The Favelas Cup and the Social Role Played by Free Fire in Brazil – The Esports Observer

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Around the world, there are many myths, legends, and also truths, about the conception of a Brazilian favela. Although, these areas, which are broadly known for their stories of poverty and violence, also have stories and initiatives that escape bloodthirsty headlines. Stories of hope, community, and an effort for achieving a better lifestyle, despite the challenges and the absurd social inequality that the residents of favelas face every day.

Due to financial difficulties, it is hard for the majority of the Brazilian population, especially the ones living in favelas, to acquire top-notch gaming PC equipment or even top-notch smartphones. This fact, though, did not stop them from gaming and entering the competitive scenario. Thanks to Free Fire, a mobile battle royale game by Garena which can be supported by most of the smartphones in the market, pro-players like the world champion Bruno “Nobru” Goes can change their lives and say that “a favela venceu,” or “the favela won,” in Portuguese.

The vast popularity of the game in the country inspired Globo, the biggest Brazilian communications group, to invest in the game, broadcasting the Brazilian League of Free Fire (LBFF) on its pay-TV channel SporTV and also investing in the lower divisions of it. But the support for the plan does not stop there, and at the end of 2020 Globo partnered with Taça das Favelas, roughly translated to “Favelas Cup” from Portuguese, a national Free Fire tournament organized by the internationally recognized social organization Unique Center of the Favelas (CUFA, from the acronym in Portuguese), featuring teams from favelas all over the country.

The Esports Observer spoke with CUFA Innovation Director Marcus Vinicius Athayde, who was also the general project director of Favelas Cup, who told us how the Free Fire tournament came up: “CUFA, has an innovative bias and we are always attentive to trends. Before social isolation, CUFA’s great flagship was the Favelas Cup for soccer. With the pandemic, it was not possible to carry out for obvious reasons, and so we had the idea, to fill the gap, to make the Favelas Cup of Free Fire, which ended up becoming a phenomenon. Free Fire is a very accessible game, it was already very popular with young people from the favelas and CUFA wanted to enter the world of esports because we know it is the future. Nothing better than joining Garena, and Garena’s team immediately agreed. It’s been a great partnership.”

Teams from 12 favelas from 12 different Brazilian states qualified for the finals after the early stages, where they disputed a total prize pool of $30K BRL (roughly $6K USD). The competition was won by Divinéia, a favela from the state of Paraná. According to CUFA, only for the early stages, the Favelas Cup had over 1 million spectators. The early-stage matches were streamed by YouTube and Garena’s streaming platform BOOYAH!, while the finals also counted on TV broadcast on SporTV.

“Our goal, in all our actions, and everyone who is with us knows, is to show that the favela is a territory of power and to give protagonism to its residents. At Free Fire, it is not different. The favela and the public embraced the Free Fire Favela Cup, and it’s been a huge success, says Athayde.” 

The only sponsor that appeared at Favelas Cup transmissions was the Brazilian coffee brand 3 Corações, in a deal closed directly with CUFA. Besides being a media partner, Globo also joined Favelas Cup as a supporter and did not sell commercials for its broadcast. The Head of Esports and Games Leandro Valentim spoke to TEO about the initiative: “We are involved with causes, with the objective of providing opportunities and raising relevant issues for these communities. We supported the ‘Taça das Favelas Free Fire’ without a financial objective, just as we do with other projects,” and “this was not a broadcast that we have put on the market. The only supporting brand came from CUFA.”

Valentim also explains the other supported projects by Globo he mentioned: “the AfroGames, which trains players in the Vigário Geral favela to play League of Legends. To participate, the players also need to sign up for English and game development workshops. We recently launched, as an initiative of our Game XP event, the ‘Dance Off’, a dance challenge that takes place in the favelas and will use the [Ubisoft’s] Just Dance game platform in the finals. The tournament is a way of giving visibility and opportunity to those who have a connection with the world of dance. We are always embracing causes and flags, supporting, seeking to discover talents, and giving visibility, which is very important for the ecosystem.”

Independently of the Favelas Cup, Free Fire was also the game chosen for the Villages Cup (“Copa das Aldeias”, in Portuguese), a competition between Brazilian indigenous villages counting with 48 teams from different tribes around the country. The event is supported by the Huya-owned streaming platform Nimo TV, where it is broadcast.  

Due to its accessibility and media power, over the last year the popularity of Free Fire has significantly grown in Brazil, and official tournaments had an increase of 107% in its audience. In 2020, Twitch has signed some of the country’s most popular streamers of the game, as Nobru and the organization LOUD, aiming to bring part of this audience to the streaming platform, and, recently, the battle royale game PUBG Mobile announced it is also going lightweight to increase its accessibility.


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