For those that don’t know, NEOM is a cross-border city in Saudi Arabia and is set to be a futuristic city embracing advanced technology and functioning as a tourist destination. The location of the city will mean it’s accessible for countries across the globe, which promotes itself as a trade capital and business hub creating a “new future” (NEOM stands for “new future”).
Taken directly from the NEOM homepage “NEOM will provide state-of-the-art training facilities for residents”. This philosophy, coupled with the ambition of providing a “futuristic” style environment, makes for the perfect platform to push the thriving esports industry.
While the utopian city is still in the development stage, with the first segment due to be complete by 2025, the pioneering innovators working on the project have promised so much to investors. Powered on renewable energy and developed by science, NEOM ticks the boxes of environmentalists and silences many of its critics with it’s innovative ideas. However, the source of the funds to carry out the project – some trillion or so dollars – are what has caused a great deal of controversy.
NEOM Sponsors Major Esports League
In lieu of any substantial sport, the esports industry, which is growing faster than anyone could have anticipated, is flourishing. Esports fans can easily access the games professionals play and through popular streaming services such as Twitch.tv, fans are able to get closer to their favourite esports stars than ever before.
The head honchos at NEOM have drawn their gaze to probably the most popular and certainly longest lasting esports games around. Counter Strike: Global Offense (CS:GO) has an international following, with esports organisations paying teams to compete at a plethora of tournaments in major cities across the globe throughout the year.
One of the major CS:GO leagues is called BLAST, which is a Danish owned company that recently signed a sponsorship deal with NEOM. The deal has been met with anger and frustration from many in the esports community, but the CEO of BLAST sees it as a great deal and hopes the project will bring game and technology development, esports academies and much more to the Middle East.
Much like with other Saudi-backed investments, like we saw with Newcastle United football club recently, there are always members of the community and public who speak out against using Saudi oil money to fund public projects. With issues such as the Saudi’s stance on the LGBTQ movement further adding further fuel to the fire.
The sponsorship forecasts some incredible plans for the world of Esports, with the development of academies dedicated to the esports industry and bringing in fresh talent from around the world. A recent quote from the managing director of NEOM Sport spoke fondly of the city’s ambitions for talent development; “NEOM aims to become a global hub for sport that unites communities, enables active, balanced lifestyles and accelerates innovation. Esports is growing at a rapid pace and NEOM is perfectly positioned to become the regional esports hub. We are excited about the experience and benefits NEOM can bring to the industry. We will have an advanced technological base and venues designed specifically for esports. In addition, we aim to inspire the development of young Saudi and international talent through a fully immersive esports academy.”
The plan to work with Esports couldn’t have come at a better time. The pandemic is still influencing all aspects of society on a global scale and this has had a huge impact on professional sport. But it hasn’t slowed down esports. We’ve even seen colleges with established sports programs using the restrictions as an opportunity to direct their attention to the potential profitability of esports competitions.
Moreover, the esports industry boasts a fast-developing gambling industry to support it, as major sportsbook providers across the world, such as Bovada LV, offer betting markets on esports fans’ favourite platforms. As the esports community learns more about how to bet on Bovada and the unique gambling opportunities available to esports bettors, the projection for the industry looks very promising.
Games Companies Pulling Out of NEOM Deal
The new deal with BLAST does cast a positive light on NEOM, but the project hasn’t been without its issues. Alongside CS:GO and dota2, League of Legends (LoL), developed by Riot Games, is one of the most played and viewed competitive esports games on the circuit.
NEOM had set their sights on forming a partnership with the LEC (League of Legends European Championship), but were recently turned down after a large contingent of the community called out Riot for being sellouts to an immoral deal. Even the CEO of one of the major European teams G2 Esports took to Twitter to say, “For the avoidance of doubt, neither G2 nor myself will be taking money “earned” from genocide and ethnic cleansing. Ever.”
The LEC is arguably the most popular gaming league in the world and building a solid partnership with them would be a massive step in the right direction for NEOM. However, it’s evident Riot’s decision was rash and they won’t revisit this again in the future. Riot is also the developer of Teamfight Tactics and the new and exciting FPS (first-person shooter) Valorant, which will likely be on the competitive esports circuit in no time.
The end to the sponsorship isn’t the end of the world for the NEOM project, but it certainly highlights a problem that they will face time and time again as they look to branch out into different sectors of society.