Riot Games Partnership With Controversial Saudi City Project Results in Immediate Backlash [Update]

Riot Games Partnership With Controversial Saudi City Project Results in Immediate Backlash [Update]

Fans, commentators, and even Riot employees are publicly speaking out.

Update [9:05 p.m. PT]: Riot Games has announced it is ending its partnership with Neom. Alberto Guerrero, director of esports, EMEA, issued a statement on the decision:

"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."

Our original story follows:

Today, Riot Games announced that Saudi Arabian city project Neom would be a partner for the coming summer season of its European League of Legends championship. But the move sparked immediate and fervent response from fans, broadcast personnel, former and even current Riot Games employees over Neom's reported issues.

The League of Legends European Championship, or LEC, confirmed today that Neom will be a Main Partner for Summer 2020. Neom is a city development project being constructed in the northwest of Saudi Arabia, the vision of Saudi Arabia crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman that aims to be a new model of "sustainable living, working and prospering in Saudi Arabia," according to Riot's announcement.

Reports have painted Neom in a different light. A recent article from the Guardian outlines the reported eviction of native Huwaitat residents and the death of a resident reporting on these issues, whose supporters and rights groups claimed was an "extrajudicial" killing. That, alongside numerous human rights issues and the assassination of Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi within a Saudi consulate in Istanbul, drew immediate backlash over Riot's decision to partner with the Neom project, which it says will be "championing the development of esports across the world."

Both current and former members of the esports broadcast crew for Riot's League of Legends streams took to social media to voice their concerns over the partnership. Eefje Depoortere, a frequent face of Riot Games broadcasts and freelance host, and Indiana Black, a longtime League of Legends commentator, both expressed their disappointment alongside many others.

"There have been many good days to be a member of the LEC team," said Daniel Drakos, a commentator for Riot Games. "Today is not one of those days."

Other esports personnel have expressed their own concern over the partnership, and even Riot employees have stated their disagreement and disappointment. Jeff Latham, who manages esports comms for the LEC, expressed his frustration on Twitter, and a producer for Riot shared a GIF on Twitter of the Muppet Beaker with a blazing trash can, captioned as a "live look at riot [sic] internal slack."

We've reached out to Riot Games for comment on the matter. As of now, the company has made no comment to the public response, though it seems like it can't stay quiet forever.

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Eric Van Allen

News Editor

Eric is a writer and Texan. He's a former contributor to sites including Compete, Polygon, Waypoint, and the Washington Post. He loves competitive games, live music, and travel.

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