Riot Games announces a League of Legends esports partnership with the Saudi government, prompting major criticism from fans and shoutcasters.
The League of Legends community was stunned this week when Riot Games announced a new partner for its European championship series, the LEC.
NEOM, a $500 billion city-state development back by the government of Saudi Arabia, would become the “main partner” for the LEC’s summer run of matches.
League of Legends esports events are viewed by a massive audience. The partnership gives NEOM exposure to millions of people.
Shortly after the partnership announcement, fans of the League of Legends esports championship began to deride organizer and developer Riot Games for teaming up with a group known for its egregious human rights abuses.
Saudi Arabia is ruled by sharia law and is one of several countries in the world where acts of homosexuality are punishable by death, says the Washington Post. Other punishments are fines, life imprisonment, and public whippings.
The Saudi government has also been criticized for NEOM city-state development.
While the Riot Games partnership speaks of a city with “research centers, sports and entertainment venues, and tourist destinations,” the Saudi government stands accused of forcefully evicting the people who live on the proposed site of the NEOM development. The Huwaitat tribe, which has lived in the area for generations, says it isn’t against the development but does not want to be evicted.
League of Legends fans pointed many of these issues out to Riot Games. Many fans also found irony in the fact that the LEC displays a rainbow-colored version of its logo on Twitter in support of LGBTQ rights while accepting money from a government famously against those same rights.
It wasn’t just fans, as many League of Legends streamers and LEC on-air talent say they too were blindsided by the announcement.
In tweets, LEC shoutcaster Andy Day called the partnership “very upsetting,” LEC shoutcaster Eefje Depoortere said she is “terribly disappointed,” and LEC shoutcaster Foxdrop shared an image of the LEC broadcast team wearing LGBTQ Pride shirts.
Week seven of the LEC summer split, when NEOM will officially begin its partnership, starts July 30. It is possible that the LEC’s on-air talent will stage some sort of protest during the event.
Out gay esports personality and former LEC shoutcaster James “Stress” O’Leary offered LGBTQ Pride flags to anyone who is “part of an LEC team” so that they can feature the banners on their team camera or content.
Shoutcaster Eefje Depoortere also said that the LEC broadcast team “feel blindsided” by the NEOM announcement and “want to take action.” It’s unclear what that action may look like, but it seems that shoutcaster and fans are going to make sure Riot Games knows how unhappy they feel.
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