Riot's LEC partners with Saudi tech city NEOM
provided by Riot Games

Riot Games is under heavy criticism after announcing a partnership between the League of Legends European Championship (LEC) and NEOM, a proposed mega-city in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday. The city and the company building it are owned by Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed Bin Salman. Among those criticizing Riot Games for the partnership is G2 founder and CEO Carlos Rodríguez.

Bin Salman and the Saudi government hopes that the $500 billion mega-city will bring in a wave of esports related business and tourism to the nation. Unfortunately for Riot Games, LEC teams and players, and the citizens of Saudi Arabia, the city comes at the cost of multiple alleged human rights violations.

FNATIC streamer Michael “Veteran” Archer tweeted on Wednesday that LEC teams and organizations could have vetoed the partnership but chose not to. Archer did not divulge more about the decision making process or exactly how much power teams have in deciding who Riot Games chooses to partner with.

Rodríguez disagreed with this assessment, stating that Archer’s take “isn’t true” and tagged the main FNATIC Twitter account in the tweet. In a follow-up, Rodríguez stated that teams have no power in deciding who LEC partners with. Twitter user Corfish then asked for Rodríguez to publicly condemn the human rights violations of the Saudi government. Rodríguez responded with a powerful condemnation.

“For the avoidance of doubt, neither G2 nor myself will be taking money ‘earned’ from genocide and ethnic cleansing,” Rodríguez said, speaking for both himself and his team in a tweet. “G2 and myself stand against violations of basic human rights and any leadership that promotes such.” Rodríguez also asked for fans to have patience and to not leap to assumptions about the situation. Asking for patience is a tall order, however, when Riot Games and multiple other teams and organizations have remained silent on the partnership.

Riot Games takes one step forward and two steps back

The partnership announcement feels extremely tone-deaf given Riot Game’s history with sexual assault and workplace inequality. Earlier this year, the gaming giant donated more than $10 million to underrepresented gaming communities and charities while ousting former head of global product Ron Johnson for comments on the murder of George Floyd. Meanwhile, in 2019, Riot Games agreed to pay “at least $10 million” to current and former employees as part of a class-action lawsuit.

As of this writing, Riot Games has not addressed the bloody history of NEOM and the Saudi Arabian government. Daily Esports reached out to Riot Games for a statement from Riot Games and will update the story with their response.

UPDATE: Riot Games issued a brief but decisive statement, ending the short lived partnership with NEOM and the Saudi government.

Ryan Hay
Ryan Hay is a writer and content creator currently living in New York. Video games, anime, and Magic: The Gathering have all been strong passions in his life and being able to share those passions with others is his motivation for writing. You can find him @TheRyanHay on Twitter where he complains about losing on MTG Arena a lot.