Counter-Strike commentator Moses criticizes BLAST for NEOM partnership

The BLAST partnership with NEOM was announced on July 28. BLAST

Top Counter-Strike: Global Offensive commentator Jason "Moses" O'Toole criticized tournament organizer RFRSH Entertainment for BLAST's partnership with NEOM, a Saudi Arabian state-backed city development, according to an email obtained and published by DBLTAP on Saturday.

O'Toole confirmed the accuracy of the email in a tweet on Saturday, stating that he had spoken to a BLAST representative about his concerns around the partnership. In the email, O'Toole said he was disappointed by RFRSH, which owns BLAST, and BLAST's silence around the controversial partnership, which was announced on July 28.

"I cannot properly express how frustrating and disappointing this has been for many of us," O'Toole wrote in the email, according to DBLTAP. "Most of us stood by your side after the debacle of cancelling a day of your first ever event, and we did what we could to publicly soothe the community and show that you guys were on the right track. We have been there through multiple tough stretches that BLAST has had to endure. To not have that respect and loyalty returned here in any way should fill all of you with shame.

"Your silence on this matter is deafening, and now it is harming those who have worked closest with you over the past few years. Your refusal to speak up in defense of your own deal has placed your employees in the crossfire. Your weakness in this regard has allowed the freelancers you work with to be hung out to dry under public scrutiny."

BLAST did not respond to a request for comment.

NEOM has drawn criticism online for the land on which it is being built and its affiliation with Saudi Arabia. A $500 billion futuristic city development, NEOM is being built on land that is partially occupied by the Huwaitat tribe, an indigenous tribe that is native to Jordan, Palestine and Saudi Arabia. In an interview with The Guardian, London-based tribe member and activist Alia Hayel Aboutiyah al-Huwaiti said that NEOM was being "built on our blood."

Saudi Arabia follows Islamic Sharia Law, where it is illegal to be gay or transgender. These acts have been punished by fines, public whippings, castrations and various forms of imprisonment, according to a report from The Guardian.

On July 29, the League of Legends European Championship announced their own partnership with NEOM, drawing both internal and external criticism. The LEC's partnership with NEOM was canceled 16 hours after it was announced after members of the LEC broadcast team threatened to boycott that weekend's games if Riot Games did not end the partnership.

Privately, several partner teams of BLAST's have reached out to the company about their concerns around the partnership, sources familiar with those discussions told ESPN. Jason Lake, the CEO of Complexity Gaming -- which won the BLAST Spring 2020 European Finals -- said on Twitter that he had engaged with the organizer about the partnership, but to the best of his knowledge, partner teams were not made aware of BLAST's NEOM deal prior to it being announced.

In a press release announcing the NEOM deal in July, BLAST CEO Robbie Douek called it a "record deal" for BLAST and said the company would help contribute to development around NEOM's sports offerings, including its interest in esports.

In addition to BLAST's silence on the issue, many top Counter-Strike commentators and teams have drawn criticism for their public silence around the partnership, including from publications such as The Esports Observer and on Twitter. Among Counter-Strike's most high-profile figures, journalist Richard Lewis, content creator and analyst Duncan "Thorin" Shields, host and interviewer Frankie Ward and commentators Vince Hill, Lauren "Pansy" Scott, Hugo Byron, Harry Russell and Dust Mouret have expressed their concerns around the partnership publicly, but many others have remained silent.

Funding NEOM is Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund, which is led by Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman and has larger financial stakes in several high-profile public companies, such as Uber, BP, Carnival and Bank of America, according to Fintel. Saudi's Public Investment Fund also owns more than 5 million shares in the Walt Disney Company, the parent of ESPN.

Bin Salman has come under intense Western scrutiny after the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in a Saudi consulate in Instanbul in October 2018. In November 2018, the CIA concluded that the killing of Khashoggi, a critic of the Saudi Arabian government, had been ordered by Bin Salman himself, according to the Washington Post. The United Nations in June 2019 concluded that the Saudi Arabian government was responsible for Khashoggi's murder, a CNN report said.

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