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In wake of NEOM scandal, Riot to establish Global Deals Council and Ethics Committee

After the outcry over the LEC’s rapidly rescinded sponsorship with NEOM, Riot have announced the creation of a Global Deals Council and an Ethics Committee.

Riot Games are set to establish a Global Deals Council and Ethics Committee, the developer revealed to employees in an internal call on Thursday. The decision, as reported by ESPN, is the latest in a series of responses following the controversial deal the LEC, and by extension Riot, made with nascent Saudi Arabian city-state NEOM.

The Global Deals Council’s remit will come with an “internal deal tracker” that is intended to offer company-wide transparency over all business development and sponsorship deals, and is to be comprised of representatives from Riot’s Global Esports team, the Social Impact Division (that goes by the name “Karma”), and the company’s Legal, Diversity and Inclusion teams. The council is said to answer directly to Riot’s Senior Vice President, Mark Sottosanti, and Head of Corporate and Business Development, Brian Cho.

Speaking about the Global Deal Council, Riot president Dylan Jadeja told employees on the call,  "The intent is for all of us to have a voice to raise a flag and for that to be followed through on... [the Global Deals Council], that department, will also be responsible for formalizing and reinforcing the deal evaluation framework."

LEC NEOM Riot (Photo: Riot Games)

The Ethics Committee - a separate entity - was reportedly created after discussions with outside advisors, and will be tasked with evaluating deals, commenting on Riot’s direction and philosophy, and evaluating relationships Riot has with global partners. Intriguingly, this also comes with a focus on what countries the company operates in.

The NEOM deal was cancelled on the 29th of July, within 24 hours after it was announced, after mass public outcry internally and externally. Part of the internal reflection Riot has been undergoing in its wake also uncovered some glaring concerns about the lead up to both the deal’s ratification and announcement. There was something of a comedy of errors - staff were notified also less than 24 hours before the deal was announced; the deal itself was unable to be vetoed by the Global Esports team (something that the new Deals council should assuage); and then most bizarrely, the deal was initially brokered via miscommunication.

Brought forward by an external agency, Lagadère Sports, who manages the LEC’s sponsorship and sales, the NEOM deal was pushed up the bureaucratic chain via a visibility email, and then was then neither approved or disapproved by executives. In turn, this led the development team that had taken charge of the deal to believe they had the go ahead to proceed.

While the NEOM deal’s cancellation was welcome, Riot’s internal Q&A sessions about the move the day after were notably less well received by Riot staff, and left many disappointed and disenfranchised with management. Riot Games CEO, Nicolo Laurent, admitted the executive team had come unprepared to those meetings, and spoke out with Chief Diversity Officer, Angela Roseboro, and Chief People Officer, Emily Winkle, to echo their outspoken staff’s sentiments in the call on Thursday.

The Global Deals Council and the Ethics Committee are intended to provide transparency and accountability, and safeguard against another ethically distasteful deal, and their creation marks actionable responses by senior Riot management to the systematic issues that the NEOM deal unveiled. Whether they will actually prove capable of living up to their intended goals is another matter, but it is a step beyond the non-answers Rioters were fearing last week.

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