ESPORTS: Team Liquid explains decision to continue participating in Esports World Cup

Team Liquid execs took to social media Tuesday to explain why they will continue participating in the Esports World... Paolo | 11. June 2024

Team Liquid execs took to social media Tuesday to explain why they will continue participating in the Esports World Cup despite controversies hounding the multi-esport event.

In a video posted on X (formerly known as Twitter), Team Liquid co-CEO Victor Goosens said that three key factors weighed on him: competition, fandom, and the commercialization of the earlier two.

“When it comes to the Esports World Cup, for most of our teams and players, this is either the most important or second most important event of the year,” Goosens said at the beginning of the video.

He adds, “for a period of two months, the Esports World Cup is the center point of esports, representing all the facets of what makes Team Liquid relevant in this space. I do want to make it clear that our participation is our decision to make as a management team. That responsibility falls on our shoulders and not the players.”

As of this writing, Team Liquid’s Mobile Legends: Bang Bang team from the Philippines have already qualified for the 2024 Mid-Season Cup after emerging victorious in the Grand Finals of MPL Philippines Season 13. Their Dota 2, League of Legends, EA FC 24, Starcraft II and Apex Legends teams will also be participating in the tournament in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

However, Goosens said that should any of their teams feel uncomfortable to participate in Saudi Arabia due to several issues being present in the country, they will find a stand-in and the players will be paid their salaries as normal.

“We’ve spoken to human rights organizations such as Amnesty International, Out Leadership, entities that operate in the region such as the U.S. Embassy. We’ve talked to local organizations and members of the LGBTQ community who live on locations. We’ve had conversations with women who participate in the workforce in Riyadh.

And of course, all of this has led to lots and lots of internal dialogue and conversations about all of these topics. And as a part of that work, we want to call out the human rights track record of Saudi Arabia, as we think it’s ever important to speak about this,” Goosens said, calling out the lack of political freedom, limitations to criticism of the Royal Family and the government, concerns with migrant workers, and concerns abou the LGBTQIA+ community. 

Team Liquid co-CEO Steve Arhancet added to Goosens’ explanation, saying in a follow-up tweet, “As a gay man, I understand the pain of exclusion. However, as a U.S. citizen, I know my struggles pale compared to what LGBT Saudis face daily. With full acknowledgement of this difference, here’s what I know to be true for myself and my journey: Gaming has been a lifesaver for me when I felt I never fit in. Even though there have been times when I didn’t necessarily feel welcome within the esports community itself, it’s been a consistent source of joy and camaraderie throughout my life — and I’m sure that many of you feel the same way about how important gaming is in your lives. This is why we are all so protective of it. Team Liquid is in a position where we can bring that message to many more people, as long as we continue to speak about it.”

Arhancet added that they will be open to face any negative backlash following their decision to continue competing.

“After all, this is a deeply conflicting decision for all of us, as we will be accepting money from the Saudi government, despite our reservations. However, this is not the moment to hide and stay silent, and pretend that things will blow over. Instead, we will face the controversy and discontent that will justifiably come our way, and continue to support the causes that are important for TL,” Arhancet said in a tweet.

Team Liquid is one of 30 teams selected for the Esports World Cup Club Support Program, which gives teams a one-time six-figure stipend if an organization is willing to enter new esports as well as additional funding each year if they drive viewership and fan engagement to the Esports World Cup. 

Saudi Arabia’s increasing investments in esports has sparked intense online criticism over the country’s stance on women’s rights, LGBTQ+ rights, and censorship. Some industry voices have described Saudi Arabia’s involvement in competitive gaming as “esportswashing,” suggesting it is an effort to divert attention from its human rights record, as well as its brutal treatment of journalists following the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.