PON Athlete

At 13, Rafli Setiawan is youngest esports athlete at PON

At 13, Rafli Setiawan is youngest esports athlete at PON

Jakarta's esports athlete, Muhammad Rafli Setiawan, at the Doyo Baru Athlete Dormitory, Jayapura district on September 19, 2021. (ANTARA/Arindra Meodia/rst)

Thirteen-year-old Muhammad Rafli Setiawan from the Jakarta contingent will be the youngest athlete to compete at the esports exhibition at the XX Papua National Games (PON).

He said he has been playing Free Fire since elementary school when he was 11 years old.

"I was introduced by my friend to the game. At first, I saw him playing it and I wanted to try it too," he recalled at the Doyo Baru Athlete Dormitory, Jayapura District, which also has a hockey and cricket arena.

After he was introduced to the game by a neighborhood playmate, he said he and other kids formed a Free Fire team called 'Basreng'.

Rafli began participating in esports competitions with the 'Basreng' team in 2019. He said the team participated in several offline community-level tournaments.

Later on, he said he became even more interested in esports, especially in the Free Fire game, and began practicing as a rusher or attacker for his team.

"I watched a lot of videos from YouTube on how to become a rusher. After that I learned how to play, I practiced, and I finally liked it. Then I started to strategize to become a rusher myself. After that, I began to slowly understand the trick, the challenges, and finally, until now I am still a rusher position in my team," Setiawan explained.

Competing in Papua PON

Though he is relatively younger than the other esports players, including his teammates, Setiawan said he has never felt any discrimination.

He said he has been able to match the abilities of his teammates, Luthfan Aufa Faqih (23), Muladi Ahmad Yasin (20), and Muhammad Haikal (14), who are more experienced than him.

"They never put me down, they let me know if I make mistakes. If there are mistakes during the tournament, it will be evaluated as well," Setiawan remarked.

Setiawan's hard work with the team, which trained eight hours a day, paid off when they passed the provincial level of the Papua PON esports qualification. They successfully became Jakarta's representatives for the Free Fire team.

Not only that, the team was even able to outperform other provinces in the pre-PON event and qualified for the main round to fly to Papua to compete at the venue.

"It is good to be here to represent Jakarta, our training has paid off," Setiawan said.

Being the youngest esports player at Papua PON does not make him feel nervous or burdened with high expectations to prove his abilities, he added.

"I would prefer to play casually with every opponent. No matter how good my enemy is, I just keep fighting. In a game like this, we are all the same," said the student of SMP Negeri 181, Central Jakarta.

However, Setiawan said his parents did raise some objection to his traveling to Papua for the PON.

He said that being an esports athlete at a young age has not been easy for him, considering that electronic sports is a relatively new sport.

"My parents got angry at first. Because I became lazy and never ate on time, that is what they said. But yesterday, when I found out that I was chosen to represent Jakarta in Papua PON for the first time, they did not know what esports were. They finally let me go when the officials came to explain them about the situation," Setiawan added.

Parents' blessing

The blessing of his parents was certainly the most important thing for the Esports Association of Indonesia (PB ESI) to be able to take Setiawan more than 3,400 km from his home in Jakarta.

"Of course, parents are worried, especially since the competition is taking place in Papua that is really far away from Jakarta. There are concerns about his safety and health, but in the end, we could convince his parents as well," head of the Jakarta Esports Contingent, Michael Eprafas, informed.

Eprafas said PB ESI issued a letter of recommendation stating that Setiawan had been chosen and had the right to represent Jakarta in the XX Papua PON, which should be a matter of pride for his parents given their son's competence in the game.

"Furthermore, we also explained to his parents that PON is an official national game, a very large national tournament, and is officially supported by the government, in terms of health and safety as well," he added.

PB ESI Jakarta also obtained a permit from Setiawan's school so that he and other school-age children could take part in PON matches in Papua.

Setiawan said that he received support from his school, including his teachers who wished him luck at the XX Papua PON and asked him to bring home a gold medal.

Despite becoming an esports athlete, Setiawan is still prioritizing school and education.

"Education is number one, I still have to learn at school," he remarked.

But, he said he will also not hesitate to step up to reach his goal of becoming a professional esports player.

"I want to be a professional player and become a world champion," he added.

Esports will be featured in the biggest multi-sport championship in the country for the first time this year, though only as an exhibition. However, the Jakarta contingent has still sent the best athletes to achieve maximum results, Eprafas said.

Athletes will compete in three games in esports—Free Fire, Mobile Legends, and eFootball PES.

The XX Papua PON is scheduled to be held from October 2 to October 15 in Jayapura City and the districts of Jayapura, Merauke, and Mimika. Athletes from 37 sport branches will compete in Papua PON this year, while 10 exhibition sport branches will be introduced in the 2024 Aceh and North Sumatra PON, officials said.

Related news: Tija's journey from professional gaming to refereeing
Related news: Papua PON: Jakarta wins gold in PUBG Mobile esports exhibition
Related news: Papua PON exhibition final features 16 PUBG Mobile esports teams