Gaming

Stay away from football: The game is all the rage in Brazil’s favelas

Stay away from football: The game is all the rage in Brazil's favelas

Ask Brazilian teenager Yan Araujo who his idols are, and he doesn’t hesitate. Not Neymar. Not Vinicius Junior. “Nobru and Cerol,” he says – the superstars of the burgeoning gamer scene in Brazil’s favelas.

Like his heroes, 15-year-old Araujo is an avid player of Free Fire, an online multiplayer game designed for mobile phones – perfect for Brazil’s poor slums, where expensive game consoles are rare but phones are relatively easy to find. by.

Football was once the undisputed king of dreams for favela children in Brazil, the country that has won the World Cup more times than any other – five.

But a growing number now aspire to become professional gamers, inspired by Nobru, Cerol and other eSports phenoms who became rich and famous playing video games.

With the dexterity of a virtuoso guitarist, Araujo glides his long, slender fingers across his screen in a favela on the outskirts of the capital, Brasilia, playing what he considers much more than a game.

“I dream of becoming a Free Fire player, becoming famous and helping people,” he says, wearing a red track jacket and bobbing his head in time with the game.

Araujo and five teammates from the P Sul favela won the Brasilia Free Fire Championships last year, organized by the favela community organization CUFA.

Free Fire is what is called a “battle royale” game: up to 50 players parachute onto an island, then search for weapons to hunt down and kill each other.

The last one standing wins.

Developed by a Vietnamese company, the game launched in 2017 and was a huge hit in Brazil.

paid to play

“The kids are all crazy about” Free Fire, says Carlos Campos, CUFA coordinator in Brasilia.

Last year’s national championships attracted 80,000 players from the favelas.

According to a 2021 survey by the Data Favela Institute, 96% of favela children aged 15 and under want to become professional gamers, and 29% consider it their biggest dream in life.

“A lot of kids have this dream, because they saw that it’s a job, that people in their world become champions, that it can be a way to make money,” Campos said.

Young Brazilians are playing football less and less to play video games, which could ultimately have an impact on Brazilian elite sport. AFP

The 2021 national championships awarded 100,000 reais ($20,000) to the winning team.

The biggest names in gaming have even become influencers and pros, like Bruno “Nobru” Goes, who streams his games online and has 13 million followers on Instagram.

The 21-year-old reportedly earns around $500,000 a month from webcasts, earning him the nickname ‘Neymar of Free Fire’.

“He really is basically the Neymar of the game. He comes from a poor community, he worked hard, spent long hours playing and look where he is today,” says Araujo.

Paris Saint-Germain superstar Neymar has even gotten into the eSports craze: in December, the gaming fanatic signed a deal to stream his own games on Facebook Gaming.

Major Brazilian football clubs, including Flamengo and Corinthians, have meanwhile launched their own eSports teams.

Convince mom

Football managers seeking talent in the favelas, which have produced stars such as Real Madrid’s Vinicius Junior and Manchester City’s Gabriel Jesus, say there is less interest in football than before.

“Some players don’t show up for training because they play Free Fire,” says Joao de Oliveira, coach of Brasilia favela football academy Toque de Bola.

“It’s a bit early to say that the majority choose Free Fire over football, but the game is gaining momentum day by day.”

Araujo’s teammate Matheus da Silva says he is training to become the next ‘Bak’ – Free Fire star Gabriel Lessa, the seven-time Brazilian champion.

“He is like [Lionel] Messi – seven Ballons d’Or, seven national championships,” says Da Silva.

The teenager’s mother, Claudia Gomes da Silva, said at first that she disapproved of him spending so much time playing on the mobile phone.

But when her team won the Brasilia championships, she began to change her mind.

“It’s more than a game,” she says.

“He could well become a great player and make a living from it.”