Esports Awards moving to Riyadh stokes controversy as some panelists resign

Esports Awards
Esports Awards announces partnership with Esports World Cup Foundation (Image via Esports Awards|| Silviu Stroie || Michael Ashford || Scott Smith)

The recent announcement that the Esports Awards will enter a three-year partnership with the Esports World Cup Foundation, relocating the event to Saudi Arabia, has sparked significant controversy within the esports community that has seen the resignation of several award selection panelists in protest.

I reached out to notable members of the community following the announcement for their thoughts regarding the move to Riyadh.

PGL CEO Silviu Stroie and Esports Awards CEO Michael Ashford share their thoughts

After the announcement was made public, prominent voices within the community have been coming forward. They have been voicing their concerns on social media and through official statements, emphasizing that this partnership sends the wrong message about the industry's commitment to these issues. PGL CEO Silviu Stroie told Sportskeeda that he quit the panel in protest.

The resignations of key panelists underscore the seriousness of these concerns and the potential impact on the credibility and integrity of the awards. When asked about the backlash caused by the announcement, the CEO of the Esports Awards, Michael Ashford, told Sportskeeda:

“I am immensely grateful to each and every member of the panel that has contributed and volunteered hours to provide knowledge deliberately in shortlists and ultimately decide the winners each year. Each position is of course volunteer, and we absolutely respect the right for each individual to have their own viewpoint and to decide whether we align with that. Ultimately our process and recognition are better as a consequence of their contributions and is a debt we can never repay.”

An email, which Sportskeeda acquired, was sent out to panelists informing them about some of the changes that would be taking place with the awards. Here are the changes esports fans can expect:

  • There will be two award events taking place, one in Riyadh in August and one in London in November.
  • Mass-scale nominations will no longer be taking place.
  • The introduction of expert opinions and highlight videos will be utilized to assist with voting based on guidance from the panel counsel, supporting materials, and video content.

The panel will start the nomination process for the summer event on June 10. It will close on June 17, with the finalists being revealed on June 27. Lifetime Achievement nominations will start in mid-July and be revealed on July 25.

Esports Awards' move to Riyadh sparks controversy

The backlash regarding the decision to relocate the event to Saudi Arabia isn't limited to only panelists but has also left some award winners disgruntled. Scott “SirScoots” Smith, the recipient of the Esports Awards Lifetime Achievement for the Class of 2019, has rebuked his award following the move.

Behind the upheaval is the well-documented and discussed record of Saudi Arabia on human rights and how the Kingdom addresses the concerns of the LGBTQIA+ community, women, journalism, and more.

Additionally, critics argue that Saudi Arabia has been engaged in "sportswashing" (the practice of using high-profile events to distract from a country's controversial policies or actions), trying to impart its country’s views that are directly opposed to the values that the esports community has stood on for years.

However, there have been some who are welcoming the partnership, seeing it as a stable path forward.

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