Update: LEC Reverses Controversial Partnership Deal

By Alistair Jones on at

Update: 7/30/2020, 9:37 a.m BST

The League of Legends European Championship has reversed its decision to name Saudi Arabian tech city Neom as one of its main sponsors for the summer split.

In a statement early this morning, Albert Guererro, director of Riot's esports in the EMEA region said that "as a company and as a league, 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.”

The change seems to have been widely well-received, but a number of members of the LEC's on-screen talent have reiterated their disagreements. Caster Trevor Henry said he was "happy the decision was reversed," but "sad it happened in the first place." Henry acknowledged that "trust has been damaged internally and externally [...] it will take time to repair."

Original story continues below:

Earlier today, the League of Legends European Championship announced a partnership deal with Neom, a Saudi Arabian 'smart city' planned for completion in 2025. In response, a number of the competition's most public figures have spoken out, citing the country's human rights laws as well as its treatment of indigenous people who lived on the land set aside for the project.

In its announcement, the LEC - which currently features a rainbow version of its logo on all of its broadcasts and social handles in support of German Pride - said that Neom will be a main partner from Week 7 of the summer season, alongside car manufacturer Kia, hardware company Alienware, and KitKat.

On Twitter, the announcement was quickly denounced by fans, who pointed out Saudi Arabia's anti-LGBT+ laws, as well as reports that Neom will displace tens of thousands of members of the Huwaitat tribe, who have lived in this area since before the country even existed. In April, activist Abdul Rahim al-Huwaiti, who had spoken out about the government's actions, was killed in what his supporters describe as "an extrajudicial killing." In response to the partnership, several fans have said they will boycotting the league for the rest of the season, while others referenced the hypocrisy of posting the message under a Pride-themed logo.

As well as the fans, much of the league's on-screen talent has spoken out. Both full-time Riot employees and freelancers tweeted in the immediate wake of the LEC's announcement; host Eefje 'Sjokz' Depoortere said she was "terribly disappointed"; Trevor 'Quickshot' Henry shared The Guardian report referenced above; shoutcaster Indiana 'Froskurrin' Black said that "I am let down by the LEC today;" and her on-screen colleague Daniel Drakos said that "there have been many good days to be a member of the LEC team, today is not one of those days." A number of current and former off-screen employees involved in the league's production or with its partners have also spoken out.

An LEC source who wishes to remain anonymous told me that "the wide-reaching sentiment is disappointment, disgust, and dejection that the league could partner with someone who has forcefully evicted and murdered native tribes people, alongside frustration that we have worked so hard to promote LGBT+ rights and then this announcement comes out. We were blindsided by it, and I have yet to hear of a single person who agrees with the decision." The source did not know how the partnership would be integrated into this week's LEC broadcast, but said that "it is heartbreaking to see the rightfully angry public response and we all feel as let down by the LEC as those voicing their frustrations."

I contacted LEC representatives for further comment, but received no response by time of publication.