The LEC's latest development has many fans quite disappointed.
Today, the League of Legends European Championship (LEC) announced a new partnership with NEOM. For those who don't know, NEOM is a planned city development project that will implement technological advances on a massive scale for residents and serve as a futuristic city of sorts. As part of the ambitious project, NEOM "will be championing the development of esports across the world."
As a result of the partnership, they'll sponsor the Oracle Lens aspect of the live broadcast. So, similarly to other sponsored segments, their name and brand will be closely intertwined with the broadcast. Normally, this wouldn't be a problem. It'd be just another day and just another business deal. But that's not the case here.
The problem with the partnership
Unfortunately, there's a lot of problems with NEOM and the culture around it. The city is set to be built in Saudi Arabi, a country infamous for its sexist and homophobic laws, and is headed by the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman. Salman has a track record of autocratic rulership and has a number of horrible things attributed to him, including executions and human rights violations. To make matters worse, the area that the NEOM city will be built in was forcibly taken from the natives, with violence resorted to in cases.
— Trevor Henry (@Quickshot) July 29, 2020
The LEC has built its brand as a fun, creative, inclusive place. Right now, they have their logo colored like an LGBTQ+ flag. But now their commitment to inclusivity and support of marginalized communities is under fire. Being partnered with people who have undoubtedly oppressed women and minority groups with no remorse is definitely in strict violation to the values and morals they pushed before.
Tried to find nice words to express my feelings of today's news. Couldn't.
It sucks for the #LEC
It sucks for my friends who are casters
It sucks for those who are LGBT
It sucks for esports as a whole
Thought we were better than this
— Ovilee May (@OvileeMay) July 29, 2020
Throughout the course of the day, an incredible amount of fans, Rioters and broadcast members came forward to speak out against this partnership. Its a tragic day for many and they're all willing to speak out against this move. Two beloved members of the League of Legends scene and members of the LGBTQ+ community, Indiana "Froskurinn" Black and James "Stress" O'Leary, commented on the betrayal they felt on Twitter.
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
This is disappointing because this is the LEC. It's my team, my product, my managers, my office.
My family. My home.
This isn't someone far away in HQ that I don't know. This is devastating because I know who made these choices and I feel silenced.
— Froskurinn (@Froskurinn) July 29, 2020
If you look on Twitter, more posts like these are easy to find. There's a lot of feelings of betrayal and frustration with the LEC for their shortsighted partnership. Thankfully, many with voices and larger platforms are supporting their friends and co-workers in the scene.
Lots of horrible things about this.
In particular, I feel terrible for everyone working on LEC who got blindsided.
It's awful to be forced into this position and the questions you confront. No matter what they chose to do, I support them and am proud to see them speaking up. https://t.co/p2dSgYUu1H
— Mark Zimmerman (@TheeMarkZ) July 29, 2020
Though this primarily concerns the LEC, it paints Riot Games as a whole in a bad light too. Within the past couple of years, they've been scrutinized for sexist behavior within the company and having a gravely inappropriate internal culture. This is another development that gives ammunition to the argument Riot simply isn't concerned with the values they say they are.
Update- LEC ends the partnership
It was a difficult day for many, but the outcry was heard loud and clear. On July 29 at around 9:35 PM EST, the LEC released a second announcement. In it, they said they already canceled the partnership and apologized to the community. This was an important step to make and made many people breathe a sigh of relief.
Director of Esports, EMEA Alberto Guerrero released the following statement in the announcement:
“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.”