Danish tournament organizers BLAST have reportedly ended their partnership with the Saudi Arabian futuristic city called NEOM after facing major criticism from the esports community as well as internal partners.
On August 12, as first reported by HLTV, it appears that the BLAST have terminated their partnership with NEOM on “mutual agreement.” The tournament organizers had been receiving backlash after announcing the partnership on July 28, one that many in the world of esports deemed to be controversial.
NEOM is a fully man-made mega-city project backed by Saudi Arabia, who have invested more than $500 billion in development with the aim of attracting a million new residents.
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However, due to its affiliation with the middle eastern country, the organization has come under heavy scrutiny from a human rights standpoint since it’s announcement in January 2019, something which inevitably spilled over to BLAST once they’d brokered their deal.
Today we announce a global partnership with @NEOM, an ambitious project that includes building a major esports ecosystem in the heart of what will be the new future of living!
— BLAST Premier (@BLASTPremier) July 28, 2020
This comes after many prominent members of the CS:GO community, including the likes of Duncan ‘Thorin’ Shields, Jason ‘Moses’ O’Toole, Frankie Ward, Harry ‘JustHarry’ Russell, and Hugo Byron hit out at BLAST, calling the deal a “disgrace.”
“The BLAST x NEOM deal is an opportunity to educate ourselves so that we no longer work with people who would kill our friends,” Frankie tweeted. She included a link to a “map of countries that criminalize LGBT people.”
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Similarly, Moses, formerly a top CS:GO commentator who recently joined Team Liquid as a coach, strongly criticized the partnership and expressed his disappointments in a long email that was published by DBLTAP.
The BLAST x NEOM deal is an opportunity to educate ourselves so that we no longer work with people who would kill our friends.https://t.co/OY5lnFtcVK
— Frankie (@FrankieWard) August 5, 2020
Astralis, the CS:GO juggernaut that’s one of BLAST’s partner teams, also expressed their reservations about the partnership, as CEO Anders Hørsholt called it “unacceptable” and threatened to withdraw his team from any future tournaments hosted by the organization.
While Astralis were the only partner to publicly denounce the deal, HLTV reports that “most began to voice their concerns in private,” with Complexity CEO, Jason Lake, even going as far as to reveal that none of the partners had been made aware of the decision prior to making it public.
To the best of my knowledge, no.
— Jason Lake (@JasonBWLake) August 8, 2020
BLAST are now the second major force in esports to partner up with NEOM and subsequently end things shortly thereafter. Riot Games, who faced major criticism after brokering a deal between the LEC and the smart-city developers, terminated the agreement less than 24 hours after the announcement.
Just as with BLAST, Riot were scrutinized by many of the League of Legends esports on-air broadcast talent before Director of Esports, Alberto Guerrero, conceded that they’d made “mistakes” and “quickly worked to correct them.”
At the time of writing Danish tournament organizers have not yet made any such public statements regarding the status of their partnership with NEOM.