Riot Games’ League of Legends European Championship, or LEC, has announced a controversial partnership with Saudi Arabian “futuristic mega-city” NEOM for the remainder of the Summer 2020 split.
Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman himself is the head of the project. NEOM aims to bring top talent in the field of tech, esports, game development, and much more into the Middle Eastern country. The estimated budget for the project is $500 billion.
— LEC (@LEC) July 29, 2020
The project will sponsor a new feature in the LoL league’s broadcast—the Oracle Lens. This will be a brief, presumably AI-led prediction of what might happen next in a given game.
“NEOM is 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,” said an official LEC statement.
NEOM: Let down and frustrated
However, not everyone was as thrilled with the news as the LEC themselves. Whilst the United States (and a lot of the Western world) might have their own issues at the moment, Saudi Arabia is an internationally-recognized violator of human rights in many areas. Amongst these violations are the practically nonexistent LGBTQ+ rights in the country, with the highly-religious government routinely punishing queer people.
A whole host of Riot employees from the LEC tweeted their less-than-positive feelings about the decision. They included casters Aaron “Medic” Chamberlain, Indiana “Froskurinn” Black, and Daniel “Drakos” Drakos. Most cutting was Mad Lions community manager James “Stress” O’Leary, who is gay, shown below.
The league I cover is now promoting a country that would kill me just for existing. Feels great.
— James ‘Stress’ O’Leary (@StressCasts) July 29, 2020
Additionally, Trevor “Quickshot” Henry, one of Riot’s and the LEC’s longest-serving employees, wordlessly tweeted a link. It sent users to a Guardian newspaper article about the Huwaitat tribe, who have been evicted from their land to make space for NEOM.
Other fans were quick to point out that just a few days ago, the LEC had a pride colored broadcast. On top of that, many LEC employees are diverse and open with their sexuality.
Whatever this partnership between Riot and this Saudi tech city may produce doesn’t change the abysmal human rights record of Saudi Arabia and their terrible treatment of the LGBTQ+ community. It seems this deal is more than unpopular with the LEC team and the wider League of Legends community. So, we’ll have to see how this pans out over the next few weeks.
Other (less controversial) LEC sponsors include gaming chair maker Secretlab, biscuit brand KitKat, car manufacturer Kia Motors, and energy giant Shell.