Riot Games ends LEC’s partnership with NEOM

The partnership with the Saudi government-backed venture drew criticism from casters, employees, and fans

Less than 24 hours after it was announced, Riot Games has ended the League of Legends European Championship’s partnership with NEOM after widespread backlash and anger from casters, employees, and fans.

NEOM is a project to build a future-proof, technologically advanced mega city in Saudi Arabia, and is backed by the country’s government which has been widely condemned for its dark past when it comes to press freedom, the treatment of women and LGBT people, and general human rights violations. Because of this track record, the overwhelming majority of the League of Legends esports community expressed its disappointment and feelings of betrayal that the LEC, which looks to champion diversity and equality, would partner with a venture backed by the Saudi government.

Riot has now taken quick action and cancelled the partnership. While many were grateful that Riot had listened to the community and reversed the decision so rapidly, there was still a general sense that the partnership should not have been formed in the first place. Many are calling for more diversity higher up the chain in Riot to ensure something similar does not happen again.

In a statement Alberto Guerrero, Riot’s director of esports for Europe, Middle East, and Africa, admits that the partnership was formed too quickly and without consideration.

“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 says. “While we missed our own expectations in this instance, we’re committed to reexamining our internal structures to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”

With the LEC’s situation resolved, the esports industry’s attention has now swivelled to tournament organisers BLAST, who had also announced its own partnership with NEOM the day before the LEC’s.

BLAST finds themselves in an even trickier spot than the LEC, as their deal extends beyond just a simple sponsorship. BLAST says it will be actively working with NEOM and advising the project on how to become an esports hub in the region.