The backlash was as immediate as it was wide-reaching: the LoL community and broadcast talent, both on and off-air, from the LEC and beyond spoke up in resolute discontent about the league’s newest partner, Mohammed bin Salman’s brainchild NEOM. That partnership has now officially been ended less than 24 hours after it was announced.
In a statement, Alberto Guerrero, Director of Esports for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, said this: “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.”
Glad to see the decision was quickly recognized as a poor one & responded to. https://t.co/YZvA2yi406— Isaac CB (@RiotAzael) July 30, 2020
It was clear that LEC staff had been left blindsided by the sponsorship announcement to NEOM - a planned, technological megacity, that has raised alarming ethical concerns - and felt massively hypocritical, considering the LEC’s very pro-LGBT+ broadcast and talent in contrast with Saudi Arabia’s notoriously brutal treatment and persecution of that community. One poignant tweet from ex-caster and now a member of MAD Lions, James “Stress” O’Leary, bitterly stated that the league he covered was supporting a country that “would kill me just for existing.”
The league I cover is now promoting a country that would kill me just for existing. Feels great.— James ‘Stress’ O’Leary (@StressCasts) July 29, 2020
Such a massive reversal within less than 24 hours is a huge coup for the community and broadcast talent that put their livelihoods on the line to speak out, and does speak to the power of the LoL and greater esports community to enact and enforce change within itself.
- Read More: The recent NEOM sponsorships are a travesty - there can be no place for human rights abuse in esports
The official LEC response goes on to say they are “committed to reexamining our internal structures to ensure this doesn't happen again,” but the question still remains how was this deal green-lit when the league knew full well what this deal would mean for the fans and their on-air team. The LEC’s turn-around was an impressively swift response to be sure, but importantly one that should have been avoided in its entirety.