Saudi State-Backed Esports World Cup to Host 'League of Legends' Tournament

After running a $45 million esports event in 2023, the Saudi Arabian have now won over the industry's largest publisher: Riot Games.

Photo via Gamers8/Twitter

The Saudi Arabian state-backed Esports World Cup event will kick off in July and feature a League of Legends tournament, according to an internal Riot Games email sent over the holiday break and obtained by The Jacob Wolf Report.

First announced in October 2023, the eight-week event will take place in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, beginning in July, and will reportedly feature the largest prize pool in esports history.

The specific format for the event has not been announced, but it’s expected that esports organizations will compete across multiple game titles for the crown of Esports World Cup champion. Though it’s expected to feature a long list of popular esports titles, League of Legends is the first to be confirmed to the public. The event has also begun working with content creators on advertising, including the likes of former Call of Duty pro Seth “Scump” Abner.

Riot Games is currently working through details of how League of Legends will participate in the event, according to the email. It will be allowing two teams from each of its domestic leagues—North America’s League Championship Series, Europe’s League European Championship, China’s League Pro League, South Korea’s League Champions Korea, etc.—to participate in the event. The email states that Riot will not pick those organizations itself.

Also in the email, League of Legends esports global head of strategy Chris Greeley asked each league to hold all activity during the first week of July to make way for the Esports World Cup. That week is also Riot’s annual employee summer break, coinciding with the July 4 holiday. The email also outlined dates for the Mid-Season Invitational, which will take place in May, ending on May 19. That event is reportedly returning to China for the first time since 2016, according to Korean news outlet News1.

In a statement sent to The Jacob Wolf Report on Tuesday night, a spokesperson from Riot stated that it is currently in discussions with various tournament organizers, including the Esports World Cup, regarding the licensing of third-party events to be included in the League of Legends pro ecosystem. Riot said its esports team initiated the assessment of additional third-party events after witnessing the success of the 2022 Asian Games in September 2023, where teams representing countries such as China, South Korea, India and others participated.

“We know fans have been asking for more international and cross-regional tournaments, and while these events wouldn’t be operated by Riot, we think they could be part of delivering on that request, in addition to competitions we produce,” Riot said.

“We’ve been in conversations with various tournament organizers—including the Esports World Cup—about unlocking teams’ participation in such events. We’re in active exploration of these opportunities, including if and when they can fit within the 2024 calendar, but nothing has been confirmed at this time.”

This tournament will be the first time since February 2017 that a League of Legends international tournament featuring pro teams is organized by someone other than Riot. The last tournament of this kind was the final Intel Extreme Masters League event in Poland. In late 2017, Riot made North America teams exclusive to the League Championship Series. The League European Championship followed suit in late 2018, and other leagues did the same shortly thereafter.

The Esports World Cup is the successor to Gamers8, a series of tournaments and a festival hosted by the Saudi Arabian state-backed Savvy Gaming Group in July and August 2023. That event featured a $45 million prize pool and included tournaments for Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Rocket League, Fortnite, Street Fighter, Rainbow Six: Siege and other game titles. Following that event, the Saudi government and crown prince Mohammed bin Salman announced the Esports World Cup.

The event is the latest major esports project from the Savvy Gaming Group, which is a subsidiary of the country’s Public Investment Fund.

In the past two years, the Saudi government has significantly increased its presence in esports, beginning with the merger and acquisition of two of the industry’s most successful independent tournament organizers, ESL and FACEIT, in January 2022. Since then, Savvy also acquired Vindex, the parent company of Esports Engine, another independent tournament organizer and event broadcaster. Outside of esports, Savvy has invested billions in game studios, most notably the Embracer Group.

Riot previously partnered with the Saudi state-backed city development NEOM on a partnership for the League European Championship (LEC) in July 2020. That partnership was swiftly canceled just hours after it was announced, however, as broadcast staff working at the LEC at the time, some who identify as gay, publicly spoke out and privately intimated they would walk out.

Now, however, the Saudis are providing a lifeline to much of esports as the industry undergoes a major market correction due to overspending, unfulfilled promises to investors and a lack of meaningful revenue generation, particularly for esports teams.

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