The Saudi Arabian government has been making a huge push to endear itself to younger audiences with esportswashing and is courting streamers like Matthew “Mizkif” Rinaudo and Emily “Emiru” Schunk to do so.
Twitch streamer Pokelawls leaked some big news when he discussed a sponsorship offer he received. The Saudi Arabian government offered Pokelawls $100,000 for participation in a “charity” Fortnite tournament and for a series of social media posts promoting both the event and his time in Saudi Arabia. According to Pokelawls, the email explicitly noted that Mizkif and Emiru had already signed up to participate in the event.
The news drew swift criticism towards Mizkif and Emiru from fans. Many expressed disappointment and surprise that the duo would take part in and promote an “esportswashing” event for one of the world’s most notorious regimes.
What is esportswashing?
Esportswashing is when a government entity or official uses gaming to improve its international image. It’s the gaming equivalent of sportswashing, a phenomenon that is seen in many traditional sports.
Sportswashing can take many forms and can be done for many reasons. In Saudi Arabia’s case, advocacy groups have stated this is an effort to distract from ongoing human rights abuses and to rehabilitate the country’s image abroad after the assassination and dismemberment of a Washington Post journalist.
Saudi Arabia has been particularly aggressive in both sportswashing and esportswashing. The government has brought in a number of large boxing matches, purchased football club Newcastle United, and is aggressively expanding into the world of professional golf.
In the realm of gaming, Saudi Arabia’s efforts have been equally large. The country has hosted a number of “charity” events dubbed Gamers Without Borders and made a controversial push into League of Legends. A wealth fund attached to the government also bought the entirety of event organizers ESL and DreamHack, as well as matchmaking services ESEA and FACEIT. This potentially makes the Saudi government among the most powerful entities in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive esports, next only to Valve.
Alongside this, Saudi Arabia has been making aggressive acquisitions of video game studios. It owns a 5% share of Nintendo as well as 96% of King of Fighters publisher SNK Playmore.
Are Mizkif and Emiru going to Saudi Arabia?
Mizkif is no longer planning to go to Saudi Arabia. Though he acknowledged that he planned to participate in the event, he backpedaled after a discussion with Hasan “HasanAbi” Piker.
In a lengthy conversation, HasanAbi spoke with Mizkif about the various human rights abuses and high-profile incidents associated with the Saudi regime. Mizkif was visibly uncomfortable with the discussion as it progressed. He eventually stated “well I guess I’m not going.”
Emiru has not discussed the matter publicly. Ludwig “Ludwig” Ahgren stated that he was approached regarding the event, but declined outright. Odds are that the event will still ultimately attract a number of prominent names from the gaming and streaming communities.