BLAST ends NEOM partnership amid community and team pressure
The Danish tournament company backed out of the deal after it drew much criticism.
BLAST and NEOM, the Saudi Arabian state-backed futuristic mega-city and business zone, have ended their partnership on mutual agreement, sources with knowledge of the situation have told HLTV.org. The decision was communicated to BLAST's partner teams in a meeting held on Monday evening and followed a growing public outcry over the Danish company's association with the controversial project.
BLAST has come under fire since the July 28 announcement of the partnership, which represented a "a record deal" for the Danish company, according to its CEO, Robbie Douek. In the announcement, BLAST said that it would help establish NEOM as the esports hub in the Middle East.
Public pressure soon began to mount due to Saudi Arabia's history of human rights violations and NEOM's forced eviction of the Huwaitat tribe, who partially occupy the land in the north-west of the country where the city is being built. Alia Hayel Aboutiyah al-Huwaiti, an activist and member of the tribe living in London, recently told The Guardian that NEOM "is being built on our blood". Outrage also stemmed from the fact that LGBT rights are not recognized by the government of Saudi Arabia, where the Islamic Sharia Law is applied.
BLAST's partner teams have stayed silent on this matter, with the exception of Astralis, whose CEO, Anders Hørsholt, described the partnership as "unacceptable". However, HLTV.org knows that, in private, most of them began to voice their concerns to the tournament organiser immediately after the announcement. Complexity CEO Jason Lake wrote on Twitter that, to his knowledge, the partner teams had not been made aware of the deal before it was announced.
Several Counter-Strike talent members, including host and interviewer Frankie Ward, analyst Duncan "Thorin" Shields and commentators Harry Russell, Hugo Byron, Vince Hill, and Dust Mouret, all criticised the partnership on social media and refused to work with BLAST while the deal was in place. Former commentator Jason "moses" O'Toole, who recently joined Liquid as coach, also lashed out at BLAST, saying in an email revealed by DBLTAP that he could not "properly express how frustrating and disappointing this has been for many of us."
BLAST, which declined to comment when contacted by HLTV.org, becomes the second esports company to end a partnership with NEOM in the space of two weeks. At the end of July, the League of Legends European Championship (LEC) backed out of a deal just hours after it had announced that the futuristic city would become the showpiece competition's main partner.