Riot Games canceled its League of Legends esports partnership with Saudia Arabia after massive backlash

    
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The League of Legends esports community was set on fire and then partially doused this week thanks to a decision – now rescinded – by Riot Games to partner with Saudi Arabia’s controversial Neom project for the League of Legends European Championship (LEC) tournament.

Presumably our audience reads the news beyond gaming and is already familiar with the starkly anti-LGBTQ position and human rights history of Saudi Arabia’s government and ruling family, as well as with the future city of Neom, a project that’s faced widespread criticism over the government displacing, arresting, and killing members of the indigenous people who already live in the proposed land. If not, now you have the gloss and the links.

In any case, the game’s Reddit erupted. Polygon compiled a list of casters, commentators, and even multiple Riot staff who were aghast at the move, which came as Europe is in the midst of its annual LGBTQ pride celebration.

Last night, just two days after the announcement, Riot canceled its partnership with Neom.

“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.”

Source: Polygon, ESPN

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Schlag Sweetleaf

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LIE DOWN WITH DOGS....gif
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Sorenthaz

Imagine if any controversy happened with China. Haha… that would be crazy.

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Bruno Brito

Remember, Riot only agrees with terrible cultural issues INSIDE their offices, not outside.

No, but really, at least this is “some good” news. “Good” in that, they’re awful news that they even considered said partnership but at least they backed off.

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Brazen Bondar

Profits over people gets a temporary push back. I think the initial decision may also reflect the corporate belief that gamers are disconnected from the real world so what the company does won’t matter to them. But the Activision/Blizzard Hong Kong mess should have at least made Riot’s executive suite think twice on that initial decision…..Never mind the Saudi government killed and dismembered a journalist…..

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mike foster

There was a MASSIVE internal and external backlash to this call from Riot people. Many, many Riot employees were popping off on Twitter along with many more in our internal channels.

I’m really happy the call was walked back and I’m proud of all the people I work with who spoke up, but still pretty uneasy about the initial call :(

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Greaterdivinity

Man, I get that those sweet, sweet, sweet crude oil Saudi dollars that they’re throwing at anything and everything are attractive but like…has nobody in Riot leadership paid any attention to the news relating to Saudi Arabia, especially in relation to entertainment, in the past like 5 years?

At least they’re not harassing their employees, but this was a really dumb partnership to make that indicates that they were likely so wowed by the dollar signs that they couldn’t bother to ask an intern to do some cursory research to see if it would be a good idea.

PlasmaJohn
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PlasmaJohn

Please. It’s like pulling teeth to get games devs to look outside their own tiny sub-niche of the large software development industry. You actually expect them to pay attention to world events?

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Greaterdivinity

Not really, at all. Devs have been increasingly attacked for having opinions on social/political issues and voicing them publicly (see multiple Anet staff attacked for supporting BLM or other progressive social causes), most just don’t want to deal with a horde of angry children blowing up their social feeds and threatening to kill their families. They already get that when they nerf or buff something that children think shouldn’t have been nerfed/buffed.

But these are the business dudes that are behind a deal like this, non-development staff. Researching potential sponsorships/partnerships is a key part of the what they (or at least their staff below them) do, because their role is to grow and protect the company from a business standpoint while the development staff keeps the game(s) rolling.

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Utakata

But that is the problem. Greed like hate, is still pursued blindly in the end…even if when it is demonstrated to be against their own interests to do so.

Or put it another way: They didn’t need any market research to find out that Saudi is a bigoted, oppressive asshole state they shouldn’t get in bed with. Just saying.

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Arktouros

Personally I think this whole scenario is rather fascinating from a high level perspective.

Generally speaking I would (and have) argued that supporting various social causes (LGBTQ, BLM, etc) is kinda the no risk, no brainer move. Most of the people actually against such causes can be entirely ignored with no meaningful consequences. However in this specific scenario it’s come back to bite this particular company in the ass. They can’t possibly take money from a sponsor who in this case is a State associated against the causes they support without showing their support for the empty virtual signalling that it is.

I wonder if this will push companies more back towards a neutral position where they try to avoid stances on any particular topic or if they’ll just continue on as is and just apologize and backtrack when ever there’s significant enough backlash.

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Malcolm Swoboda

As if many companies don’t have further discussions about whether its worth it to make these deals (they do).

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Utakata

Glaring lack of judgement when money was waved in their faces… /bleh

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Armsman

Gee, what’s the next step for those morons at Riot games? A co-sponsorship agreement with the KKK?

What a dumpster fire of a game development company.

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IronSalamander8 .

This kind of thing is exactly why I don’t play any of their games and was so glad none of my friends show any interest in Valorant. I was concerned they might based on what it is but luckily that like me, they don’t like Riot games in the first place, and Valorant ended up having lots of self-inflicted wounds, making it even more unappealing than it already was!

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Jon Wax

“free pillow cases to the first 50 who sign up!!”

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agemyth 😩

The people with the power to make this happen at Riot either thought this wouldn’t be a big enough deal that it would cause a revolt. A deal this huge would presumably have been known about to all the company executives, right?

The mere idea that anyone would spend 500 billion+ on building a new city from the ground up instead of spending that money on improving the cities that already exist is appalling. Eat the rich, fuck capitalism, etc.

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Arktouros

There are multiple nations and areas across the world that have…”less than Western politically correct”…views on various topics. Most of these businesses have dealings with or do business with people in those regions and while people may throw out a cynical comment or two there’s really nothing show stopping.

It’s like lock boxes in many ways. We all hate lock boxes. We all know they’re terrible. Large number of companies still use them. Suddenly EA Battlefront happens and gains enough momentum to be a thing and now EA shies away from using them. Many other companies continue to and again we all hate it but not enough to create enough backlash to cause change.

Things like this just aren’t situations until they actually are because people are rather capricious about what they care about enough to actually be a thing.