Plans to hold one of three Rainbow Six Siege major events in the United Arab Emirates have been scrapped by video game developer Ubisoft following an outcry from the game’s esports community regarding the nation’s treatment of LGBTQ individuals.
Ubisoft made the call to remove the major tournament from the UAE via the Rainbow Six Esports Twitter account on Tuesday, saying it heard the community’s criticisms “loud and clear.”
It’s just the latest event finding itself mired in controversy for its selection of host nation.
The backlash began shortly after the game’s year seven roadmap was released during Sunday’s Rainbow Six Invitational event, the game’s largest esports event of the season. The roadmap revealed that the second major of 2022 would take place in the major UAE city Abu Dhabi this August.
Fans responded almost immediately, with many voicing their opposition to Ubisoft’s plans on social media. A petition demanding Ubisoft pull the event from the UAE garnered more than 13,000 signatures prior to Ubisoft’s decision to move the major.
The heart of the issue centers on the UAE’s history of human rights violations and criminalization of LGBTQ identities within its borders.
The proposed Rainbow Six Siege major falls in line with a recent pattern of “sportswashing” throughout the Middle East aimed at rehabilitating the image of multiple nations with terrible human rights records, including against LGBTQ populations.
Similar sporting events held or scheduled to be held by the WWE, Formula 1, FIFA and the UFC — most notably the 2022 men’s soccer World Cup — in Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar have garnered comparable criticism for masking the government abuses of marginalized communities through athletics. The purchase of major soccer clubs in the English Premier League and Major League Soccer by UAE royals and holding companies contribute to this as well.
The Olympics recently found itself at the heart of this conversation in Beijing.
The company claimed that it chose the UAE as a major site after “extensive discussions” with local teams, its esports partner in the region and the UAE government about ensuring the safety and inclusion of all in attendance.
Similar promises have been made by government officials in Qatar as the nation prepares to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup. At the same time, its government continues to criminalize LGBTQ identities and censor any iconography it deems as supporting the LGBTQ community.
Rainbow Six Siege has positioned itself in recent years as one of the most LGBTQ-inclusive esports titles through the introduction of multiple out LGBTQ characters. Its esports operation also employs two notable out broadcasters, Jess “JessGOAT” Bolden and Emi “Fluke” Donaldson.
Both expressed disappointment at the initial decision to host the major in a nation with such terrible LGBTQ policies.
“I think my voice here is obvious, but sharing all the same,” Fluke tweeted alongside a link to the petition. “My family live in the UAE, I’m familiar with it more than most. Trust me when I say I know this isn’t a place to host.”
During her first Twitch stream following the Siege Invitational, JessGOAT got emotional when discussing the issue, saying that Ubisoft’s choice of the UAE was “the cherry on top of a huge cake” of problems she has experienced over her two years working with Ubisoft.
“I have gone through a series of events in the past two years with Ubisoft in this role as a talent that has increasingly made me feel like my human rights and safety have not been taken into consideration either at all or very minimally,” she said.
She described tearing up while calling the Siege Invitational grand final after the announcement aired.
“I was sitting there realizing that there is not a month that goes by in my life where there’s not this extra bit of stress,” she said.
JessGOAT said she would elaborate further on her experiences with Ubisoft in a Twitlonger post, but expressed fear that doing so may cost her her job with Rainbow Six Esports.
“Siege is my passion. I don’t want to leave Siege unless I have to, but I think I’ve hit a wall now where if I lose my job for speaking up about injustice, then I live by my morals and I’ve finally said something even though I’ve sat here for so long feeling like shit.”
I'm proud our community got loud, I'm happy to see where we have ended here.— Emi | Fluke (@CaptainFluke) February 22, 2022
I hope one day to see human rights supported in the region, without it having to be backed by international companies & pressure. The UAE has changed tons in the past 20yrs. Hopefully more in future. ️ https://t.co/eM8vyBJSyE
Both Fluke and JessGOAT expressed relief when Ubisoft withdrew the major from the UAE on Tuesday.
“I’m proud our community got loud, I’m happy to see where we have ended here,” Fluke tweeted. “I hope one day to see human rights supported in the region, without it having to be backed by international companies and pressure. The UAE has changed tons in the past 20 years. Hopefully more in future.”
Though Ubisoft ultimately decided to relocate the event, its statement announcing the news took considerable time explaining its rationale for awarding the major to the UAE in the first place and recommitted itself to investing and developing “competitive activities” in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region “in the spirit of fostering all our local communities around the world.”