Over the past month we’ve seen the good and the bad of messaging when it comes to esports partnerships.

NEOM, one of the Giga projects from Saudi Arabia partnered with both LEC and BLAST. LEC is the top tier European franchised league for League of Legends (from Riot) while BLAST has mainly focused on CS:GO tournaments.

The BLAST announcement focused on working with NEOM to build out the vision for esports academies and how forward looking NEOM is as the “city of the future”.

In contrast the announcement from Riot around the sponsorship of LEC made no real mention of what NEOM stands for. There was no reference to how NEOM is working to change the perception of Saudi Arabia by having a separate legal system. Or the way it is focusing on key pillars like sustainability and nature.

Community Backlash

This lack of clarity meant the community for League of Legends was quick to push back. They cited that the LEC had positioned itself as supportive of the LGBQT+ community yet it was partnering with a city brand from a country that was strongly against these personal choices. The backlash wasn’t just from the community either – Riot employees and commentators/analysts also voiced their displeasure.

Within two days of announcing the sponsorship Riot backtracked and cancelled the agreement. This left both Riot and NEOM with some PR fallout to deal with.

If Riot had worked with NEOM to create a content series with the players, staff and community advocates the announcement may have been received more positively. This content series could have been about the vision for NEOM and how things are changing in Saudi Arabia.

Instead, it looks like a rushed agreement. There are only 2 weeks left of the regular season for which NEOM was being named main sponsor.

This demonstrates that getting the messaging right is vitally important.

Philip Wride