Esports Community Pissed Over Saudi Partnership Deal

Esports Community Pissed Over Saudi Partnership Deal
Image: Riot

Yesterday two major European esports brands — the Counter-Strike Global Offensive tournament organiser BLAST Premier and Riot’s League of Legends European Championship division — announced a sponsorship deal with NEOM, a 500 billion dollar techno-city funded by Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The announcement is drawing waves of criticism from esports personalities and fans.

The choice to partner with bin Salman and NEOM is contentious. Bin Salman is suspected of ordering the fancy wrestling matches while excluding female wrestlers.

NEOM is a proposed futuristic city founded by bin Salman, which may include “flying taxis,” “robot maids,” and a “giant artificial moon.” Part of NEOM’s vision for the future includes esports. The League of Legends post announcing the partnership calls NEOM “a new community that will be the home and workplace for more than a million citizens from around the world who want to be part of building a new model for sustainable living, working, and prospering in Saudi Arabia.” Prospering in Saudi Arabia unless you happen to be a member of the Huwaitat tribe living on the land the government wants for its project. A May 2020 article in The Guardian states, “At least 20,000 members of the tribe now face eviction due to the project, with no information about where they will live in the future.” The article also alleges that a Huwaitat activist was killed in a shoot-out with the government after he spoke out against the forced evictions.

It seems NEOM will have at least some presence in LEC broadcasts. “NEOM has their sights set on the future,” the League of Legends post reads. “And to help future-proof the LEC stage, they’ll be sponsoring the Oracle Lens during live broadcasts which helps players predict the next moves a team will make.”

The BLAST Premier announcement includes the addition of a NEOM-themed map to Counter-Strike and collaboration on building an “esports academy” within the city.

“Esports is at the centre of NEOM’s exciting plans for Sport,” wrote BLAST CEO Robbie Douek. “We’re delighted to be able to assist them in shaping this long-term goal.”

The announcement sparked anger from both Counter-Strike and LoL communities. On-air personalities for LoL expressed dismay at the deal.

Other esports community members pointed out the hypocrisy of Riot’s Pride friendly message while working with a government notorious for its LGBTQ human rights abuses.

Kotaku has reached out to BLAST and Riot for comment.


  • Don’t forget the state sponsored murder of a journalist that most countries essentially let then get away with.

    Not to mention Americas repeated bending over backwards for the Saudis because they buy weapons from them, even though they were behind 9/11 and continue to inflict warcrimes on Yemen to this day.

    Saudi Arabia is one of the biggest sponsors of terrorism. They are the ones that exported Wahhabism which led to the rise of groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS.

    These game companies really need to reconsider their involvement with this country.

    • The League of Legends players don’t have a whole lot of legs to stand on either, Riot’s owned by Tencent, whom threw a massive fit when one of the NBA team execs said he supported the rights of those protesting in Hong Kong.

      Not to mention China’s internement camps for millions of Uighur muslims. You can’t end racism whilst supporting and promoting companies owned by China / Tencent.

      I would kinda like if game reporting sites took a bit of a stance against all the companies owned by Tencent, especially Epic when it comes to “Look at all the free games they have this week!”

      • The issue would be they (and anyone against the regime) need to avoid anything that’s made, manufactured, assembled, provided and mined from China, including products/services owned by Americans and other countries. Why? Money still flows to China one way or another.

        How many of us don’t have a single item that came from China?

        How many of us can safely say that our electronic products don’t contain parts that came from China?

        Valve Steam has a deal with China to release their version of Steam.

        It’s easy to say no to Tencent, but what about the thousands of other things that come from China?

        I’ve got problems with certain country selling weapons and perpetuating war on foreign soils, but it’s not possible for me to avoid buying anything from them.

        • Throwing your hands up in the air in defeat isn’t the answer either. Nobody can simply cut everything Made In China out of their life, because it’s quite hard to find where some products are even made.

          But making little steps from a lot of people can make a big difference.

  • While I understand the anger, just remember that Riot is owned by Tencent, who have heavy ties to the CCP and we all know how good of a human rights record China has.. So it does come off as a slight dose of cherry picking from the LEC casters.

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