Defying protests from some quarters of the sports industry, sponsors and rank-and-file fans are largely concerned about the entry of Saudi Arabian investors into the space. Despite potential brand safety challenges, most esports companies’ affiliate businesses have been boosted, not harmed, by Saudi cash.

It’s no secret that Saudi Arabian money has boosted sports in recent years. From the ESL/FACEIT Group (EFG) to the eSports World Cup, many of the industry’s biggest leagues and events are affiliated with the Saudi Arabian government, either directly or through the Savvy Games Group, a Saudi Arabian public investment company. The fund has a gaming arm. (Editor’s note: The ESL/FACEIT group paid for this reporter’s travel and lodging to the EFG-owned event DreamHack Dallas on June 2.)

In the past, sports companies’ flirtations with Saudi Arabia’s capital have met with protests from sports fans. In 2020, for example, Riot Games announced a partnership with the Saudi-planned mega-city Neom, only the day after fans and Riot employees expressed dismay at Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses. ended the partnership after pushback from Kya.

In 2024, sports companies are facing criticism. Although tweets about their Saudi partnership are regularly bombarded by critical responses, it’s become clear that it represents a vocal minority of the competitive gaming audience. For the most part, the stakeholders whose opinions can make or break esports companies’ bottom lines — sponsors and the average fan — are either unaware or simply don’t care about the Saudi connection.

“It’s not an issue yet,” said EFG vp of global brand partnerships Larry Settambrini. “What I’m seeing is a group that’s trying to create more opportunities for the gaming community — trying to do it on a larger scale, so that gamers and professional players can really have an outlet. I haven’t been out there yet, but I’ve heard nothing but positive feedback and feelings from anyone involved in the project.

Over the weekend, the ambivalence of esports fans was on full display at DreamHack Dallas, the EFG-owned gaming convention and qualifier for next month’s esports World Cup. When told that the event they were attending was from Saudi Arabia, many DreamHack gamers shrugged and went on with their day. Despite the presence on the show floor of a booth promoting Saudi Arabia’s planned city of Qadia, most were surprised by the statement.

Indeed, many DreamHack participants seemed more concerned with the morally questionable activities of other kingdoms than Saudi Arabia. In the event’s “Counter-Strike” tournament, the arena crowd booed loudly as the logo of the US Air Force, one of the tournament’s longtime sponsors, flashed on the stage screen.

And despite the potential brand safety issues that could come with advertising alongside Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, DreamHack’s brands were excited about being advertisers at the event.

“I think the DreamHack event is about building community, and creating unique experiences for the community, and Anthros is stepping into that space to provide an experience that provides value beyond Anthros,” Ashley said. Williams, director of clinical sales, said. and DreamHack sponsor Anthros. “So, giving them the ability to try out all of these gaming chairs promotes inclusion and adaptability and supports all walks of life.”

Sports organizations, which indirectly but significantly benefit from Saudi Arabia’s investment in esports through initiatives such as the Esports World Cup club program, have also decided to proceed despite the possibility of pushback from their politically engaged fans. Calculated. Some, like Team Liquid and FlyQuest, have published public statements acknowledging both the human rights issues and the huge financial incentives to participate in the events regardless.

“This is a very sensitive topic. In the end, we believe that our players, our staff and everyone else should decide what is important to them, and that is why this statement was issued,” FlyQuest said. said Stephanie Harvey, K’s chief culture officer, who said the team consulted with its advertisers before posting the ads. Tweet “I’d say in some communities it’s OK, but in other communities the backlash is a bit stronger. We have to move forward with both.”

Far from shutting down brands, the participation of esports companies in the esports World Cup and its surrounding ecosystem has actually fueled brand interest in competitive gaming. This year DreamHack’s “Overwatch” competition brought a new sponsor in the form of Porsche, while the event’s “Counter-Strike” tournament added Logitech as a new brand partner.

With the esports World Cup billing itself as the Olympic or FIFA World Cup, marketers are jumping at the chance to put their clients in front of the event’s audience. For better or worse, this has created new sponsorship opportunities for both the esports World Cup and its participating teams.

“Sponsorship is driven by the amount of eyeballs you can draw to your team and brands,” said Dave Martin, SVP of the British Esports Federation. “Ultimately, that’s when teams become successful and can participate in mass events. So, the more of them, the more likely they are to get sponsorship.”

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