Yesterday, Saudi Arabian city, Neom, was announced as a Summer 2020 main partner for the League of Legends European Championship (LEC). The location was described as 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.” Saudi Arabian Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, has pumped $500 billion into Neom to build it up as a mega-city. Part of this is Neom sponsoring the Oracle Lens during LEC live broadcasts, which “helps players predict the next moves a team will make.” There’s clearly a lot of business at play here. but the League of Legends (LOL) community has come out against the sponsorship, highlighting Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses, ties to the Crown Prince, and how the city has negatively impacted an indigenous tribe.
I can’t and do not personally support this partnership.
Sponsors are essential for the esport to thrive, but not at the cost of human life and freedoms. https://t.co/LJUbKbCeZq
— Mark Yetter (@MarkYetter) July 29, 2020
Mark Yetter, lead gameplay designer for LOL, denounced the sponsorship on Twitter, declaring the moral implications too hefty of a price to pay. Other colleagues of Yetter shared similar sentiments on social media, including LEC color commentator Indiana “Froskurinn” Black, who remarked that she felt “silenced”. Black has been vocal about her status as a Trans Rights Activist, along with others in the company who feel their beliefs are compromised by working with what’s considered a transphobic government in Saudi Arabia. Esports commentator, James “Stress” O’Leary, offered support and LGBT+ themed flags to LEC competitors who wish to display them during broadcasts. Of course, lack of inclusivity is not the only issue being raised by the community though.
Shoutcaster for League of Legends Trevor “Quickshot” Henry, took to his Twitter page to call attention to an article from The Guardian that illustrates how the Neom city project is leading to the forced eviction of at least 20,000 members of the Huwaitat tribe. Henry also retweeted a post from Riot Games esports content producer Shakarez, where he revealed that he and others were “blindsided” by news of the sponsorship. Many fans have expressed their support for these employees, though there’s been no comment from Riot Games as of yet regarding the backlash.