Garena is relaunching Free Fire in India, a year and a half after the popular mobile title was banned in the South Asian market over national security concerns.
The firm, owned by South Asian giant Sea, said it has partnered with Yotta, controlled by local giant Hiranandani, for cloud and other storage needs of local users’ data in the country. It has also appointed Indian cricket legend Mahendra Singh Dhoni as its brand ambassador in the country.
The company said it has further localized Free Fire for the Indian market — incorporating “unique content” and creating an environment that “encourage(s) a safe, healthy and fun gameplay experience” — and will make the title available in the country on September 5. Free Fire India users will be encouraged to take breaks after certain intervals, the company said.
Before it was banned, Free Fire enjoyed significant popularity in India with around 40 million monthly active users. It was a close competitor to Krafton’s PUBG and BGMI, which are also immensely popular in the country. India’s ban on Free Fire immediately wiped $16 billion off Sea’s market cap last year.
“We look forward to providing an engaging and highly localised experience for Indian users,” said Gang Ye, co-founder of Garena, in a statement. “We believe our partnership with Yotta will ensure that our users can enjoy the highest quality gameplay experience and benefit from Yotta’s expertise in protecting and securing Indian user data.”
Garena’s move follows Krafton securing a re-entry of BGMI in India on a trial basis. Last year, Sea also quietly attempted to launch its e-commerce platform Shopee in India but ceased the initiative weeks after the ban on Free Fire.
Industry executives say that Garena still needs to change its tack in the country and should attempt to mirror Krafton strategy by investing in local firms.
“We still believe that Sea needs to present a more vocal identity for its India business, and for that, it needs to hire an established CEO,” AllianceBernstein analysts wrote last year. “This is required to bring an identity to its Indian business, rather than being operated from the region.”
Sea didn’t respond to requests for comment on Wednesday. India’s Ministry of Electronics and IT hasn’t commented on Free Fire’s return.
“Garena’s launch of Free Fire India and commitment to localising and developing the esports ecosystem locally is testament to the vibrancy of the mobile games and esports space in India, and to India’s potential for global leadership in this area,” said H.E. Simon Wong, High Commissioner of Singapore to India, at an event Thursday. “I look forward to greater partnerships in the digital media, entertainment and esports fields between India and Singapore.”