Thousands of young Brazilians live in the favelas, where many of them spend countless hours per day playing video games and dream of one day being professional esports players.
With a predicted $1.5 billion market by 2023, even traditional football clubs like Vasco da Gama and Flamengo in Brazil have begun assembling esports teams to compete in games like League of Legends and Pro Evolution Soccer.
The top athletes take home millions, while the average wage of a professional League of Legends player is well over $400,000.
About a quarter of the Brazilian population lives in poverty, according to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics, making Brazil an exceedingly unequal society with a vast social chasm.
According to the Gini index (a tool used by the World Bank to evaluate inequality among countries or groups of people), social inequality in Brazil has grown in recent years. Half of the population in some areas, such as the Northeast, have to get by on less than $1.90 each day. The esports scene in the country is a microcosm of the country’s overall disparity.
Not everyone in the favelas has easy access to the internet or high-quality equipment, two necessities for any esports player or streamer. A poor internet connection or antiquated hardware can be disastrous in today’s hypercompetitive gaming scene, where milliseconds often determine the outcome of games.
People from the “asphalt,” or middle class, who live outside of poor areas and look down on those who live in the favelas because of their superior access to resources like education and healthcare, are vastly different from those who live in the favelas and have a different social status.
Agência Brasil, the government’s main news agency, published a survey in 2015 and found that the vast majority of Brazilians living in the suburbs are terrified to travel near a favela and associate the term “favela” with violence and drugs. In contrast, 65% of those living in favelas reported experiencing bias from those in the asphalt.
E-Sports as a Tool for Social Change
Raffael Simo, also known as “Dexter” in the game, is 25 years old and comes from a low-income area in the outskirts of Sao Paulo. He had a rough go of it till Zero Gravity, an esports organisation, hired him as a Fortnite streamer last year (although he also competes in tournaments).
Prior to that, he relied on the financial backing of his family to purchase equipment and woke up at 5 a.m. to work as a porter from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Having trouble making ends meet, Dexter was having a tough time. His wife needs hemodialysis treatment for a renal condition. He tweeted in September 2019 that he “was seeking for aid to get a health insurance plan for my wife because with the salary I was earning I could not afford.”
Someone from the Fortnite community banded together to assist. He wanted to boost the quality of his streams and acquire more exposure in the Fortnite community, so he registered with Zero Gravity.
Ideas and Struggle: A Tournament of Transformation
In 2019, Glauber Molinari and his wife Hanna Rocha established Zero Gravity. “We only hire young slum residents and people with low income,” Molinari says, explaining the team’s decision to recruit exclusively from low-income areas.
We saw that there was an economic barrier to entry for low-income young people in the competitive scene of esports. This led us to the conclusion that we should establish our group as a charitable endeavour.
Molinari, motivated by the desire to make an investment in players, chose to back the Favelas Cup, an initiative launched at the end of last year to popularise electronic sports in the slums of Brazil, at the behest of the Brazilian government (Copa das Favelas).
Is There a Need for Free Fire?
The battle royale game Free Fire was picked for both tournaments since it can be played for no cost and on any smartphone running Android or iOS.
Team Liquid’s Free Fire manager Bruno Santos claims that the game’s low system requirements make it ideal for players living in Brazil’s shantytowns.
Free Fire has over 450 million downloads and 80 million active users each day, and it was the most downloaded game in Brazil in 2020.