Saudi Arabia announced in April that it will host an esports charity tournament series, Gamers Without Borders, with a total of $ 10 million to be distributed. There are more games and the winners decide to which charity the money will be directed.
Among other things, Dota 2 has already been played in the tournament series, where a considerable number of top European teams competed. The win and the $ 750,000 donation pot went to Team Secret starring Lasse “MATUMBAMAN” Urpalainen. This weekend, a $ 2 million charity pot will be played at Counter-Strike. Among others, the OG team starring Aleksi “Aleksib” from Estonia is present.
Players and fans have been looking forward to the tournaments, even though Saudi Arabia, known for its heady human rights record, has been in the headlines for years.
In recent years, Saudi Arabia has tried to improve its image by sponsoring a wide range of sporting events. The country has hosted a major boxing match (Anthony Joshua - Andy Ruiz junior), driven a Formula E series, played a golf ATP Tour series and hosted an Italian Super Cup football final.
The 10 million esports tournament is comparable to Saudi Arabia’s sports brainwashing, which The Guardian wrote about last fall. The term has been used in particular by the human rights organization Amnesty.
According to the Guardian, Saudi Arabia can be said to have strategically chosen sponsorship targets to divert attention from the Yemeni war and improve the country’s image. In the Guardian’s article last fall, esports have also been mentioned as one way to get better visibility into the country.
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Saudi Arabia has been in the headlines for years for its human rights record, which is deplorable despite attempts to improve its image. The Saudi-led alliance has been at war in Yemen for more than four years. The war has taken the lives of tens of thousands of civilians.
In the UK, discrimination against women and minorities, torture, executions and non-existent freedom of expression are still commonplace, human rights organizations Amnesty and Human Rights Watch have stated.
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The Gamers Without Borders tournament series is officially organized by the Saudi Arabian Esports Federation (SAFEIS). ESL was the only racing player to run the tournaments and technically. Teams can donate their winnings to Unicef, Gavi or Direct Relief, among others.
Esports has gained significantly more visibility as a result of the corona pandemic. Although a significant number of major esports events have had to be canceled, for many games it is still possible to play online. Player and spectator numbers have risen during the corona for many games. Esports especially reach teenagers and young men.
Saudi Arabia has been in the headlines several times in terms of human rights. Last summer, for example, rapper Nicki Minaj withdrew from Saudi Arabia after receiving a significant amount of rage from a gig announcement. According to the BBC, the rapper stated that he had no choice but to cancel the gig once he was familiar with the situation in the country.