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Saudi Arabia to host 'League of Legends' esports competition with Riot Games

Thomas Barrabi

Riot Games will host an esports tournament for its hit video game franchise “League of Legends” in Saudi Arabia this week, marking the latest major collaboration for an embattled nation that has invested heavily to lure Western sporting events despite international pressure regarding its human rights record.

Dubbed “The Nexus,” the competition will take place from Dec. 5 to Dec. 7 in Riyadh and feature $2 million in prizes across several events. The main event, Summoner’s Rift, will have $850,000 in prizes and feature eight qualifying teams from across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, including Kuwait and Lebanon.

“The Nexus is our first step in solidifying our presence in the region to support and celebrate our players," Riot Games METAI general manager Onur Tamer said in a statement. "The launch of the Nexus festival is just one part of our plan to increase our presence in the MENA region.”

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Riot Games also plans to release a localized version of “League of Legends” for Arabic language speakers in 2020, the company said.

Aside from a variety of gaming-related events, The Nexus will feature a headlining performance by musician Jason Derulo and is part of Riyadh Season, a weeks-long cultural festival funded by the Saudi General Entertainment Authority.

Saudi Arabia’s dealings with U.S.-based firms have faced intense scrutiny in recent months following the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was killed inside the Saudi Arabian consulate last year. A United Nations special investigator later implicated Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the crime, citing “credible evidence” of his involvement. Salman has denied ordering Khashoggi’s death.

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World Wrestling Entertainment drew widespread criticism last year for its decision to hold an event in Saudi Arabia just weeks after Khashoggi’s death. The wrestling organization held its first-ever women’s wrestling match in Saudi Arabia last month.

Aside from the “League of Legends” event, Saudi Arabia will play host to a highly anticipated boxing rematch between heavyweights Anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz later this month. Human rights group ALQST accused Saudi Arabia last month of holding sporting events to soften its international image and distract from abuses.

“They are trying to cover up their abuses by holding high-profile sporting events and spectacles supported by businesspeople, politicians and sporting figures around the world,” the group said in a statement at the time.

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Riot Games, which counts Chinese firm Tencent as its majority owner, did not respond to a request for further comment.

The California-based video game developer has faced its own issues. Riot Games agreed this week to pay $10 million to current and former female employees to settle gender discrimination claims.

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