After less than 24 hours of backlash and fury from League of Legends fans and shoutcasters, Riot Games has reversed its partnership with city-state development NEOM. Riot had been fiercely criticized for making Saudi government-backed NEOM the leading partner of the LEC despite the Saudis’ long history of human rights abuses.
In a post on the official League of Legends esports site , Riot confirmed that it had ended its partnership with NEOM. A statement from Alberto Guerrero, the director of esports, EMEA, said:
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. After further reflection, while we remain steadfastly committed to all of our players and fans worldwide including those living in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East, the LEC has ended its partnership with NEOM, effective immediately. 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. While we missed our own expectations in this instance, we’re committed to reexamining our internal structures to ensure this doesn’t happen again.
Most League of Legends fans, critics, and Riot Games employees seem to have welcomed the news. Many are thankful that Riot listened to the community and the concerns raised against the Saudi government’s poor track record on human rights and treatment of LGBTQ people. They are also glad that Riot was able to move so quickly, meaning that NEOM would not be promoted in the LEC.
This doesn’t mean the controversy is over, as many are now questioning why Riot approved the partnership.
LEC shoutcaster Eefje Depoortere said she is “still left with many questions and concerns of how it came to be in the first place,” while shoutcaster Andy Day said that he and the team “are still upset and disappointed that this happened at all.”
Riot Games developer Riot Yuujou revealed that the partnership reversal had taken “hours of meetings.” He expressed frustration that the
burden of explaining why this partnership was problematic and how it was unacceptable fell into the hands of marginalized folks.
In several other tweets, the developer said that if Riot Games had more diverse leadership, “this could’ve easily been avoided.” Riot says that it is now looking at how this happened to ensure another NEOM-like partnership doesn’t happen again. It’s unclear if the diversity of the company is something that it will be thinking about.