Esports Awards partnership with Esports World Cup sparks community criticism

Esports Awards partnership with Esports World Cup

A few days ago, the Esports Awards announced it had signed a three-year contract with the Esports World Cup Foundation (EWCF), and Twitter blew up.

The deal will bring the annual awards ceremony to Riyadh in summer 2024, as part of Saudi’s inaugural Esports World Cup (which features a $60m+ prize pool across 19 different game titles).

Esports Awards, a UK-registered company, has announced that the 2024 Esports Awards will be held on August 24th 2024 in Riyadh as a ‘dynamic gala that honours the best in esports from every corner of the globe, celebrating clubs, athletes, content creators, games and more’, according to a press release, with fans able to vote on awards finalists when they are revealed on June 27th.

However, many industry members and fans in the esports community are not happy with the partnership.

The backlash is significant, with several responding to the below announcement tweet in the comments and quote tweets criticising it. The tweet has some 7.4m views at the time of publishing this article:

It’s the latest piece of news showcasing Saudi’s increasing influence in esports.

It’s also another reminder of the ever-growing divide between esports management willingly taking Saudi money, and others pushing back against it over sportswashing Saudi’s human rights record (particularly towards women and LGBTQ+ people). One example of esports organisations taking money is the EWCF Club Support Program, which is offering orgs six-figure funding to enter into new esports titles. UK-headquartered orgs in the program include Fnatic, Guild Esports and Tundra Esports.

Some Esports Awards panellists have resigned, per Kevin Hitt‘s report for Sportskeeda, including PGL CEO Silviu Stroie, caster Interro and others, as well as awards host Goldenboy, who said: “I won’t be hosting the Esports Awards moving forward, and I will be resigning from the panel effective immediately. I’m extremely disappointed in the higher-ups at ESA for the direction they’re taking their business, but it’s their choice. Just like this is mine.

“I have also turned down working any events for the Esports World Cup. These events, which are wholly funded by the Saudi Arabian government, do not align with my personal and professional values, so I’m fine with not lending my time and energy to them.”

According to the Esports Awards press release, published prior to the backlash, the partnership ‘ensures that the Esports Awards will deliver on a grander scale than ever before, with elevated experiences at the Lifetime Achievement mixer, Red Carpet Event, Esports Village and the awards ceremony itself. As the industry advances, acknowledging the events shaping competitive gaming’s future is crucial. By hosting its annual event in a significant and growing esports hub like Saudi Arabia, the Esports Awards can further its mission alongside the Esports World Cup, one of the most exciting esports events of the year.’

Michael Ashford, CEO of the Esports Awards, said in the initial press release:

“Partnering with the Esports World Cup enables us to offer an even more exceptional experience to our nominees, guests and viewers.”

Michael Ashford, Esports Awards

“The Esports Awards have always been dedicated to celebrating incredible achievements in esports, so we naturally saw the opportunity to join forces with EWC in Riyadh as an excellent fit. The Middle East is home to one of the fastest growing and most passionate esports communities in the world and I’m delighted to be bringing the awards to the region for the first time. I cannot wait for this year’s ceremony, which I expect will be the most impressive and memorable one yet.”

“Hosting the Esports Awards in Riyadh enriches the Esports World Cup, bringing the entire world together to commemorate esports excellence,” commented Ralf Reichert, CEO of the Esports World Cup Foundation and co-founder of ESL, which was bought by Savvy Games Group (SGG) in early 2022 (SGG is 100% owned by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund – its government’s Public Investment Fund).

“Here, we can support the Esports Awards as a valuable bridge between Eastern and Western audiences. The Esports Awards is a fantastic gala that celebrates stakeholders from across the global esports ecosystem, recognising not only competitive greatness but also greatness in production, broadcasting, leadership, creative design and more. I’m excited to attend the Esports Awards this year in Riyadh and honor the best in esports.”

The news of course comes after the Esports Awards 2023 winners were announced late last year in a Las Vegas ceremony.

More Esports World Cup tickets go on sale as organisers promote discounts

The Esports World Cup has just released its second wave of tickets for PUBG Mobile, Overwatch 2, ML:BB Women, Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege, Honor of Kings, Apex Legends, Street Fighter 6, and Fortnite tournaments.

And organisers are running discounts to try and get them sold.

Like the first batch that went live on June 6th, fans can purchase tickets by visiting the Esports World Cup | There’s an Early Bird deal running from June 1st to July 2nd, which applies a 20% discount to all ticket types.

Organisers have also announced an Esports World Cup Eid Al Adha ticket promotion which will offer a 30% discount on all kinds of tickets available to buy between June 15th and 19th.

The final batch of tickets will go live on June 13th, allowing fans to purchase tickets for all 20 tournaments.

What other esports awards are there?

While the Esports Awards has established itself as the premier awards show in the industry, there are smaller ones which may have increased interest following the backlash.

One awards show that sent promotional material to Esports News UK recently is the Esports Gaming Tempest Awards 2024.

This costs between $299 and $399 to enter a brand or company to be considered for an award, however you can also get nominated without paying. The event is more brand/company focused than it is for individuals.

Related article: Navigating through Saudi Arabia’s continued rise in esports and why it’s okay to feel conflicted – opinion

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