League of Legends will appear in the Saudi-funded Esports World Cup as per an internal Riot Games email sent over the holidays.

The Saudi Arabian state-funded Esports World Cup will feature League of Legends as per a report by The Jacob Wolf Report. The report revealed that an internal Riot Games email had detailed League of Legends' inclusion in the event over the holidays.

The Esports World Cup is a Saudi-funded initiative revealed in October 2023 that will feature “the largest prize pool in esports history.” Hosted in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and backed by the Savvy Gaming Group, an arm of the Saudi Public Investment Fund, the sovereign wealth fund of the Saudi Arabian state, the esports event will seemingly be an annual event starting in summer 2024.

In the report, Jacob Wolf stated that the email included details of how League of Legends will potentially participate in the tournament. The event will apparently feature teams from each of its domestic leagues. This means North America’s LCS, Europe’s LEC, China’s LPL, and South Korea’s LCK. The selection process for teams is not clear, and Riot Games will reportedly not make that decision.

Riot’s Flip Flop on Saudi Arabia

NEOM, pictured, was the last time Riot Games attempted to have dealings with the Saudi state (Image via NEOM)
NEOM, pictured, was the last time Riot Games attempted to have dealings with the Saudi state (Image via NEOM)

With the decision to allow League of Legends in the Esports World Cup, Riot has backtracked on two of its most noteworthy past decisions: To avoid non-Riot Games sanctioned tournaments, and its canceled partnership with the Saudi-backed NEOM city development.

In 2020, the LEC announced a partnership with NEOM, which was canceled after just hours due to backlash from casters and fans. During that time, the NEOM deal was criticized due to Saudi Arabia’s abysmal record on human rights, particularly against those in the LGBTQ+ community. The NEOM project did, and continues to displace ten of thousands of tribespeople from Huwaitiat and Bedouin tribes. NEOM is built on what the Saudi Arabian government called “virgin land.” 

That deal was announced just following Pride Month. The LEC still retained its rainbow logo supporting the LGBTQ+ community on social media when the deal was made public. This led to further backlash.

Three and a half years later and Riot Games is once again attempting to initiate a partnership with a Saudi Arabian backed projected. This, perhaps, sits in contrast to the tone of much of Riot's work, which seems to embrace LGBTQ+ coding.

In 2021, Riot Games' first animated series, Arcane, prominently featured supposed couple Caitlyn and Vi. However, as Polygon writes, the show fell victim to the trope of “maybeship” instead of overtly showing a lesbian relationship. 

Within League of Legends, Riot Games has attempted to introduce LGBTQ+ characters to its sometimes diverse cast of characters. Neeko has been called the first openly gay character, with in-game voice lines to back it up. Meanwhile later lore updates have categorized characters like Graves and Twisted Fate as gay and pansexual, respectively, as per The Boys and Bombolini short story. Some lists identify up to 11 queer characters within League of Legends’ main cast of Champions.

It remains to be seen if Riot Games will face backlash this time for engaging with a Saudi Arabian government project.

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