League Of Legends Announces Then Cancels Saudi Arabia Esports Deal

Published: July 30, 2020 8:34 AM /


Lux, Kayn, and Ekko in League of Legends

Riot Games' popular MOBA League of Legends has cancelled a partnership it struck up with Saudi Arabia's NEOM smart city project. NEOM was originally slated to become the LEC (League of Legends European Championship) main partner for the summer season, but amid backlash surrounding controversial elements of the project, Riot Games has backed down. The partnership was announced yesterday and dissolved today.

Why has League of Legends' NEOM partnership been cancelled?

This news comes via a statement given by Riot Games' EMEA esports director Alberto Guerrero. In the statement, Guerrero says it "moved too quickly" to cement this partnership and "caused rifts" in its community. It doesn't actually state a concrete reason for the dissolution, but the announcement had been controversial among fans of League of Legends.

The reasons for this are likely numerous. Saudi Arabia as a country doesn't have the strongest human rights record; homosexuality is still criminalized in the country, and since LEC is currently sporting a logo inspired by the Pride movement, fans say this is a conflict of principles. In addition, the NEOM project itself - an ambitious city-state endeavor which promises to include "flying cars" and "robot dinosaurs" - is racked by controversy. UK news platform The Guardian alleges that Saudi authorities are removing and potentially killing Huwaiti tribe members in order to make way for NEOM.

So why did this partnership happen in the first place?

In its original announcement, Riot says that NEOM "has their sights set on the future" and is "championing the development of esports across the world". Either Riot wasn't aware of the issues surrounding NEOM and Saudi Arabia, or it chose to ignore them. Guerrero says Riot will be "reexamining our internal structures to ensure this doesn't happen again". It's worth noting that Danish tournament organizer BLAST still has a partnership in place with NEOM. What happens to that partnership in light of Riot's decision remains to be seen. We'll bring you more on this as we get it.

What do you think about Riot's decision? Let us know in the comments below!

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