One of the biggest developments in the Indian esports community came with the announcement that the government had decided to ban PUBG Mobile. The title is single-handedly responsible for making gaming mainstream in the subcontinent and has led to the creation and growth of a sustainable ecosystem featuring content creators, professional players, organizations and tournament organizers. Now, the livelihoods of thousands is suddenly in jeopardy and there are concerns that more titles may end up in a similar situation. Titles like Mobile Legends: Bang Bang, Arena of Valor and PUBG Mobile have already been banned in the country; which begs the question of should other games also have the same concerns? The two most obvious names which come to mind are Garena Free Fire and Call of Duty: Mobile, which after PUBG Mobile were the two most popular titles.
The ban stems from India’s worsening military and political relations with China since the Galwan Valley clashes on June 15. Since then, the Indian government has taken a strong anti-China stance which includes trade restrictions and crackdown on Chinese investments in the country. It has also come with several notable China made apps being banned in the country. One of the most notable names in this list is video sharing social media platform, Tik Tok. The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology stated that it had ‘received many complaints from various sources including several reports of misuse of some mobile apps’. The apps have been banned for allegedly ‘stealing and surreptitiously transmitting users’ data in an unauthorized manner to servers which have locations outside India’.
Garena Free Fire
Garena Free Fire is not in any immediate threat as it is owned by Garena, which is headquartered in Singapore. Garena’s parent company, Sea Limited is a public company., However, before the company went public in 2017, Tencent was a major shareholder with 39.7% of Sea Limited.
Call of Duty: Mobile
Call of Duty: Mobile is developed by Timi Studios and published via Activision and Garena. Unlike Free Fire, there are some concerns regarding the game, as Timi Studios is entirely owned by Tencent Games. Another game in which Timi Studios is involved in - Arena of Valor, has also been banned in India along with PUBG Mobile. While the game is still untouched, most of the bans have come in waves and it is possible that Call of Duty: Mobile is still under the scanner. One good thing about the game is that US led sanctions against Chinese tech companies have forced Tencent to take a hands-off approach with the game. Both Timi and Tencent logos are not a part of the loading screen anymore and were removed in early August.
Among the various apps that India has banned, Tencent and Netease are common threads in many. While Free Fire is relatively in the clear, Call of Duty: Mobile does have some concerns. While the fact that it is published via Activision and Garena is a positive, the fact remains that the game was developed via Tencent owned Timi Studios.
India is one of the largest mobile markets in the world and has established itself as one of the prime markets in the mobile gaming space. Games like PUBG Mobile, Free Fire and Call of Duty: Mobile have all tapped into India to tap into the region’s massive player base. The ban on PUBG Mobile is certainly going to be concerning to everyone in the gaming and esports space and is expected to have a ripple effect across the industry.