Less than a day after announcing that the controversial Saudi megacity Neom would become a major sponsor of the League of Legends European Championship, Riot has reversed the decision. The news comes after fans, LEC staff, and Riot employees criticized the decision, due largely to the Saudi government’s long history of human right abuses, which extends to the creation of Neom itself, a city billed as a kind of sci-fi wonderland.
In a statement, Alberto Guerrero, Riot’s director of esports for the EMEA region, said:
As a company and as a league, we know that it’s important to recognize when we make mistakes and quickly work to correct them. 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. While we missed our own expectations in this instance, we’re committed to reexamining our internal structures to ensure this doesn’t happen again.
The LEC is one of the most popular professional gaming leagues in the world, and following the initial announcement, many staff spoke publicly about the decision to partner with the Saudi government. “I can’t and do not personally support this partnership,” Mark Yetter, lead gameplay designer on League of Legends, said. “Sponsors are essential for the esport to thrive, but not at the cost of human life and freedoms.”
The Saudi government appears to be using these kinds of esports sponsorships to burnish Neom’s futuristic image; outside of the LEC, the city also announced a partnership with CS:GO competition Blast.