Hans Kurniadi Saleh, Country Head for Garena MENA and Indonesia, elaborates on the gaming scene in the MENA region and how his company is engaging with gamers and promoting esports in the region.
Youth in the Middle East has always had an appetite for gaming, COVID-19 can be seen as adding further fuel to this, how has Garena adapted itself and differentiated its titles to take advantage of this renewed interest?
Our principles and approach for Free Fire have always remained the same. Our objective is to continue creating compelling content for our gamers all around the world and tailor the experiences to their local preferences.
An example of this are our collaborations with popular animation series One-Punch Man and Attack on Titan, which we announced earlier this year. The idea behind this is to combine the other interests of our players and provide them with something exciting to play.
In 2020, we also partnered with a wide range of celebrities and IPs for global collaborations. These include working with football superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, American musician DJ KSHMR, Netflix smash hit Money Heist and even Ragnarok. Across sports, music, and entertainment, we are offering our players a range of immersive content that will keep them engaged.
With more sports going virtual, how does Garena view the eSport landscape evolution in the MENA region?
The MENA region is a key market for us, especially as it is home to one of the world’s most active gaming communities. We believe that interest in esports in MENA will continue to grow. A recent YouGov study found that awareness of esports in the region is higher compared to Western markets. In addition, 20% of those surveyed in Egypt have engaged with eSports in the 12 months before the study, compared to an average of 7% of those surveyed across the US, UK, and France.
As developer and publisher, we have been working on creating regular tournaments specifically for the MENA region so they can play against upcoming and experienced talented players.
With Free Fire being a competitive game where it allows the players to showcase their skills, we realise there are no better platforms to showcase the incredible talent than hosting esports events. In 2020 alone, despite having hosted our tournaments online, our esports scene saw close to 20 million views on YouTube, showing growing interest from our community.
Our global flagship tournament of 2020 – the Free Fire Continental Series (FFCS) is a prime example, which attracted millions of viewers from across Europe, the Middle East, and Africa for the international competition.
Can you dwell on the success of the latest Free fire Arab Series tournaments?
Since we started in 2019 with the Free Fire Arab Series – our flagship tournament, we always take away key learnings from each event as part of our strategy in how to deliver better tournaments in the future.
While we are pleased with the success of previous events, we want to take the esports scene to the next level and in 2020, we started the Free Fire Arab League, which had tournament matches almost every weekend, held simultaneously with the Arab Series. This provided an opportunity for the winners of the Arab League and the Arab Series to participate in last year’s Free Fire Continental Series: EMEA.
With the esports scene becoming more popular today, we want to put the spotlight on the teams and give them a chance to build their fan base. As such, for 2021 the Free Fire Arab League will be our new flagship tournament. This means the Free Fire Arab Championship will replace the Free Fire Arab Series, which will allow all teams to have a shot at greatness and provide an opportunity for players to develop themselves with the aim of becoming professional gamers.
This new tournament format will involve two tiers: The Free Fire Arab League, which will serve as our flagship tournament where the winners will go on to represent MENA in a Free Fire international tournament.
The second is the Free Fire Arab Championship, allowing all players to participate and have a shot for glory. Both of these tournaments will be run concurrently.
To make the gaming experience more exciting, the bottom teams from the Free Fire Arab League will be relegated and will no longer be able to participate in the next season. To get back into the flagship tournament, the teams will need to earn promotion by winning enough points through the Free Fire Arab Championship.
All players can participate in the Free Fire Arab Championship and for the inaugural season, teams can participate in five separate championship tournaments which will start in March. Teams will be able to earn participation points depending on how well they perform during the tournament.
At the end of the Arab Championship season, which will finish by early July 2021, the top teams with the most points will be promoted to the Free Fire Arab League. This way, even the amateur teams or community-based teams will have a chance to test themselves and have a shot at greatness.
Can you provide our readers with a sneak peek into your recent collaboration with Cristiano Ronaldo for the crossover with the popular anime series Attack on Titans?
For us, creating engaging experiences for our players is key. One of the ways we are doing this is combining our players’ other interests and hobbies, besides gaming, and providing them with something exciting.
Just in past year alone, we announced collaborations with popular anime series’ One-Punch Man and Attack on Titan, and towards the end of 2020, we have been working with Cristiano Ronaldo to have him as a character in the Free Fire game and have the whole universe to be based around him.
The response that we have had from our gaming communities since the collaborations has been amazing and it is an affirmation of the work that we are doing for our players.
How does Garena make its platform secure and safe for its gamers?
We often update players through our official channels, such as in the Free Fire app or on our official social media channels like Facebook, for all the latest information and updates about the game. We also provide tips for players on how to secure their accounts.
We also have a team of professionals and experts whose responsibilities include overseeing servers on a daily basis and fixing any glitches.
This also applies to cheating which we take very seriously and therefore we have implemented different measures to prevent this. Any gamers caught cheating are immediately banned and this zero-tolerance approach sends out a strong message that cheating will not be tolerated at all.