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Summary

  • The LEC is the League of Legends European professional league
  • NEOM is the name for a planned autonomous utopian region in northwest Saudi Arabia, in a project conceived by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and financed by the kingdom
  • On July 29, the LEC announced a partnership with NEOM and cancelled the deal 14 hours later after outrage from Riot staff, the LEC on-air cast and players
  • The LEC on-air cast tweeted later that they told Riot that they refused to appear on any broadcast until the partnership was cancelled
  • Meanwhile, Riot Games’ L.A.-based staff tweeted their disappointment with the company after a staff meeting to address the LEC controversy

A few days ago, you may have noticed a couple of League of Legends news snippets about a certain controversy involving the LEC and an entity called NEOM. This post is intended to give some background behind the recent drama and also provide a space for future updates.

Here’s the story so far (give it a few seconds to load):

https://cdn.knightlab.com/libs/timeline3/latest/embed/index.html?source=1AEWvoGMAHpZiLbemzMcODrShLZdM7vZSYWluP4_uzgQ&font=OpenSans-GentiumBook&lang=en&initial_zoom=3&width=660&height=500

Who or what is the LEC?

The LEC is the League of Legends European Championship – it’s the European professional league for League of Legends, the MOBA [multiplayer online battle arena] developed by Riot Games. Before COVID-19, LEC matches were being held at the LEC studio in Berlin, Germany.

NEOM Logo

What is NEOM?

NEOM is a planned autonomous region in northwest Saudi Arabia that was established by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as part of his Saudi Vision 2030 plan. The name itself is a portmanteau of the prefix “Neo” and the Arabic word for future, “Mostaqbal”, and stands for “New Future”.

Here’s the description of NEOM, straight from the fact sheet:

NEOM is a bold and audacious dream. It’s a vision of what a New Future might look like (in fact, NEOM means, ‘new future’). It’s an attempt to do something that’s never been done before and it’s coming at a time when the world needs fresh thinking and new solutions.

Simply put, NEOM will be a destination, a home for people who dream big and want to be part of building a new model for sustainable living, working and prospering.

-NEOM Fact Sheet

Essentially, it’s a 100% Saudi-backed vision for a futuristic utopia. According to the project’s FAQ, the region is expected to house 1 million residents and contribute $100 billion to the Saudi Kingdom’s GDP. It’s an ambitious project to say the least.

Why does it matter if the LEC partners with NEOM? Who cares?

There are a few issues here.

The first is with the land reserved for NEOM. One tribe, the Huwaitat, faces eviction after residing in the area for generations.

A member of the tribe (and an outspoken critic of the NEOM project) named Abdul Rahim al-Huwaiti was gunned down by security forces after streaming a video of police attempting to enter his home. The Saudi human rights group ALQST accused Saudi authorities of attempting to cover up the killing – and arresting a number of tribe members opposed to the NEOM project – by bribing high-ranking officials to take part in a “propaganda exercise” that would involve disowning Abdul Rahim.

Abdul Rahim

The other issues stem from the fact that the NEOM project is the brainchild of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and more specifically the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – reportedly the person who gave the order for the killing of Washington Post columnist and Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi.

It follows that a partnership with NEOM is a partnership with Saudi Arabia.

In addition, Saudi Arabia holds one of the worst human rights records for LGBTQ+ individuals and their version of Sharia Law [religious law derived from Islamic principles] criminalizes same-sex sexual conduct, punishable by death or flogging.

As Jacob Wolf of ESPN writes, “several people working for the LEC or its teams are parts of the LGBTQ+ community, with commentator and analyst Indiana ‘Froskurinn’ Black and MAD Lions community manager James ‘Stress’ O’Leary speaking out Wednesday.”

@Slasher on Twitter said it best:

Did teams know about the partnership? Why didn’t they do anything about it?

A recent ESPN article by Jacob Wolf went into some detail about this. Apparently, at a meeting consisting of LEC staff and representatives from every team, the NEOM partnership was “briefly” mentioned amid other business announcements. Ultimately, teams aren’t given the power to cancel or alter league-wide deals.

So you can look at this one of several ways: either the teams didn’t notice, or they didn’t think the partnership was a problem, or they didn’t do any due diligence into NEOM, or they attempted to halt the deal but were shut down.

Why doesn’t/didn’t the LEC on-air cast air grievances about (*insert Tencent, China, the CCP, Uighurs, or other recent Riot Games scandals here*)?

This series of tweets by @sjokz might offer some insight:

Anything else?

Most of the stuff that I added to the timeline were taken from several Reddit threads below. These people did the real investigative work.

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9 months ago

[…] of stuff going on lately. Be sure to check out the Big Meanie Games’ deep-dive into the League of Legends LEC Controversy and enjoy the latest news in gaming, sponsored by…well, no one. […]

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9 months ago

[…] As we head into another (hopefully fun-filled) weekend, I’m going to get to work on an “interesting” new design for the Big Meanie Games site. The inspiration for it? The NEOM web site, believe it or not. And if you aren’t familiar with NEOM, read this post. […]