The BLAST Premier World Final was announced today, with the location revealed as Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. This is not the first time in BLAST’s history that the company has announced a deal to work with groups accused of human rights abuses, and thus was met with a mixed reaction from the Counter-Strike: Global Offensive fan base when announced on Twitter.
The move will also see BLAST enter into a three-year partnership with an entity known as “AD Gaming” to host more events in the country. This comes on the back of BLAST hosting its 2019 finals in Bahrain, as well as its failed attempt to partner with NEOM, which also saw Riot cancel a similar deal and led to significant public backlash.
To add a little more salt to the wound, BLAST also announced the move on the final day of Pride Month, which runs from June 1 to June 30. LGBTQ+ people in Abu Dhabi face significant persecution, with torture, like chemical castration and death, as well as floggings and vigilante murders among the consequences for many minorites if they choose to express themselves.
BLAST and ESL accused of engaging in "esportswashing"
According to a report in HLTV, the event will feature eight teams, with $1,000,000 on the line, taking place on December 14-18. The venue is the Yas Marina island, which can fit up to 18,000 people. As previously mentioned, this also marks the start of a three year relationship that will see the group host more events in that part of the world.
BLAST entering into this relationship now means two of the largest tournament organizers in Counter Strike are tied to bodies based on the Middle East, with ESL having been purchased by the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund at the start of 2022. The last two majors have both been run by rival organizer PGL on behalf of Valve, although the publisher has never publicly commented on the deals for ESL or BLAST’s relationship with the UAE.
Riot were also forced to walk back a deal with NEOM following significant backlash, and the topic of "sportswashing," or "esportswashing" in this case is a growing issue for the scene. Groups with questionable human rights records and massive amounts of funding are finding their way into esports and gaming, a space which has long been considered more inclusive than traditional sport, and protecting that diversity is proving more difficult in the face of vast amounts of money.
Inven Global reached out to BLAST for comment on the deal, but has received no reply at the time of going to press. Should BLAST or their partners respond, we will update the article accordingly.