In Brazil’s Favelas, Esports Is an Unlikely Source of Hope

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Both competitions brought together hundreds of young people from all over the country to play Free Fire, with the competition streamed on Twitch and, in the case of the Favelas Bowl, the final was broadcast on one of Brazil’s largest cable TV channels, SporTV. CUFA’s objective was to give players visibility, to distribute prizes, and even to facilitate the entry of the best players into professional teams—and, as happened to Dexter, to change their lives.

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“The idea of the championship was sensational, and when I saw it, I had a great desire to participate,” says Bruno Santos from São Paulo. He’s the manager of the Brazilian Free Fire team for the American professional gaming organization Team Liquid and was the commentator of the Favelas Cup. “It was a privilege.”

“The competition’s mission is to reach the most communities in Brazil, offering esports championships and encouraging children and adolescents to enter the world of technology and innovation,” says Deylanne Nayara, hostess of the Favelas Cup, who is also a streamer. The competition reached “about 100 favelas throughout the country, with 200 registered teams and a total of 800 players. From these favelas, the competition had a draw to select the 12 teams who finally competed.”

Although she doesn’t hail from the favela, as a Black woman Nayara has faced her share of difficulties. “Being a woman in a sexist setting is already exhausting and being also Black… we are still at the base of the social pyramid and always having to be proving our worth,” she says.

After the competitions, Molinari signed the Favelas Cup MVP, Kaique Gabriel Machado, to Zero GRavity. As for his teammates on Team SI, who all ahil from São Paulo, they won contracts to compete for Zero Gravity in the third league division.

Two players from the winning team of the Favelas Bowl, from the favela of Divinéia, in the state of Paraná, were also hired by professional teams. Pedro Paulo “Diniz.av” Alves was signed by Brazilian Team Sintonia and Gustavo “Gusta.tx” Nunes, the final’s MVP, was signed by Team NewX Gaming. They’ll both play at the next national Free Fire League’s second division

Athayde says that “the biggest impact in these young people’s lives, besides the financial gain for those who finished first, was the valorization of esports athletes.” Previously, only those playing soccer were valued—they were told that soccer could guarantee them a future. “Now, they see opportunities [in esports] and gained recognition in the favela, the favela recognized how they played and where they can go.”

Why Free Fire?

Free Fire, a battle royale-style game, was chosen for both competitions because it is free and runs on any Android or Apple phone. It doesn’t require state-of-the-art equipment, which makes it the perfect game for players from the favelas, according to Team Liquid’s Free Fire manager, Bruno Santos.

Worldwide, Free Fire has more than 450 million downloads and 80 million active users per day, and in Brazil it was the most downloaded game in 2020. “Free Fire is the most played game in Brazil, mainly in the favelas,” says Athayde.

Because it does not require state-of-the-art equipment, there are no notable differences between the favela and asphalt player, says Santos. In July last year, the Pro League Free Fire final, the top Brazilian competition, attracted a huge audience with a peak of 800,000 people watching simultaneously, one of the largest YouTube audiences in the country for a live event.

In the midst of the pandemic and social isolation, the number of esports fans and athletes has grown and those living in the favela struggle for space and recognition—sometimes even from members of their own families. “It was very difficult for me to get approval from my parents to be a streamer because they thought I should study, take courses, and work,” Dexter says.

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