State of the Ecosystem is an article series overviewing the contemporary state of various esports scenes across major esports titles, with an industry focus.
Ever since game developer Garena released Free Fire back in August 2017, the mobile battle royale title has become one of the most played mobile games worldwide within its genre. What makes this accomplishment more unique than other popular mobile games is that Free Fire didn’t have any pre-existing brand recognition like rivals PUBG Mobile or Call of Duty: Mobile, but has still managed to become a success despite that.
During its initial release, Free Fire benefited from having low system requirements compared to its rivals at the time, PUBG Mobile and Rules of Survival.
As a result, Free Fire took off in developing markets like SEA, India and Brazil while riding on the wave of players wanting to enjoy Battle Royale titles on an entry-level or mid-range smartphone.
Garena leveraged this growth to build a huge esports ecosystem for the game as well. At its highest point, the Free Fire World Series (FFWS) Singapore in May 2022 attracted a peak viewership of 5.4m viewers, per Esports Charts, making it one of the most watched esports tournaments in history (excluding Chinese viewership statistics).
Since then, though, the viewership and interest towards Free Fire esports has considerably decreased. The previous edition of the FFWS, for example, which took place in Bangkok in November 2022, could only garner 354,000 peak viewers.
While some of Free Fire’s esports decline can be attributed towards the end of the pandemic, which was an incredibly popular period for most esports ecosystems, it can also be put on Garena’s parent company Sea Ltd.
The company significantly downsized its workforce last year, implemented a salary freeze, and also shut down streaming platform BOOYAH!. As a result, 2023 has been less about growing Free Fire esports, but actually saving the Free Fire esports ecosystem.
The biggest change has come from Brazilian Free Fire League (LBFF) which previously had three series a year and operated on a relegation-based format. In 2023, Garena flipped this format and instead gave permanent slots to 18 teams. Seeing such a drastic divestment in one of Free Fire esports’ biggest leagues was definitely a worrying sign.
Another major region for Free Fire esports has been India. As a result, one significant reason for Free Fire’s fall in esports viewers in 2022 was the game’s ban in the country due to alleged data privacy concerns. This ban put an end to the game in India. To put into perspective what this meant for Free Fire esports, the fall season of the India Championship 2021 attracted more than 1m peak viewers.
However, Garena has announced that Free Fire is coming back to India soon. The company had first said that the game would be launching on September 5th in a big announcement which included legendary Indian sportspersons like football captain Sunil Chhetri, badminton star Saina Nehwal, and tennis legend Leander Peas. The highlight was that the game’s brand ambassador would now be former Indian cricket team captain MS Dhoni.
Garena also confirmed the return of the Free Fire India Championship and an international Free Fire esports LAN in India.
However, on September 4th the company stated that it needed a few more weeks to complete the “localisation of the Free Fire India experience.” More than a month has passed now, though, and the game still hasn’t been released. Its eventual release, though, will be a big boost to the game’s esports scene.
Lastly, SEA has been a big region for Free Fire. In particular, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam are regions of focus for the game, with each running separate leagues. These leagues feature multiple stages, are LAN events, and also feature open qualifiers.
All Free Fire esports competitions lead to the Free Fire World Series (FFWS) which is taking place in Bangkok again in 2023. Before this year, there used to be two editions of the FFWS per year. However, the mid-season FFWS was replaced by a SEA Invitational featuring only teams from the region in 2023.
Notable leagues and tournaments
|Free Fire World Series||Free Fire League Latin America (FFL)|
|Free Fire SEA Invitational||Free Fire Master League (FFML) Indonesia|
|Brazilian Free Fire League||Free Fire Pro League (FFPL) Thailand|
|Free Fire India Championship||Vietnam Free Fire League (VFL)|
Most viewed tournaments
The most-viewed Free Fire esports tournaments, per Esports Charts, are as follows:
- Free Fire World Series (FFWS) 2021 Singapore: 5.4m (peak viewers)
- Free Fire Continental Series (FFCS) 2020 Asia: 2.56m (peak viewers)
- FFWS 2019 Rio: 2.01m (peak viewers)
- FFCS 2020 Americas: 1.7m (peak viewers)
- FFWS 2022 Sentosa: 1.4m (peak viewers)
Note: this is a non-exhaustive list and exclusion does not signify an organisation is not notable.