Counter-Strike: Global Offensive organizer BLAST partnered with the Saudi Arabian planned city Neom on Tuesday, inviting backlash from fans and community members for the city's ties to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
The partnership aims to position Neom as an esports hub for the region and build up Saudi esports talent using the expertise and technology of the Counter-Strike: Global Offensive tournament organizer. The organizer will add a Neom map to its CS:GO rotation.
Neom founder and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was linked to the death of jouranlist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 by the CIA and Office of the United Nations High Commissioner. The Crown Price took responsibility for the murder, but denied having any personal involvement in it during a 60 Minutes interview.
Neom, which styles itself as the city of the future, promises "towns and cities, ports and enterprise zones, research centers, sports and entertainment venues, and tourist destinations." Its ambitions reportedly include holographic teachers, artificially induced rain, robot maids and more.
Despite claims to the contrary, the city is being built on land already occupied by at least 20,0000 members of the Huwaitat tribe. Developers have been accused of killing Abdul Rahim al-Huwaiti, an advocate and Huwaitat member who spoke out against the forced eviction of those already living in the area.
BLAST's original announcement went largely unremarked upon. When the League of Legends European Championship announced a similar deal Wednesday, it prompted a new wave of scrutiny on the BLAST sponsorship.
Community members lambasted the deal. Veteran esports photographer Robert Paul called it "awful," and "so disappointing." BIG chief digital officer Balázs "Draulon" Lengyel retweeted BLAST's announcement with a simple, "Oh no."
BLAST has yet to respond to criticism of the deal.