LEC Announces Controversial Partner in Saudi Arabia’s NEOM
Riot Games and the League of Legends European Championship made an incredibly, almost terrifying move today. In what can only be seen as controversial, the LEC’s main partner for the remainder of the Summer Split is the Saudi Arabian company NEOM. Why is this such a big deal? For a company supposedly big on inclusivity and diversity, partnering with a Saudi company is a pretty damning indictment of what matters: money.
It’s not a big secret that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia doesn’t value LGBTQ+ lives, and is more than willing to see people executed for not being heterosexual. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has spent millions of dollars over the last few years trying to improve its image, but the facts haven’t changed. This is a very controversial, disgusting decision.
NEOM Has Their Eyes on the Future
NEOM is a city planned for the northwest of Saudi Arabia. It will border Egypt, Israel, and Jordan. The LEC claims that NEOM has “their eyes set on the future” and will sponsor the Oracle Lens during live broadcasts. The aim? To future-proof the LEC stage.
The problem is that the Public Investment Fund owns NEOM. That’s one of the largest sovereign wealth funds in the entire world. They operate for the government of Saudi Arabia, so I wouldn’t expect to see them embrace diversity as much as anyone would claim. Apparently, this city will be 33 times the size of New York City.
“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,” the LEC’s announcement reads. “It will include towns and cities, ports and enterprise zones, research centers, sports and entertainment venues, and tourist destinations all designed to play a leading role in global development – and will be championing the development of esports across the world.”
What was the response from the community? As you can probably expect, immediate and justified outrage. Casters, analysts, popular figures in the community have spoken. Drakos, Froskurinn and Medic are among the many who are against this intolerable decision. The LEC is supposed to be inclusive, diverse. Anyone can compete, regardless of their orientation, race, et al.
Partnering with one of the most anti-diversity nations in the world is pretty telling. “The league I cover is now promoting a country that would kill me just for existing,” said James “Stress” O’Leary, community manager for the MAD Lions. “Feels great.”
Sure, this megacity is a neat idea. If it were anywhere else in the world, funded by anyone else, it might seem like a great, inclusive idea. Alas, it’s funded by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The Saudi view on diversity is tenuous. It’s condemned by Sharia law to be on the LGBTQ+ spectrum. Whipping, fines, incarceration, chemical castration, and likely death are what these people can expect, simply for existing.
To see the NEOM announcement tells us that only money truly matters, not the people who play, cast, and support the LEC. You can’t say that you support diversity and inclusivity, and then immediately pull this kind of stunt.