After weeks of silence and sustained pushback from fans and professional talent alike, BLAST owner RFRSH Entertainment has announced the end of its partnership with NEOM.
The news was announced in an internal meeting with the tournament organizer, which was obtained by HLTV. No further details on the call were reported, but this follows a number of esports teams and casters criticizing the partnership on social media.
The BLAST x NEOM deal is an opportunity to educate ourselves so that we no longer work with people who would kill our friends.https://t.co/OY5lnFtcVK
— Frankie (@FrankieWard) August 5, 2020
Last month, BLAST and Europe’s top League of Legends league, the LEC, simultaneously announced a partnership with NEOM. NEOM is an autonomous region being built in Saudi Arabia, designed to be a futuristic city and tourist destination.
The construction has been facilitated by brutal demands on Saudi Arabia’s migrant worker population, as well as a deadly crackdown on the native population of the region where NEOM is being constructed.
The LEC partnership drew enormous criticism within the League of Legends pro scene, primarily for long-standing human rights abuses in the country. Fans pointed out the hypocrisy of the LEC announcing the news while it was celebrating LGBT pride with a rainbow logo. Saudi Arabia has a poor record with human rights for LGBT persons, according to advocacy groups such as the Human Rights Watch.
The criticism came from a number of LEC casters and esports organizations in and around the LEC. The backlash facing the LEC was so loud that Riot Games backed away from the partnership in 24 hours.
For the avoidance of doubt, neither G2 nor myself will be taking money “earned” from genocide and ethnic cleansing. Ever.
G2 and myself stand against violations of basic human rights and any leadership that promotes such.
Please have patience and stop implying things ffs.
— ocelote CarlosR (@CarlosR) July 29, 2020
BLAST did not receive the same level of backlash, but still faced steady criticism from a number of individuals within the scene. This has included content creators and casters. There was also some crossover between LEC and BLAST-affiliated esports organizations, such as G2 Esports.
While the LEC was quick to respond to the outcry, BLAST has been entirely silent since the initial announcement of the NEOM partnership. As of this writing, it has not yet made an official announcement regarding the partnership.
The cessation of the partnership is undoubtedly a financial hit to BLAST, as Saudi Arabia’s government has used its lavish spending to attempt a redefining of the country’s narrative abroad. RFRSH may now scrambling to find a new partner to help bankroll its CSGO league.