League of Legends

Riot Games cancels new NEOM partnership after LEC community backlash

by Isaac McIntyre

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Riot Games has canceled the LEC’s partnership deal with NEOM, following the near-unified fan backlash the European competition received after announcing Saudi Arabia’s smart-city as a main broadcast sponsor for the remainder of the league’s Summer split.

Both Riot and the LEC were met with harsh criticism after unveiling the latest broadcast deal for the LEC on July 29. Now, less than 24 hours after the initial announcement ⁠— and a huge wave of community backlash ⁠— Riot has officially canceled the sponsorship agreement.

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“As a company and as a league, we know that it’s important to recognize when we make mistakes and quickly work to correct them,” Riot’s director of esports Alberto Guerrero said in a release shared on lolesports.com on July 29.

“After further reflection, while we remain steadfastly committed to all of our players and fans worldwide, including those living in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East, the LEC has ended its partnership with NEOM, effective immediately.

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“In an effort to expand our esports ecosystem, we moved too quickly to cement this partnership and caused rifts in the very community we seek to grow. While we missed our own expectations in this instance, we’re committed to re-examining our internal structures to ensure this doesn't happen again.”

Riot Games LEC host Sjokz condemned NEOM as a partner.
Riot Games
LEC host Sjokz and the entire production team were unified in their condemnation of Riot’s new NEOM partnership.

NEOM was sold as a partnership that would “future-proof” LEC’s stage. The package also included an ‘Oracle Lens’ segment, which would have focused on “predicting future moves” during each match. The deal would have run until the end of Summer playoffs.

The cross-border NEOM mega-city development is publicly backed by Saudi Arabia. The country has already provided more than $500 billion worth of funding for the development, which aims to attract one million new residents.

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Saudi Arabia also partnered with Counter-Strike tournament organizers BLAST earlier this week, to little fanfare. BLAST chief executive Robbie Douek reportedly categorized the new partnership as a “record deal” for the CSGO company.

BLAST Premier
BLAST has yet to comment on its new NEOM sponsorship agreement after the original announcement.

LEC has retained the rest of its broadcast sponsorship slate, which includes Secretlab, KitKit, Kia Motors, Alienware, Foot Locker, and Shell. The European competition also recently inked a deal with Erste Group Bank as a main partner.