Ever since the NEOM project took its first step into the esports landscape, it's association with competitive video games has come under frequent and heavy questioning. NEOM promises to deliver a city that will become the technological centre of the middle east, offering a future for its inhabitants that wouldn't look out of place in an episode of Black Mirror. Following the the LEC's termination of its partnership with the Saudi organisation in League of Legends, it's now time for the Counter-Strike: Global Offensive scene to decide where they stand.
Despite the enormous amount of captial at its disposal, much criticism has been levelled towards the NEOM Megacity project for its flagrant human rights violations and its ties to the Saudi government. BLAST, who organise one of three major leagues in CS:GO, have already announced their forthcoming partnership with the Saudi organisation, but must now make a decision on whether they will continue to ally themselves to what is quickly becoming one of the most controversial sponsors in all of Esports.
Broadcast Talent Make a Stand
It's no secret that, in Esports, broadcasting talent is the lifeblood of the industry. This collective label covers a variety of different roles, including commentators, desk hosts, content creators, and even dedicated Esports journalists. Following BLASTS' announcement of their partnership with NEOM, numerous figures who have previously worked with the organisation have made their displeasure known. This includes members of the broadcast such as Vince Hill, Frankie Ward, Harry Russell, and Hugo Byron.
If you haven't been keeping an eye on NEOM, to say that it has been a controversial entrant into the scene would be an understatement. The project has the backing of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who holds close ties to a Saudi government that continues to discriminate against members of the LGBTQ+ community.
In addition, members of indigenous communities have been forcibly displaced to clear the city's prospective site. The most heavily affected were the Huwaitat tribe, whose have seen any protest or complaint quashed by the authorities. Further criticism of the $500bn city state also stems from its environmental impact, adding more fuel to the fire, with NEOM promising to offer its visitors an artificial moon and fluorescent beaches.
It remains to be seen whether players in teams contracted to BLAST will also join this boycott. With the eyes of an industry looking on, CS:GO has a difficult decision to make.
Original content by Léo "Tipsalewo" Lecherbonnier.