The League of Legends European Championship has ended its partnership with Saudi Arabia’s NEOM several hours after the original announcement. The decision comes after public backlash. The deal with the Saudi Arabian government-owned city caught many League of Legends talents and players by surprise. The community outrage following the announcement berated the League for partnering with an entity that is firmly against LGBTQ+ and has several human rights violations to its name.
LEC’s Controversial Partnership With NEOM
The LEC announced on Wednesday NEOM as its main partner for the Summer Split. NEOM was to future-proof the LEC stage and sponsor live segments of the official broadcast. The partnership was to commence from Week 7 of the Summer Split.
The announcement alienated esports players and many LEC talent who did not want any association with the Saudi Arabian company. Saudi Arabia practices the Muslim Sharia law under which it is illegal to be gay or transgender. Same-sex marriages are not allowed and punishments include public beheading, stoning, amputation and lashing. The League of Legends European Championship has been using an updated pride-themed branding for the past several weeks. LEC’s pride-themed logo accompanied the NEOM partnership announcement.
I understand that a company is not responsible for the laws of the country it resides in, but this is literally an advertisement to go to a location where I and many other #LEC fans could be threatened by torture or even the death penalty for existing.
— Darius (@DariusExMachina) July 29, 2020
Community Criticism Following the Announcement
The hypocrisy of the pride-themed logo and the NEOM partnership was not lost on community members who criticized the League’s decision on social media. They highlighted the fact that the LEC partnered with an entity from a country that does not recognize LGBTQ+ people. Mohammad Bin Salman Al Saud, the founder of NEOM, is also the crown prince of Saudi Arabia. He has a dismal human rights record. According to a CIA report, he also ordered the assassination of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
LEC Ends Its Partnership, Acknowledges Mistake
Following community outrage, the League has since acknowledged its mistakes. A few hours after the deal’s original announcement, LEC announced late Wednesday that it has ended its partnership with NEOM.
“As a company and as a league, we know that it’s important to recognize when we make mistakes and quickly work to correct them. After further reflection, while we remain steadfastly committed to all of our players and fans worldwide including those living in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East, the LEC has ended its partnership with NEOM, effective immediately. In an effort to expand our esports ecosystem, we moved too quickly to cement this partnership and caused rifts in the very community we seek to grow. While we missed our own expectations in this instance, we’re committed to reexamining our internal structures to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”
Several prominent members of the community, including players and talent expressed outrage at the announcement.
I am terribly disappointed.
— Eefje Depoortere (@sjokz) July 29, 2020
The league I cover is now promoting a country that would kill me just for existing. Feels great.
— James ‘Stress’ O’Leary (@StressCasts) July 29, 2020
This is disappointing because this is the LEC. It's my team, my product, my managers, my office.
My family. My home.
This isn't someone far away in HQ that I don't know. This is devastating because I know who made these choices and I feel silenced.
— Froskurinn (@Froskurinn) July 29, 2020
human rights violation HYPE https://t.co/cpb5FNRHXh
— Yiliang Peng (@TSMDoublelift) July 29, 2020
— Trevor Henry (@Quickshot) July 29, 2020
I cannot express how frustrated and disappointed I am with #LEC today.
— Medic (@MedicCasts) July 29, 2020
The community lauded LEC’s swift action and welcomed the decision to end the NEOM deal. However, many believe that Riot’s decision was forced due to community pressure.
Okay, we gotta talk about this real quick:https://t.co/A65J3oO88x
I'll start with some context, move on to why I didn't post anything about the original announcement, and we'll finish with PR spin and maybe a dog learning to use a ramp (unrelated)
— Daniel Zenon Klein (@danielzklein) July 30, 2020
What is NEOM?
NEOM is a futuristic smart city, a dream project of the Saudi Arabia crown prince. The city, to be complete by 2025, is under construction in the Northwest province of the country. With promises of flying cars, artificial moon and glow-in-the-dark sand, NEOM is the world’s most ambitious project.
Tencent, a Chinese multinational company with deep ties to the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP), owns Riot Games.
Riot Games and CS:GO tournament organizer BLAST were some of the few companies to host esports events in Saudi Arabia last year despite public backlash. A few days ago, BLAST announced a partnership with Saudi Arabia’s futuristic city. The partnership will see the development of a NEOM-themed Counter-Strike map, jobs for NEOM citizens at BLAST events and the development of the city as the esports hub of the middle-east.
There are calls for BLAST to end its deal with NEOM following in the LEC’s footsteps. Esportsking will update this article if and when BLAST comments about their partnership with NEOM.