The International Esports Federation (IESF) announced this week that it has appointed HRH Prince Faisal bin Bandar bin Sultan Al Saud as its new acting president, effective immediately. He replaces Vlad Marinescu, who decided recently that he would step down from the position. HRH Prince Faisal previously served as the IESF global VP.
In its announcement, the IESF said that “the decision of President Marinescu to step down stems from the evolving demands to serve the global esports community, and he believes that a heightened level of dedication is required, firmly entrusting this responsibility to His Royal Highness Prince Faisal, the newly appointed interim president.”
Marinescu’s tenure as the leader of the esports federation has had its share of controversy; most recently the organization was criticized for the deal it made with the Iași, Romania Mayor Mihai Chirica for its recent world championship event, and for reinstating Russia as a full member, allowing the country to fly its flag at events again in 2024, despite its ongoing war with Ukraine.
HRH Prince Faisal also currently serves as the president of the Saudi Esports Federation, VP of the Global Esports Federation, and president of the Arab Esports Federation. The son of former Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the United States (1983 – 2005) HRH Prince Bandar bin Sultan, HRH Prince Faisal is also a member of Saudi Arabia’s ruling royal family and chairman of media company Banader Al Khaleej.
It is important to note HRH Prince Faisal’s leadership role at the GEF, as the IESF and the GEF have been going back and forth about merging into one organization over the last several years. The appointment could also see the IESF move its headquarters from South Korea to Saudi Arabia, though a representative for the IESF told The Esports Advocate on Tuesday that conversations about relocating have not been discussed.
With this appointment, the IESF finds itself directly connected—for better or worse—to Chinese tournament operator VSPO and ESL FACEIT Group, which operates global tournament, tournament production, tournament platforms, and gaming and geek culture festival businesses through ESL, FACEIT, DreamHack, and Esports Engine. It also directly ties the federation to ESL FACEIT Group and VSPO parent company Savvy Games Group, whose chairman of the board is Crown Prince HRH Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz. In addition, it adds a direct connection to the Saudi government controlled sovereign wealth fund the Public Investment Fund, which owns all of these companies. This marks the first time that an esports federation that was not built in MENA has direct financial/personal ties with a government.
While Tencent Holdings (the owner of Riot Games and a minority stakeholder in Ubisoft, Activision Blizzard, Epic Games, and many other gaming and esports companies around the world) has long been criticized for being subject to the deep oversight of the Chinese government (which is an undeniable fact), the People’s Republic of China does not own or operate the company, unlike PIF-owned companies like Savvy Games Group.
Critics have pointed out that—with these direct connections—companies that are owned by the government fund have to reconcile their Western views with the policies and actions of the Saudi government. Those actions and policies include its ongoing military conflict with Yemen, its treatment of government critics, human rights violations, and its policies towards/treatment of women, gays, lesbians, transgender, and other marginalized groups within its own borders.