Prominent Figures Distance Themselves from Esports Awards Over Saudi Ties

esports awards and esports world cup partnership

The recent announcement of the Esports Awards’ partnership with the Esports World Cup in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, has sparked a wave of controversy within the esports community.

This three-year deal, which will see the awards ceremony held at the Esports World Cup event, has drawn criticism from various prominent figures and raised concerns about ethical implications.

Why are people angry about the partnership?

  1. Allegations of “Sportswashing”: The Esports World Cup has faced accusations of “sportswashing,” which refers to the use of sporting events to divert attention from unethical or controversial practices. Critics argue that Saudi Arabia is using the event to improve its international reputation and deflect criticism regarding human rights issues.
  2. Human Rights Concerns: Saudi Arabia’s stance on LGBTQ+ rights and women’s rights has been a major point of contention. Same-sex relationships are criminalized and punishable by death in the country, while women’s rights are restricted compared to many Western nations.
  3. Inclusivity and Values: Several panelists and personalities, including Alex “Goldenboy” Mendez and Peter Mackay, have cited conflicts with their personal and professional values as reasons for distancing themselves from the Esports Awards due to the partnership.

Big Names Boycotting the Esports Awards

Following the announcement, several panel members have taken to social media to announce they will not be involved with the awards moving forward.

Here are some notable ones:

Alex “Goldenboy” Mendez

The 36-year-old Alex “Goldenboy” Mendez has been a premier esports commentator since 2011 and hosts multiple esports games, such as VALORANT, Halo, Overwatch, Apex Legends, and Call of Duty.

In addition to that he has been hosting the Esports Awards for the past few years, becoming an integral part of the annual event.

However, following the partnership announcement, Goldenboy publicly announced that he would not work with the Esports Awards moving forward. He states that:

“These events, which are wholly funded by the Saudi Arabian government, do not align with my personal and professional values, so I’m fine with not lending my time and energy to them.”

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Parker Mackay

Parker MacKay, a four-year veteran of the Esports Awards committee, echoed similar sentiments.

“I am extremely proud that the Siege scene pushes for a welcoming, tolerant, and inclusive place for all. These are our values and I’ll always fight for them”

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Ludwig and Jacob Wolf

Prominent personalities like Ludwig and Jacob Wolf, the past Esports Award Journalist of the Year, have also mocked the growing Saudi Arabian presence in the esports industry.

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Thom “F.” Badinger

Another host of the Esports Awards and a prominent member of its vocal panel for four years, Thom “F.” Badinger has announced his departure from the scene.

In an X post, he announced his departure stating:

“This is a short-sighted and unnecessary partnership that I would be embarrassed to be a part of. And so, I resign.”

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Sean “Spaceman” Rogers

Sean “Spaceman” Rogers, another well-known host and commentator for various esports like Rocket League and Call of Duty, shown his disinterest in the upcoming event:

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Silviu Stroie

PGL CEO and ex-International Esports Federation (IESF) president Silviu Stroie has always been vocal about the “consolidation” of power within the esports industry.

Following the partnership, he swiftly separated from the Esports awards panel and criticized the decision.

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Addressing Concerns

While the partnership has raised eyebrows within the esports community due to Saudi Arabia’s stance on women’s rights, LGBTQ+ rights, and censorship, Esports Awards CEO Michael Ashford looks firm on his stance and has addressed these concerns.

He assured that the Esports World Cup (meaning Saudi) will have no control over the award nominations or the adjudication process and that the Esports Awards will remain an “independently owned and operated entity.”

Additionally, Ashford mentioned that the Esports World Cup will work to ensure a fair representation of the industry at the event, while also allowing for video acceptance of awards for those unable to attend in person.

The first joint Esports Awards are scheduled to take place on August 24th in Riyadh, the day before the Esports World Cup finale, with voting for the Award Finalists starting on June 27th.

Additionally, the organizers have also planned a second event as a “satellite event” of the Esports Awards, to be held outside of Saudi Arabia at the end of 2024.

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