Esports is and must be for everyone.
This is the clear message from Anders Hørsholt, director of the company Astralis Group, which among other things runs one of the world’s best counter strike teams, Danish Astralis.
The announcement comes in the wake of the fact that the worldwide esports company Blast from Denmark has entered into a partnership with the future city of Neom. It is a prestigious project rooted in the autocratic kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
If Saudi Arabia wants to participate in global sports, they must change
The government in Saudi Arabia is financing Neom with 500 billion dollars – more than 3 trillion kroner – but is at the same time notorious for massive human rights violations such as executions, oppression of women and bans on homosexuality and transgender people.
“We and our team are rooted in a strong set of values, which among other things is about inclusivity and embracing diversity,” says Anders Hørsholt.
“Therefore, of course, we find this kind of partnership unacceptable, which we also made clear to Blast immediately,” he says of the company, which through the Growth Fund is partly owned by the Danish state.
According to Anders Hørsholt, it is crucial for Astralis that Blast solves the problem if the Danish Counter Strike team is also to participate in the events that the Danish company is behind in the future – for example the events that have attracted thousands of spectators to Royal Arena in Copenhagen the last couple of years.
“We always want to solve this kind of problem directly with our partners and give them a fair chance to solve this in the right way. At the same time, however, we have made it clear that we can in no way stand up in a context where our brand, players or partners are connected with companies of this type, and we naturally expect Blast to find a solution, “says Anders Hørsholt .
That the criticism comes from Astralis is startling, because the Danish esports team and Blast are closely linked. Until last summer, the two players belonged to the same company called RFRSH Entertainment.
It has not succeeded in getting an interview with Blast, but in an email the company writes that it “currently has nothing to add to the story”.
Players will boycott Blast
In addition to the criticism from Astralis, a number of influential people in the Counter Strike community have also sharply distanced themselves from Blast’s partnership with Neom.
At least four well-known commentators and hosts on transmissions from tournaments – so-called casters – say they do not want to collaborate with Danish companies as long as there is an agreement with the Saudi prestige project. And they criticize the silence from Blast.
»Blast x Neom is a disgrace to the Blast brand – an organization that I know is filled with wonderful, talented and loving individuals. The idea that it can be silenced by ignoring (criticism, ed.) Is also not a standard or precedent that should be set, “writes the caster Harry Russell in a post on Twitter that has been liked by more than 1,000 players.
“I join my friends and colleagues by saying that I will not work with Blast as long as this partnership stands. It is not a problem that can just be forgotten, “he continues.
In direct continuation of those words, commentator Hugo Byron backs that initiative:
“If you do not support human rights, I can not support you. Blast’s partnership with Neom is not in line with what they otherwise claim to stand for, “writes Hugo Byron, referring to the Danish company’s official goal of creating” an equal platform in esports for every person, regardless of gender, background or color ‘.
In addition, the caster encourages its thousands of followers to “read up on the human rights violations committed by Neom and the project owners.”
Already, the Neom project is shrouded in controversy. To make room for the future city of northwestern Saudi Arabia, a local tribe called Huwaitat says more than 20,000 members are being displaced. In addition, a critic of the regime and the project has been shot by the security forces of the regime. From official sources, it sounds like he also shot at them – from the original people, it sounds like he was executed outside the system to stifle protests against Neom.
“For the Huwaitat tribe, Neom is being built on our blood, on our bones,” activist Alia Hayel Aboutiyah al-Huwaiti told The Guardian.
Another company has dropped the Neom deal
These are the very concrete consequences of the project. But the criticism is also that Blast with such a partnership helps to legitimize a strongly oppressive regime that does not accept homosexuality and transgender people, oppress women and executed 184 people in 2019.
“The Blast x Neom agreement is an opportunity to educate ourselves so that we no longer work with people who kill our friends,” writes the very popular Counter Strike host Frankie Ward, linking at the same time to a list of countries that criminalize LGBTQ + people, while adding that she wants to ‘remind people that some countries criminalize people to a point where one can be sentenced to death for not being heterosexual’.
With almost 65,000 followers on Twitter, she is a very influential person in the Counter Strike community and as recently as a tournament in March, she collaborated with Blast. But it will not happen again as long as the Danish company is a partner with Neom:
“No, absolutely not,” writes Frankie Ward.
Finally, commentator Vince Hill also strongly dissociates himself from Blast
“My principles are more important than a possible payslip. I will not work with them in the future unless the Neom agreement is terminated, “he wrote on Twitter in another popular post.
Just the pressure from casters, hosts and commentators recently helped get another esports company to drop a partnership with Neom. On the same day as Blast, the American game producer Riot Games, which among other things runs a global league in the League of Legends, announced a collaboration with the Saudi prestige project. But after heavy criticism – among other things from very influential people in the gaming environment – that agreement was quickly torn over again.
“We know we have recently harmed our communities, especially women, LGBT + people and our players in the Middle East. We are very sad about that, “it said in a statement.
This article was translated for English readers, courtesy of Politiken.