Not even a day after announcing their League of Legends European Championship (LEC) sponsorship deal with Saudi Arabian city, Neom, Riot Games has severed ties with their, now former, sponsor due to fierce backlash from fans and employees alike. The company was bombarded on social media with messages highlighting Saudi Arabia’s countless human rights violations, transphobic culture, and the impact of the Neom city project on the Huwaitat indigenous tribe. Riot Games was quick to backtrack on the sponsorship, and offered somewhat of an explanation for the deal in the first place.
Their statement reads, “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… the LEC has ended its partnership with NEOM, effective immediately.” Riot Games says they are still committed to their fans in the Middle East and Saudi Arabia, and such commitment lead to their hasty sponsorship deal with the city of Neom. They shed more light on this, saying “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… we’re committed to reexamining our internal structures to ensure this doesn’t happen again.” Following the new, many who criticized the company have now come out to commend them on this decision. Among them is Mark Yetter, lead gameplay designer for League of Legends, and one of the first to lead the charge against the Neom sponsorship.
Ty LEC this is the right thing to do. https://t.co/9wQtdKgGM5
— Mark Yetter (@MarkYetter) July 30, 2020
There’s been no comment as of yet from anyone representing the city of Neom, but it will be interesting to see if other companies will pull out of their deals as well. Counter-Strike: Global Offensive competition, BLAST, have also partnered with the city of Neom to help “propel the growth of esports in Saudi Arabia.” The country is using these esports deals to promote a futuristic image of the city, with the goal being to create a kind of technological wonderland. However, their initiatives have trampled the human rights of many in the area and acts almost as a propaganda to cover these issues. Needless to say, Riot Games made the right call here.