By Reece Barrett and Dom Sacco
The esports community has responded to a potential League of Legends LoL Esports World Cup, with Riot Games in talks with Saudi Arabia.
A few days ago, The Jacob Wolf Report stated that, according to an internal Riot email, the Saudi Arabian state-backed Esports World Cup event will feature a League of Legends tournament in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, this summer.
Apparently, two teams from each of LoL’s main domestic leagues – the LEC, LCS, LCK and LPL – will be allowed to compete in the event.
Jacob Wolf has since followed this up with some info about internal discourse among Riot staff following his report:
The news comes after a new annual Esports World Cup was announced back in October 2023 at the Global Sport Conference, co-hosted by the Saudi Esports Federation and Saudi Arabia Ministry of Sport. It will replace the existing Gamers8 Festival.
Ralf Reichert, co-founder of ESL (part of ESL Faceit Group, owned by the Saudi Arabian government’s Savvy Games Group), was also appointed as the CEO of a new Esports World Cup Foundation late last year.
The news has led to some backlash from the esports community given Saudi’s human rights record, however it does not appear to be as extreme as the response to Riot Games’ last major run-in with Saudi Arabia.
Just over three years ago, LEC ended its partnership with Saudi mega city NEOM following major community backlash, including criticism from its own casters and staff.
Over the past three years, Saudi has drastically increased its presence in gaming and esports, which has led to some more anger, but also some more acceptance.
Riot Games statement on LoL Esports World Cup report
Esports News UK reached out to Riot Games for comment and clarification around Jacob Wolf’s report, and a spokesperson sent us the following statement they also sent Jacob: “We’ve been evaluating our approach to third-party events. Done right, third-party tournaments could provide teams and pro players additional, optional competitive opportunities as well as new revenue streams.
“We also know fans have been asking for more international and cross-regional tournaments, and while these events wouldn’t be operated by Riot, we think they could be part of delivering on that request, in addition to competitions we produce.
“Last year’s Asian Games was one great example of the positive impact third-party events can have on our esports, and we think there’s room for more if planned thoughtfully.
“We’ve been in conversations with various tournament organisers — including the Esports World Cup — about unlocking teams’ participation in such events. We’re in active exploration of these opportunities, including if and when they can fit within the 2024 calendar, but nothing has been confirmed at this time.
“We’ll have more information to share as we complete the evaluation process.”
‘Saudi’s takeover of esports is inevitable’ – esports community reacts to potential LoL Esports World Cup
We’ve collated a host of views from the community on social media platform X (formerly known as Twitter) below:
Here we go again, its the NEOM deal all over again and that went down super well last time…— Sonic (@SonicXCII) January 3, 2024
Maybe if Riot esports events didnt have joke prize pools and more than 2 events a year, we would have better esports infrastructure for League that doesnt need this sort of involvement
“It is coming to a point though where we are not going to be able to avoid it as Riot and others start taking the money,” David Szajnuk continued. “Every fan, creator, broadcast personality, etc, is going to have to come to terms with the fact that this money will be interlaced with the product.
“If you want to maintain the moral high ground, you simply will have to leave esports (and sports in general for that matter).”
Reece is a sports journalist who has previously worked with the likes of BBC Radio Solent, Southern Daily Echo, Salisbury Radio, VAVEL and many more. He is currently studying a degree in Sports Journalism at Solent University.