The news was announced via a statement from Alberto Guerrero, Riot Games, Riot’s director of esports for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. “As a company and as a league, we know that it’s important to recognise when we make mistakes and quickly work to correct them,” Guerrero wrote. “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 former partnership, announced yesterday, was considered controversial for reasons tied to the fact that NEOM is a Saudi state-sponsored development headed by the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman.
Prince bin Salman has been accused of multiple human rights violations including the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Fans and LEC staff also highlighted Saudi Arabia’s persecution of the LGBT+ community and the attempted eviction of the Howeitat tribe from their historic homeland which will be the location of the cyber city.
On Tuesday, numerous Riot Games employees openly expressed their disagreement with the company’s decision, noting that Neom is backed by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has been accused of ordering the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
League of Legends lead gameplay designer Mark Yetter tweeted on Wednesday, “I can’t and do not personally support this partnership. Sponsors are essential for the esport to thrive, but not at the cost of human life and freedoms.”
Riot is not the only group that has been blasted for their decision to partner with Saudi Arabia. Blast Premier, a Danish esports tournament organizer, also announced its collaboration with the kingdom on Tuesday. In a press release, the company said Neom was committed to “building a major esports ecosystem in the heart of what will be the new future of living.”