AFK Weekly: BGMI Takes Large Strides in India Amidst Free Fire’s Recent Problems
Hello everyone! Normalcy is seemingly being restored in esports following the recent shutdowns caused by the Omicron variant of COVID-19. Following the announcement of the PGL Major Antwerp 2022 for CS:GO, Dota 2 also announced its first in-person Dota 2 Pro Circuit LAN tournament since January 2020 with the ESL One Stockholm Major 2022. With other esports titles such as Rainbow Six with its Six Invitational 2022 also returning to a LAN environment in Europe, it looks like the region is going to be the hot bed for in-person esports tournaments for the next few months.
With that out of the way, here’s a breakdown of this week’s most impactful and important esports business news and more in the latest edition of Esports Business Insights by AFK Gaming.
- Vignesh Raghuram, Supervising Editor, AFK Gaming
BGMI announces $800K circuit right after Free Fire’s ban in India
The Indian Ministry of Home Affairs reportedly banned Garena’s Free Fire along with 53 other apps earlier this week–the common denominator being that these apps have ties to China. This has thrown the Indian Free Fire esports scene into jeopardy with the qualifiers for the INR 1C ($133K USD) being put on hold, with an uncertain future.
The app was already unavailable on the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store a day before news of the ban broke. Garena’s release addressing the situation stated that it was aware of Free Fire’s unavailability in the Google Play and iOS app stores in the country and that it was working to address this situation. Interestingly, the company did not acknowledge that the game was banned in India.
Free Fire-owner Sea Ltd.’s stock dropped by 15% following the reports of the game’s ban in the country. Indian gaming industry leaders revealed in 2021 that Indian players constituted about 10% of Garena's monthly active users. When you add India’s presence in Free Fire esports and streaming platforms to the equation, an extended ban could be a big hit to Garena’s revenue channels.
Just a day after the game’s ban, Free Fire’s chief competitor in India, Battlegrounds Mobile India (BGMI) revealed its 2022 esports roadmap featuring four major tournaments with an overall prize pool of INR 6C ($799K). Unless the ban is reversed, BGMI will have a monopoly on Indian Battle Royale esports which will allow it to dominate the market
Free Fire MAX, the higher-graphic version of the same app by the same developer, continues to remain unbanned and available on the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store.
Key Takeaway: Free Fire had taken up the space created by PUBG Mobile’s ban in September 2020 in gaming, streaming, and esports. BGMI is poised to do the same against Free Fire in the immediate future with its upcoming esports circuit.
Krafton’s move to create an India exclusive game to circumvent the country’s ban on Chinese apps is paying off. At launch the developers claimed that it had prioritized that “all data collection and storage” was in full compliance with the applicable laws and regulations in India. As a result, the company can address any privacy concerns raised by the government and operate its esports circuit smoothly.
Dota 2 Pro Circuit announces first live-audience event in two years
The Hovet Arena in Sweden will play host to the first LAN event of the 2022 Dota Pro Circuit. The Major will be hosted by PGL and will take place in Stockholm from May 19-22. Fans will have the opportunity to watch the playoffs live from the Hovet Arena from May 20-22. It will feature a total prize pool of $500K.
This will be the first Dota 2 LAN tournament featuring a live-audience since January 2020. Valve has made multiple attempts to host in-person events like The International 10, but challenges caused by COVID-19 have forced it to restrict these events to studio-only tournaments or even being canceled outright. These changes being made at the last minute have caused backlash both from professional players and fans, with the latest one forcing Valve to issue an apology.
Following the announcement of the major, Galaxy Racer also announced a Dota 2 LAN tournament scheduled to take place in Dubai. Dubbed as the Gamers Galaxy: Dota 2 Invitational Series, the tournament is set to feature a prize pool of 1M AED ($272K USD) and will see inter-regional LAN competition for the first time since TI10.
Key Takeaway: Dota 2 suffered more than most esports during the pandemic. The game’s ecosystem relied entirely on in-person, international events. As a result, Valve faced significant pressure to revamp its infrastructure to build more support for regional competitions amidst the online era. Now the game will return to its Majors and Internationals, but with a much more robust regional scene supporting these tentpole events.
Big Step for Women in League of Legends Leadership
It was an interesting week full of big stories that involved elevating women into positions of power in the esports industry. First, Riot Games announced that it had hired former Activision Blizzard executive Jackie Felling for the role of head of League of Legends Esports for North America and as LCS commissioner. Felling will oversee the League of Legends Championship Series, its women-focused esports initiative Game Changers, and all collegiate and scholastic esports programs in North America. She'll report directly to Chris Greeley, who held the role previously.
While Felling may be new to League of Legends, she's no stranger to esports: she previously served as director of product for Call of Duty League and lead product manager for Overwatch League at Activision Blizzard. Prior to that she worked at Microsoft's Xbox division as a game developer and producer and lead producer of esports for Gears of War.
