ESL and Dreamhack are now owned by Saudi Arabia

Pending regulatory approval, a holding company owned by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund has purchased esports event organizer ESL Gaming and tournament platform FACEIT. According to Sports Business Journal, the price for both companies was $1.5 billion. As part of the acquisition, the two companies will merge into the ESL FACEIT Group, and plan to combine their technology and expertise to “create the ultimate platform for competitive gaming.” ESL is headquartered in Cologne, Germany, and hosts major CS:GO, Dota 2, and other tournaments, as well as the Dreamhack LAN events following a 2020 merger. FACEIT is a competitive gaming platform that provides anti-cheat, matchmaking, and tournament organizing for players and game publishers. Following the merger, ESL CEO Craig Levine and FACEIT CEO Niccolo Maisto will co-lead the new organization. The goal of the ESL FACEIT Group is to take games and players “from casual competitions to arena events on one platform”—essentially, to be the recreational, minor, and major leagues for every esport. Alongside that general statement of intent, the company dug into its plans for a game it’s heavily involved in: Counter-Strike. ESL FACEIT Group says it plans to “promote more stability” for the North American CS:GO esports scene by increasing the number of competitions, creating more incentives for pro teams, and improving the available infrastructure. Ultimately, it aspires to be “a truly global ecosystem” for CS:GO esports with “accessible, well-connected competitive circuits” for everyone. The holding company behind the merger is called Savvy Gaming Group. It was created in 2021 “with a mission to drive long-term growth and development of the games and esports industry worldwide” and is fully owned by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, which controls at least $500 billion of the country’s wealth and is overseen by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Savvy Gaming Group itself is led by CEO Brian Ward, a former Activision executive who helped lead the integration of Blizzard during the 2008 merger. Last year, the Saudi Public Investment Fund controversially led a group takeover of the Premier League’s Newcastle United Football Club. One of the deal’s largest critics, Amnesty International, called it “sportswashing,” defined as the use of high-profile sports teams or events to distract from human rights abuses, in this case referring particularly to Saudi Arabia’s jailing of activists and dissenters. When the deal went through, The Premier League said that it “received legally binding assurances” that the Saudi Arabian government won’t control Newcastle United.

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