The LEC has canceled its partnership with the Saudi Arabian government amid backlash from both fans and individuals in the company.
The European League of Legends league announced a high-profile sponsorship deal with NEOM, a developing tourist destination in Saudi Arabia. The league received heavy criticism from players, team owners, fans, and Riot Games employees, including LEC casters and is now going back on its decisioon.
Riot’s EMEA esports director Alberto Guerrero detailed the decision in a new statement.
“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,” Guerrero wrote.
Today, to be transparent, was hours of meetings. The burden of explaining why this partnership was problematic and how it was unacceptable fell into the hands of marginalized folks. 1/3 https://t.co/3DYs3tAcen
— #NotoNEOM | #BlackLivesMatter (@QuachWatch) July 30, 2020
Many in and around the League of Legends pro scene accused the LEC’s allyship of being performantiave, and ultimately taking a backseat to potentially lucrative sponsorships. Former caster James “stress” O’Leary was particularly scathing in his criticism of the announcement:
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
Since the implementation of franchising, the LEC is selling itself as an inclusive league that celebrates individuals of all sorts. The league often celebrates events like Pride month. More recently, the LEC started using a Pride version of its logo to commemorate the Pride parade in Berlin, city where the league is based.
The partnership with Saudi Arabia flies in the face of this, with the country drawing consistent criticism from human rights advocacy groups in regards to its handling of its LGBT community. Even outside of this, Saudi Arabia has committed a number of grave human rights that have drawn international attention including the assassination of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
“While we missed our own expectations in this instance, we’re committed to reexamining our internal structures to ensure this doesn’t happen again,” Guerrero wrote.