The LEC has announced the immediate end of its partnership with Saudi Arabia-backed development company NEOM. The news came less than 24 hours after the initial announcement in a series of posts on social media and their official website.
The company faced an outpouring of criticism following its initial announcement of the sponsorship early on the morning of July 29. Figures across esports, fans of the league, casters, analysts, and even the league’s own employees declared their outrage at the company’s association with NEOM – a company backed by the Saudi Arabian state. The partnership was seen as incredibly hypocritical given that country’s stance on LGBTQ+ issues, and the LEC’s own campaigns to support those same issues.
NEOM was also highlighted as an extremely harmful project in its own right. Backed by the Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, who’s own international profile is far from stellar, the project looked to “relocate” native Howeitat tribe members in order to build a tech-filled mega-city 33 times the size of New York City.
Criticism around the move came to an apex on the evening of July 29, when calls to boycott the LEC and other leagues began. Furthermore, there was increased activity within Riot Games, which hinted at a planned walkout. Late on the same evening, a document originally detailing the demands from last May’s “Riot Walkout” received new edits, hinting that the internal organisers were mobilising. The retraction of the deal came just hours after these movements.
News of the LEC’s withdrawal from the deal was welcomed by many who’d previously criticised the announcement of the sponsorship.
However, while many have applauded the LEC and it’s parent company Riot Games for the rapid turn around in pulling the partnership, others point out that this is just the tip of the iceberg. Many across the LoL community and esports say this isn’t enough, and that for such a hypocritical decision to be made, the league as a whole should be held accountable. They call for the revelation of decision-makers in this deal.
But regardless of any internal fallout, the damage to the LEC has been done. People won’t soon forget this misguided deal and that the organisation was poised to commit to it for the rest of the summer split. Meanwhile, BLAST Premier remains affiliated with NEOM, an announcement they revealed a day prior to the LEC’s.