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Sportswashing with League of Legends?

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In 2024, the Esports World Cup in Saudi Arabia is set to be an event of unprecedented size. League of Legends is also reportedly part of it

When the Flash Wolves defeated G2 Esports in the final of the IEM Katowice in 2017, nobody could have guessed that this would herald the end of an era. League of Legends developer Riot Games subsequently ended its collaboration with ESL in order to concentrate fully on its own leagues and events.

Since then, there have been no major League of Legends tournaments that have not taken place in the in-house Riot Games cosmos – until today. According to a report by Jacob Wolf, this may now have changed. He reports that the US-based company has apparently decided to be part of the Esports World Cup taking place in Saudi Arabia this year

The Esports World Cup is the tournament construct formerly known as Gamers8, during which various competitions are held in Rocket League, Dota 2, Counter-Strike and other titles, with prize money in the millions. In 2023, for example, a sum of one million US dollars was awarded in Counter-Strike, while two million was distributed among the participants in Rocket League. However, Dota 2 had the biggest prize pool to offer with 15 million US dollars

Riot Games’ involvement, regardless of what one might think of such an event and venue, could bring big changes in the form of new tournaments that are not exclusively Riot-led.

Turnaround from the turnaround – The NEOM deal

Three years ago, Saudi Arabia and the LEC made their first attempts at rapprochement when Riot Games announced a cooperation between the European league and the NEOM construction project. However, this resulted in an extreme backlash from the community, with on-air talent also publicly opposing the decision. A short time later, the planned collaboration was canceled

In the meantime, however, the eSports landscape has changed fundamentally. There is currently talk of an “esports winter”. Many organizations are struggling financially to maintain regular gaming operations. The same applies to organizations such as ESL, which is now part of the Saudi Arabian Savvy Gaming Group as ESL FACEIT, or Riot Games. Accordingly, the opinion about sponsoring the Saudis has changed. However, although such financing is often seen as a last resort, many fans and experts remain critical of the whole thing.

As with the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, the term “sportswashing” is being used. Saudi Arabia is trying to bring as many products and events as possible to its own country in order to create travel incentives for eSports fans from all over the world, who are supposed to gain a more positive image of the nation through a visit. In Saudi Arabia, there is no freedom of expression, while minorities are oppressed and draconian punishments such as amputation or mutilation are still applied. Nevertheless, the country has almost inexhaustible cash reserves and good relations with Western countries thanks to its global oil exports.

The event is expected to be held in Riyadh in summer 2024 over a period of eight weeks.

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