European League of Legends organization stops Saudi sponsor after criticism

The League of Legends European Championship, better known as LEC, has cut ties with the Saudi Neom within two days of the announcement of the partnership. This step follows after much criticism from the community about the collaboration.

Alberto Guerrero, a director at Riot Games who covers the regions of Europe, the Middle East and Africa, has said in a statement that the LEC has ended its partnership with Neom immediately. “In an effort to expand our esports ecosystem, we have acted too quickly to perpetuate this partnership, causing fractures in the community we want to grow.” Guerrero makes no apologies, but calls the collaboration a mistake and says to “re-examine the internal structures” to prevent this from happening again.

Neom is a planned city in northwestern Saudi Arabia, on the borders of Egypt, Israel and Jordan, desired by the Saudi government and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. In the announcement two days ago, the LEC made it clear that Neom would be an important partner for the summer season of the European, professional League of Legends competition. It also briefly discussed what Neom is. The LEC described it as a new community for more than a million citizens in Saudi Arabia. According to the description, there will be cities and towns, ports and business areas, research centers, sports and entertainment facilities, and tourist destinations. The community would become a major contributor to the development of esports around the world.

Criticism quickly erupted and didn’t just come from non-professional League of Legends players. Numerous LEC casters, as well as a number of other celebrities and professional players, also criticized the collaboration. It focused on the laws in Saudi Arabia and policies against the LGBT community, but also on the human rights violations associated with the construction of the $ 500 billion megacity. Members of the Howeitat tribe live in that area, who are in danger of being expelled from their habitat. A London-based tribesman says in The Guardian that Neom “is built on our blood and our bones.”

G2 Esports, an esports organization that has been participating in the LEC with a team for years, has announced through CEO and founder Carlos Rodríguez Santiago that the teams or organizations were unable to stop the collaboration by vetoing. With that he responded to one statement of a journalist who claimed that the organizations had been informed about the collaboration with Neom a week ago and that nothing was done about it.

There is also a lot of comment on Twitter about the current outrage and criticism of the LEC collaboration with Neom. Quite a few people call it hypocritical, because Riot Games, the developer of League of Legends, is owned by the Chinese Tencent. This is often linked to the Chinese government and the large-scale human rights violations against the Uyghurs.

Incidentally, the LEC is not the only party in the world of esports that is or wanted to work with the Saudi Neom. Blast Premier, a tournament organizer for Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, also has a partnership with Neom on Tuesday announced.