Big shock in the gaming community: both FACEIT and ESL have been bought up together for a sum of 1.5 billion dollars – by none other than the Saudi government. Unfortunately, Saudi Arabia is primarily known for human rights violations, and the community doesn’t like that at all. It hails criticism from all sides.
Behind the purchase of the ESL and FACEIT is the Savvy Gaming Group (SGG), an organization from the controversial country of Saudi Arabia. This organization is financed by the government’s Public Investment Fund, which pumps a lot of money into projects to boost the economy. The fund is headed by CEO Brian Ward, who was previously a senior VP at Activision. ESL was bought for $1 billion, Esports platform FACEIT was bought for $500 million and the two companies will now merge under the new leadership.
Human rights violations in Saudi Arabia
Apparently, the brands of the two companies (FACEIT, ESL, DreamHack, ESEA and Badlion) will continue as usual. After the deal was announced, fans, gamers and other people from the community alike were shocked by the deal and there was a lot of negative feedback, just like there was with the Saudi NEOM project.
Saudi Arabia has plenty of money, but is not exactly known for its great human rights. Quite the opposite. The death penalty is still in place, torture and public flogging are legal, women’s rights are almost non-existent, modern slavery is not uncommon and homosexuality can be punished by death. To name just a few examples.
ESL 🤝 FACEIT
Esports is about starting your own path, challenging your game, and becoming a world champion one day. This is at the core of what FACEIT and ESL have built independently; until now. We are teaming up.
— ESL (@ESL) January 24, 2022
So if now the ESL and FACEIT merge under the Saudi Arabian umbrella, one wonders of course how inclusive the community can still be, because the Saudi Arabian values clearly go against those of the LGBTQ community. Even if they don’t interfere directly, hardly anyone wants to have anything to do with such a dictatorial government.
Saudi Arabia’s goal behind the purchase
This mega sum of $1.5 billion is a lot of money and it seems like Saudi Arabia is desperate to get a foot in the Esports world. First with their NEOM project and now with the purchase of ESL and FACEIT. The Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF) is worth 400 billion dollars, so 1.5 billion of that is peanuts.
The aim of the fund is to revive Saudi Arabia’s economy and to safeguard the country in case oil runs out at some point in the future. Money from this fund has already been used to buy shares in Activision Blizzard, which is also not very interested in human and women’s rights. The deal was worth 3 billion. With the investment in sports and Esports, the viewership is supposed to be “bought”, because another goal of the government is to get involved in world affairs, but under the pretext of “love of sports” to let their atrocities fall under the carpet.
ESL runs IEM
Savvy Gaming Group funded by the Saudi Govt.
IEM is sponsored by the U.S. Air Force
The US government now pays Saudi Arabia to recruit soldiers 🧠 pic.twitter.com/C7AHuJutTj
— Austin Redfern (@Jujubez_) January 24, 2022
Not an isolated case
Several dictatorial regimes are already in the process of buying major soccer clubs. Saudi Arabia and AbuDhabi recently bought Newcastle United and became owners of Manchester City, respectively. The purchase of Newcastle was particularly controversial and even Amnesty International has spoken out about the deal. “From the outset, we have pointed out that this deal is a clear attempt by the Saudi authorities to whitewash their appalling human rights record with the glamor of top-level soccer.”
The same thing now seems to be happening in Esports. It’s a pure PR move designed to unite fans under their beloved sport and make Saudi Arabia look better than it actually is. ESL had this to say about the deal: “Our mission remains unchanged: to create a world where everyone can be someone. Our merger with FACEIT and the support of SGG give us more expertise, skills and resources than ever before to make that vision a reality.”
While that may be true, one thing should be very clear: Saudi Arabia regularly violates human rights and there was no need to associate with such a questionable country. But once again, the focus is on money.
The ESL+FaceIt deal with Saudi Arabia is so sad! I can’t express how shitty I feel about it!
ESL is responsible for at least 80% of the CSGO tier 1 scene!
I hate Saudi Arabia government! Should I stop watching ESL events? It’s so sad!
What can we do!? We just accept the L?
— AlaaaW! (@AlaaaW_csgo) January 25, 2022
Is it all still justifiable?
Another point that has recently attracted negative attention is that large companies are buying up smaller companies quite rapidly. Whether it’s Saudi Arabia (not a company but a country) with ESL/FACEIT or Microsoft with Activision Blizzard – will we get monopolies only soon? Somehow these deals don’t give you the very best feeling lately.
Moreover, it involves vast sums of money, which also raises the question among many people whether this is still ethically justifiable. Microsoft bought Activision Blizzard for nearly $70 billion, making disgraced CEO Bobby Kotick much richer than he already was.
All of these purchases have only one thing in mind: to make the buyer even richer or, as in the case of Saudi Arabia, to also burnish their reputation. At the same time, the people at Blizzard are paid so poorly that they can barely live on it, and some voices in the community have been raised that all this is no longer ethically justifiable.
-Given the new ownership by the Saudi Arabia investment fund, it will be interesting to see if ESL's approach to betting changes. They have historically been open to gambling and have had a number of gambling partners (1xBet, Bayes, etc)
— Jeff "The Juice" Cohen (@JeffCohen23) January 25, 2022