Riot Games and the Esports World Cup: A Controversial Partnership

In the world of competitive gaming, Riot Games is a prominent name, known for its widely popular game, League of Legends (LoL). Recently, Riot Games has made headlines with its reported agreement to send teams from its top-tier domestic League of Legends competitions, such as the LCS and the LEC, to the Esports World Cup event backed by Saudi Arabia. This partnership has sparked a lot of discussion and debate within the gaming community, with concerns raised about Saudi Arabia’s human rights record and anti-LGBTQ+ laws. In this article, we will explore the details of this partnership, the controversies surrounding it, and the implications it may have for the future of esports.

The Esports World Cup: An Ambitious Venture

The Esports World Cup was announced in October as a virtual successor to the Gamers8 event from Summer 2023. The event featured tournaments for prominent titles such as CS:GO, Rocket League, and Fortnite. Both Gamers8 and the Esports World Cup are projects of the Savvy Gaming Group, the gaming subsidiary of the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund. This ambitious venture aims to bring together top esports teams from around the world to compete for glory and lucrative prizes. The Esports World Cup is set to begin in July 2024 and is expected to last for eight weeks.

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Riot Games’ Involvement: Sending Teams from LCS and LEC

According to an internal Riot email acquired by Jacob Wolf of the Jacob Wolf Report, Riot Games has agreed to send two teams each from the LCS, the LEC, the LPL, and the LCK to participate in the Esports World Cup. However, the exact details of how League of Legends will be represented at the event are still being worked out. It is currently unknown how the teams attending will be selected, but the reported email states that Riot will not be directly involved in the selection process. Instead, top teams from across the League ecosystem will have the opportunity to attend.

 

Controversies Surrounding the PartnershipHow Riot's Player Platform Team Shipped Xbox Game Pass | Riot Games

Saudi Arabia’s growing presence within the esports and gaming industry has raised concerns among many due to the country’s poor human rights record and anti-LGBTQ+ laws. The Savvy Gaming Group’s acquisition and merging of prolific tournament organizers ESL and FACEIT at the beginning of 2022 further fueled the discussions and debates. Critics have drawn parallels between Saudi Arabia’s involvement in esports and the concept of sports-washing, where countries with questionable human rights records use sports events to improve their image on the global stage.

One of the major instances of public resistance to Saudi-backed initiatives in esports was Riot Games’ partnership between the LEC and the Saudi-backed city project NEOM in July 2020. NEOM is a planned cross-border city in the Tabuk Province of northwestern Saudi Arabia. However, due to public outcry, especially from LEC broadcast members and the gaming community, the partnership was swiftly ended within just 14 hours. The primary reason behind the resistance was Saudi Arabia’s human rights violations towards LGBTQ+ individuals.

Impact on Domestic Leagues and Events

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In addition to sending teams to the Esports World Cup, Riot Games has reportedly asked its domestic leagues, including the LCS and the LEC, not to host any events or matches during the first week of July 2024. This request is to create space and ensure that the teams attending the Esports World Cup can fully participate without any scheduling conflicts. This move highlights the significance Riot Games places on the Esports World Cup and its commitment to supporting their teams’ participation in the event.

Conclusion: Balancing Competition and ControversyRiot's design philosophy behind balancing for pro play is inherently flawed  (and here's why) : r/leagueoflegends

The partnership between Riot Games and the Esports World Cup backed by Saudi Arabia has generated significant controversy within the gaming community. While the opportunity for teams from the LCS and the LEC to compete on a global stage is undoubtedly exciting, concerns about Saudi Arabia’s human rights record and anti-LGBTQ+ laws cannot be ignored. Riot Games’ decision to participate in the Esports World Cup raises ethical questions about the balance between competitive opportunities and supporting countries with questionable practices.

As the Esports World Cup approaches, it remains to be seen how Riot Games will navigate this partnership and address the concerns raised by the gaming community. The future of esports holds great potential, but it also requires careful consideration of the values and principles that shape the industry. As fans, players, and stakeholders, it is important to continue engaging in discussions about these topics and advocating for a more inclusive and ethical esports landscape.

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