The second big story of the week involves New Meta Entertainment, the parent company of North American esports organization Dignitas. NME announced that it had hired Ryann Johnson, Jen Franklin, and Meredith Weber for new executive roles–these hires follow the launch of Raidiant, a platform built “by and for the women in the esports and gaming community, according to the company.
Franklin, who joins the company as the new senior vice president of marketing for Digintas and Raidiant, previously worked at Yahoo for nearly a year, and at NBC Sports Group in several executive roles for nearly eight years.
Johnson joins the company as its new senior vice president of marketing for both Dignitas and Raidiant. She is a seasoned media and marketing veteran who has worked for Endeavor, Disney-owned ABC Television, Showtime Networks, and the Cleveland Cavaliers, among others.
Finally, Weber joins the company as the new lead digital producer for the Raidiant platform. Prior to joining the NME family, she has worked for such companies as G4TV, Lionsgate, Premier Lacrosse League, and Comcast Spectacor, among others.
Key Takeaway: Despite valid criticism of its past and current executives and corporate culture, Riot Games is leading the way in women’s esports through its Valorant initiatives. This year Game Changers will expand significantly in North American League of Legends. With Felling at the helm and Naz Aletaha overseeing the game as a whole, League of Legends now has the chance to push women’s esports forward both in-game and behind the scenes. That coupled with an increased investment in women’s esports from an LCS stakeholder signals that 2022 will be a pivotal year for women in North American esports.
BLAST to produce 2022 Fortnite Championship Series events
UK-based tournament organizer BLAST announced that it will produce the Fortnite Championship Series (FNCS) events in 2022, beginning with Season 1 of FNCS Chapter 3 later this month. BLAST worked with Epic to produce the FNCS All-Star Showdown and FNCS Grand Royale last year.
Arby's to sponsor Capcom Pro Tour 2021 Season Final
In a first for the fighting game esports scene, fast food restaurant franchise Arby's has teamed up with Capcom to sponsor the Capcom Pro Tour 2021 Season Final. Arby's will work with Capcom to produce activations and marketing efforts during the event, which concludes on Feb. 20 and serves as the final battle for the current and official Street Fighter V esports season.
Berkshire Hathaway bought ~$1B in Activision Blizzard ahead of Microsoft acquisition
Billionaire investor Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway bought approximately $1B in Activision Blizzard stock in the Q4 of 2021, according to a CNBC report. The company owns 14.66M shares, according to a Q4 2021 filing. In a letter to investors, Buffett said that he had no prior knowledge of Microsoft’s plans to acquire the game maker at the time of purchase.
Bobby Kotick reportedly backed Republican campaigns in 2020
Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick contributed to republican senators in 2020, according to Federal Election Commission filings reviewed by CNBC. Kotick is connected to the donations through a company he owns called Norgate LLC, which contributed $500K to the Republican Senate Leadership Fund during the 2020 election cycle. A spokesperson for Kotick said that he has given equally to both parties over the last five years.
Rush B Media shuts down operations
Rush B Media, an esports news and media outlet primarily covering CS:GO, announced it will cease operations after four years.
Astralis signs two-year partnership with Stimorol
Astralis has announced a two-year deal with Danish chewing gum brand Stimorol which will add the latter’s logo to the organization’s Counter-Strike team jerseys. According to a release, the partnership will revolve around the slogan "Dare to shoot for the stars.".
Overwatch League 2022 will be played on Overwatch 2
The Overwatch League has announced that its forthcoming Season 5 will begin on May 5 and will be played on an early build of Overwatch 2. The company also revealed that the new season will feature the game’s new Push game mode during this season.
Supercell records $2.24B Revenue in 2021
Clash of Clans, Clash Royale and Brawlstars developer Supercell reported that its revenues hit $2.24B (up 51%) and recorded profits of $852M (up 84%) in 2021. In a blog post outlining Supercell's financial results, CEO Ilkka Paananen also noted that Clash of Clans and Clash Royale have now made over $10B in combined revenue since their launch.
People on the Move
It’s been another relatively quiet week in the world of executive moves but the most notable is word that Head of Activision Blizzard Esports Brandon Snow is leaving the company at the end of February. Activision Blizzard Chief Administrative Officer Brian Bulatao will handle some of Snow's duties after he leaves with Daniel Tsay leading the day-to-day for Call of Duty League and Sean Miller taking charge of Overwatch League. On to the rest:
Former Vindex Head of Communications & PR Adam Rosenberg has joined Better Collective as its new head of PR.
Former Esports Stadium Arlington Director of Partnerships Tyler Wentz has joined Complexity Gaming.
Former Esports Stadium Arlington Director of Events Ashton Reed joins Fan Expo HQ.
Martin Blaquier leaves his role as head of esports Latin America at Riot Games after two years.
NY-based gaming agency OS Studios announced that senior live producer Will Abreu has been promoted to head of broadcast.
Jess Frucht has left Epic Games to join DreamHaven as its new director of player communication.
Tobin Leigh starts a new job as project manager at Veloce and Quadrant.
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