Riot Games have formed a global deals council and an ethics committee, after outcry from the now-cancelled partnership with a Saudi Arabian government-backed city.
On July 28th it was announced that the summer season of the League of Legends European Championship would partner with Neom; a planned cross-border state-backed city in Saudi Arabia.
Overseen by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, the city will be in the Tabuk Province, and promises to use smart technology and act as a tourist destination. Riot Games said Neom would be “championing the development of esports across the world.”
However, the project has drawn ire for allegations of Saudi security forces driving out the native Howeitat tribe [1, 2]. Alya Abutayah Alhwaiti told the BBC threats were made against her after she drew the situation to light. Abdul Rahim al-Huwaiti- the man who originally posted the videos of the allegations online- was reportedly killed by Saudi security forces.
This is in addition to Saudi Arabia’s violations of human rights. These include public execution, allegations of not making the minimum effort to prevent human trafficking for slave labor or sex slaves, nonexistent women’s and homosexual rights, no religious freedom, blasphemy laws, suppressing reformation activists, arresting dissidents as political prisoners, harassment and arrest of families of those who have sought asylum in other countries, and destruction of documents to make the process harder for asylum seekers.
The announcement of the partnership resulted in outcry from fans and players. Esports commentators and Riot Games employees reportedtly threatened to boycott the tournament.
After outcry, Riot Games then pulled their partnership with Neon just 16 hours after the announcement. Alberto Guerrero (Director of Esports, EMEA) stated “after further reflection, while we remain steadfastly committed to all of our players and fans worldwide including those living in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East, the LEC has ended its partnership with NEOM, effective immediately.”
“In an effort to expand our esports ecosystem,” Guerrero explained, “we moved too quickly to cement this partnership and caused rifts in the very community we seek to grow. While we missed our own expectations in this instance, we’re committed to reexamining our internal structures to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”
Now, ESPN reports what may be the results of that reexamination. They report that Riot Games have established a global deals council and an ethics committee. The former will have a new “internal deal tracker” to provide company-wide transparency on all sponsorship and business development deals.
This council will have representatives from the Global Esports team, Karma (Riot Games’ social impact division), legal teams, as well as Riot Games’ diversity and inclusion teams. The council will also report to senior vice president Mark Sottosanti, and head of corporate and business development Brian Cho.
Riot Games president Dylan Jadeja reportedly told employees in a call “The intent is for all of us to have a voice to raise a flag and for that to be followed through on. That team, that department, will also be responsible for formalizing and reinforcing the deal evaluation framework.” Riot Games CEO Nicolo Laurent and members of the executive team also reportedly apologized during this call for the (in ESPN’s words) “breakdowns in communication and process.”
The ethics committee meanwhile came after consoltation with Riot Games’ board of directors and undisclosed (in ESPN’s words) “outside advisors.” Jadeja reportedly told employees this committee will evaluate deals, discussion of company direction and philosophy, and evaluating the company relationships and what nations they operate in.
Riot Games spokesman Joe Hixon reportedly stated “We’re not going to comment on specifics of an internal conversation. We’re in the process of reevaluating our internal processes to make sure nothing like this happens again.”
Square Enix also had their own ethics department for Final Fantasy VII Remake, which resulted in “tightening” Tifa’s chest. A Square Enix representative later stated the department was “actually a group within the company that evaluates game content to make sure it is aligned with the anticipated age ratings standards across the globe (CERO, ESRB, PEGI, etc).”
In both cases, it seems that ethics departments and committees were used to prevent outrage; though the two cases they acted or came about in are very different.
Image: LoL Esports