Ubisoft has come under fire today with the announcement of their 2022 Major schedule for Rainbow Six Siege esports. The company currently plans to stage one of its three majors for the year in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The event is currently slated for August 2022 and has received a significant degree of negative backlash.
Ubisoft has long traded on the diversity in their games, outwardly presenting themselves as a friend of the LGBT community. However, the UAE is one of the nations on earth where homosexuality is punishable by the death penalty. With a number of prominent members of the Siege talent crew openly LGBTQ+, there were immediate questions raised in the wake of the announcement.
In the UAE, all non-heterosexual relationships are criminalised, with the national penal code following Sharia Law. Punishments include flogging, torture, and even the death penalty, as well as chemical castration and forced injections and examinations for suspects believed to be in violation of the strict and archaic legal framework.
Anger in the community was amplified by the fact Ubisoft made this announcement at roughly the same time as running their tribute to Siege legend Michael ‘KiXSTAr’ Stockley, a former player, and top commentator who passed away last year. “It’s one thing to pull the trigger on this Major. It’s another to have your developers push out a roadmap that says “August Major, Europe or MENA”, then post a blog that says you’re clearly going to the UAE. It felt dishonest, to put it lightly,” said Siege.gg journalist Hunter Cooke, when we asked him for comment on the decision.
“What made matters worse is that the blog post was pushed to social media almost the exact second the KiX memorial went live,” Cooke said. “If it wasn’t intentional, it’s a screw-up of incredible proportions. If it is intentional, Ubisoft effectively used a eulogy for a dearly departed community member to try to cover up the fact that they’re planning a Major in a human rights deficient country, one that also happens to be a bit of a warzone currently. It’s a middle finger to the people who had nothing to do with this decision and a middle finger to a community that’s stuck with Siege through its most challenging years.”
Sportwashing in esports
Following the arrest and imprisonment in 2006 of a group of 26 young men guilty of the crime of crossdressing, Mohammed bin Nukhaira Al Dhahiri, UAE’s-then Minister of Justice, Islamic Affairs and Auqaf stated, "There will be no room for homosexual and queer acts in the UAE. Our society does not accept queer behavior, either in word or in action". At present there is at least one high profile trans caster in the Rainbow Six team, as well as other talent that identify as LGBTQ+.
Sportswashing, or in this case esportswashing, is the act of using sponsorship of popular events or teams to try and improve the image of your group or nation without actually having to respond to or change based on criticism. This has long been an issue with Chinese influence over major games, and the recent investment in the space by groups from UAE, Saudi Arabia and the like has only amplified the issue.
This is likely to be a conversation that comes up more frequently in future, with ESL having recently been bought out by a middle eastern group, and other companies like the Astralis and League of Legend publishers Riot having already tried to go down this route. The financial ability to commit ‘sportswashing’ is just as strong as ‘esportswashing’, and has even allowed nations like Qatar, Russia and China to host massive sporting events such as the World Cup or Winter Olympics while suspected of human rights abuses.