Multiple stakeholders leave Esports Awards panel following EWC partnership

Esports Awards x Esports World Cup
Image credit: Esports Awards

Several esports stakeholders have withdrawn from the panel of esports industry awards show Esports Awards in response to its partnership with Saudi Arabia government-backed esports festival Esports World Cup (EWC).

On June 7th, Esports Awards announced a three-year partnership with EWC, with the 2024 ceremony joining the event’s inaugural edition.

ESI London 2024

EWC is an annual multi-title esports festival held in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The event is linked to the Saudi Arabian government through its government-backed organiser, the Esports World Cup Foundation. Moreover, it was the country’s Prime Minister, Mohammed bin Salman, who initially announced the festival.

With the biggest prize pool in esports history, EWC is one of many initiatives that showcase the Saudi Arabian government’s investment in the esports space. These have long been criticised by some members of the competitive gaming community due to the country’s stance on women’s rights, LGBTQ+ rights and censorship. Some stakeholders consider Saudi Arabia’s esports expansion as ‘esportswashing’, claiming that the country aims to distract from its human rights record.

The immediate reaction to Esports Awards’ partnership announcement reflected such sentiments, with notable personalities expressing concern regarding the awards show’s integrity and values.

Soon after, multiple stakeholders, including PGL CEO Silviu Stroie, on-air talent Thom ‘F.’ Badinger, caster Parker Mackay and esports host Caleb Simmons, resigned from the Esports Awards panel.

Last year’s Esports Awards host Alex ‘Goldenboy’ Mendez explained his decision in a post on X (formerly Twitter): “I’m extremely disappointed in the higher-ups at ESA for the direction they’re taking their business, but it’s their choice. Just like this is mine. I have also turned down working any events for the Esports World Cup.

“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.”

Other esports personalities have also come forward to decline any involvement with this year’s awards show. Commentator and host Sean Rogers shared on X: “I spent the last 3 years leading the ESA business summit, engaging with leaders in the industry about the ecosystem and digging deep into how this industry operates, thinks, evolves. I had the pleasure of presenting awards too. It was an honour, but that’s over now.”

The Esports Awards has celebrated industry excellence since its foundation in 2015. So far, the company has not issued a public statement in response to the community concerns and panel withdrawals.

In a written interview with Esports Insider prior to the announcement, Esports Awards CEO Michael Ashford commented on the potential backlash the partnership could receive: “The Esports Awards as the de-facto platform for recognition globally has a very unique position in the competitive gaming ecosystem.

“Over the last eight years, we have worked to be a holistic and all-encompassing platform that predicates itself on recognising excellence globally. We have always been mindful that this has been done whilst spending eight years in the West and realistically three years in the UK and five years in the US.

“This is our first opportunity to position ourselves in a destination that has equal opportunities to attend for the East and West and really stand to create a global hub for esports.”

Lea Maas
Lea is a business student with too many passions and too little time. In addition to missing her shots in Valorant, she spends her free time advocating for mental health awareness and fostering inclusive esports communities.

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