The League of Legends European Championship (LEC) announced Tuesday that it has added Saudi Arabia city Neom as its main partner for the 2020 Summer Season. Neom, which joins the likes of Kia, Alienware, and KitKat will be sponsoring the Oracle Lens segment during live broadcasts.
The announcement, however, has thrown the LEC talent in uproar, with many personalities publically expressing their distaste of the partnership. "There have been many good days to be a member of the LEC team, today is not one of those days," tweeted caster Daniel Drakos, one of the main creative engines behind LEC's production. Aaron "Medic" Chamberlain added he's "frustrated and disappointed" with the move, while others said they are "let down" but the league, or that it "sucks to be an LEC fan today."
These strong, negative reactions from the LEC crew can be explained with the origin of Neom. Designed as a "city of the future", Neom is to be a "smart city" that operates independently from the Saudi Arabia government under a sort of autonomy, including having its own tax and labor laws and judicial system and be attractive enough to be a major tourism attraction.
Neom is the personal project of Saudi crown prince Mohammad bin Salman, who is building it on the homeground of the Huwaitat tribe. In May 2020, The Guardian reported that "at least 20,000 members of the tribe now face eviction due to the project, with no information about where they will live in the future", with Huwaitat tribesman Alia Hayel Aboutiyah al-Huwaiti saying that "Neom is built on our blood, on our bones."
According to one of Huwaitat's spokespeople, Abdul Rahim al-Huwaiti, the eviction of the Huwaitat people had been even at the costs of arrests of those standing against deportation. Abdul Rahim was shot dead this April, after what the Saudi authorities claimed to be "a shootout with regional security forces" (via The Guardian).
In addition, Saudi Arabia itself is a country where homosexuality is served with capital punishment, religious freedom and women rights are scarce or non-existent, internet and access to information is heavily censored, and human rights, in general, are heavily disregarded or abused — all things that modern society, including a popular broadcast product like the LEC, should oppose.
This is a day of very black PR for the LEC, after the league has long been an example of progressive broadcast in all definitions of the word, including receiving praise for its top-quality production and understanding of its audience.
LEC, however, isn't the only esports league to seek Neom partnership. Premier CS:GO tournament organizer BLAST also announced that it will partner with the Saudi Arabia city to develop it into a "regional esports hub".
UPDATE 7/29: LEC broadcaster Eefje "Sjokz" Depoortere spoke out on Twitter, urging for fans to consider the "blindsided" position the LEC crew has been put in.
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