On Tuesday, Jacob Wolf reported that Riot Games would allow a League of Legends exhibition tournament to be part of the Saudi Arabian government’s Esports World Cup, an eight-week gaming festival and esports competition series featuring multiple titles that takes place in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, beginning in July (formerly called Gamers8).
Wolf’s reporting is based on a leaked internal email sent to certain undisclosed staff members at the company over the holiday break. The Esports Advocate could not confirm the authenticity of this internal email, as of this writing; Riot Games did not directly address it with us during our communications this week and we did not have direct access to it.
According to Wolf, the email details that Riot is still figuring out the details of what a League of Legends third-party event as part of the Esports World Cup would look like, but that it will allow two teams from each of its leagues to participate, and would not choose who attends this event.
The report also claims that League of Legends Esports Global Head of Strategy Chris Greeley asked each league to “hold all activity during the first week of July to make way for the Esports World Cup.”
A spokesperson for Riot did not specifically address the contents of the leaked email, but did issue a statement to TEA on Tuesday evening, noting that it is engaging in talks with third-party tournament organizers including the Esports World Cup. The statement:
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 organizers — 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.
While it might be surprising that Riot would allow its games in the region as part of an international event hosted by the government of Saudi Arabia—given the backlash the LEC experienced in 2020 over its partnership with NEOM—the League of Legends and Valorant maker is not the only stakeholder considering participation in the eight-week event; we suspect many of the gaming/esports companies that participated in the New Global Sport Conference that took place in October in Riyadh are strongly considering participating in the Esports World Cup this summer. Who made an appearance at that event?
- Savvy Games Group CEO Brian Ward
- Sony Group Corporation Executive Deputy President and CSO Toshimoto Mitomo
- Sega of America CEO Shuji Itsumi
- Take-Two Interactive Chief Strategy Officer Michael Worosz
- Ubisoft Mobile Games Chief Mobile Officer Jean-Michel Detoc
- Krafton India CEO Sean Hyunil Sohn
- Moonton Games CEO Justin Yaun
- NCSOFT President & CSO Sonyee Yoon
- Formula E Founder and Chairman Alejandro Agag
- G2 Esports CEO Alban Dechelotte
- 100 Thieves President & COO John Robinson
- Ninjas in Pyjamas (NIP) Group CEO & Founder Hicham Chahine
- Team Vitality CEO & Co-Founder Nicolas Maurer
- Guild Esports CEO Jasmine Skee
- LGD Esports Club Founder & CEO Pan Jie
- Team Falcons Founder & CEO Musad Aldossary
It is also unclear, as of this writing, if these third-party explorations by Riot are being passed through its Global Deals Council, which was established shortly after the fallout from the Neom deal.
But it’s pretty clear that the attitude about doing business with Saudi Arabian-owned entities backed by the country’s Public Investment Fund is rapidly changing among esports companies, organizations, and stakeholders. Even content creators, who would have avoided promoting projects like Esports World Cup, Neom, and Qiddiya are promoting these projects without fear of backlash.
You can read all of our coverage on Saudi Arabia’s growing footprint in the global esports industry here.