak viewers, and the Free Fire Pro League India 2021 Winter season reached over 380,000.
Free Fire is published by Singapore-based Garena, a subsidiary of Singaporean technology conglomerate Sea Ltd.
The mobile game was removed from Apple’s App Store and the Google Play Store in India on Feb 12th, but only today have reports stated that the application has been banned. Over 40 million of Free Fire’s 75 million monthly active users are in India, according to TechCrunch.
In a statement, Garena addressed Free Fire’s unavailability in app stores, but did not reference the ban. The company said: “We are aware that Free Fire is currently unavailable in the Google Play and iOS app stores in India and that the game is currently not operable for some users in the country. We are working to address this situation, and we apologise to our users for any inconvenience.”
Free Fire would be yet another major esports title to be banned in India. In September 2020, the Indian government banned PUBG Mobile — at the time one of the country’s largest esports titles — amongst other apps following rising political tensions with China.
The Indian government said PUBG Mobile, which was previously published by Chinese technology conglomerate Tencent, and over 100 other mobile apps were ‘prejudicial to the sovereignty and integrity of India’. Mobile Legends: Bang Bang and Arena of Valor, alongside popular apps like TikTok and WeChat, are also banned in the country.
The Free Fire ban was reportedly issued by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology under Section 69a of the IT ACT, 2000, the same piece of legislation used to ban PUBG Mobile. The ANI report, citing informed sources, said that threats to India’s security are the cause of the latest wave of bans. The Indian government has yet to officially comment on the bans.
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In an email statement sent to Esports Insider, Lokesh Suji, Director of the Esports Federation of India & Vice President of the Asian Esports Federation (AESF), said: “It has come as a bolt from the blue for the Indian esports community, especially for the much popular Free Fire esports athletes who have been competing at national and international platforms and connecting with their fans through the virtual setups.
“However, 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 & culture and showcase Indian capabilities when it comes to developing world-class video games.
“We fully support this & will fully support any such decisions taken by our government, when it comes to safeguarding national integrity & security.”
Esports Insider says: Free Fire’s reported ban comes as another huge blow to the Indian esports ecosystem, and to mobile esports more broadly. Free Fire’s publisher is Singapore-based, so it’s unclear how it fits into India’s wave of bans targeting applications with links to China. Nonetheless, this is a setback for the country’s esports growth plans and will significantly alter the landscape going forward.