ReKTGlobal's Bahrain deal raises ethical questions

ReKTGlobal, the esports umbrella group that controls Rogue Gaming, among other things, announced in the last few days a partnership with the Bahraini Royal Family. Reported in Esports Insider on May 27th by their writer David Hollingsworth, the group has plans for an investment partnership with the Bahrain Royal Family’s esports company, OverPowered Network.

For those who are in esports ReKTGlobal and their CEO Amish Shah will be a familiar, if not necessarily welcome sight. Set up a couple of years ago, the group is another attempt to get a piece of the pie from someone without much tenure in esports itself, with part of their strategy being email spam about Shah’s latest ‘achievements’ aimed at any and every esports writer, hoping one would bite.

Esports Insider bit, as they seem to have done on a fair few ReKT stories. The partnership will see ReKTGlobal, use their infrastructure to grow esports in the Middle East. The news comes off the back of recent investment in ReKTGlobal by Imagine Dragons band members, Daniel Platzam and Wayne Sermon, a band known for their charitable work, and its reporting in ESI followed a trend for that publication.

However, given the dire Human Rights record of Bahrain, and the overall importance of inclusivity to the continued success of esports, the deal must be questioned from both ends, but particularly ReKTGlobal’s. A 2018 report by Human Rights Watch makes for worrying reading, and the idea of young esports hopefuls travelling to that part of the world doesn’t bode well.

Some of the highlights of the Human Rights report, which can be found here, include a number of extremely problematic facts, chief among which is the fact Bahrain is still fundamentally lacking a free press, and is ruled by people who have no issues imprisoning Human Rights defenders rather than address the issues.

Three illegal executions this year

To put this in perspective, and give an example of just how the Kingdom is run, the government executed three people in January following unfair trials, despite their alleging that they had been tortured and their confessions coerced. This occurred after they ended a de facto moratorium on use of the death penalty, and came alongside the restoration of arrest and investigation powers to the National Security Agency, despite its record of torture and abuse. In April, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa signed legislation authorizing trial of civilians before military courts.

Ironically, in some ways the Kingdom is far ahead of some of their neighbours, mainly due to the fact that Bahrain is one of the safest places in the middle east to be gay in Bahrain. There is no law prohibiting discrimination against anyone based on gender, race, or sexuality, but consenting adults over 21 are not punished for the crime of being gay where in other nearby nations they might have to live in hiding, unable to even hold hands in public.

There is serious religious discrimination as well, with ‘Shia women are not covered by a codified personal status law’. This means that, while both Sunni and Shia women face discrimination in the right to divorce and other matters, those of the ‘wrong’ faith are treated as less than human in comparison to their Sunni peers, in a nation that already holds women as second class citizens.

Possibly the most insane and Orwellian measure in the report is worth mentioning, if only for the sheer lunacy of the law. On June 6, Bahraini authorities declared that it would be a crime punishable by up to five years in prison to express “sympathy” with Qatar or criticize Bahrain’s decision to break relations with that country and, together with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt, impose economic and movement restrictions.

It is certain that if big esports stars follow the money and travel to Bahrain, as they have done with nations like China or Russia, their experience will be a happy and luxurious one, but the hypocrisy of the esports media and ReKTGlobal cannot be ignored. The same writers who tore into long-term servants of the scene for tiny infractions, labelling people racist and sexist not only despite a lack of evidence, but in spite of contrary evidence, have remained silent on this story so far.

As for ReKTGlobal, their recent investment comes from a band famous for their support for good causes, and associate Steve Aoki is equally committed to his charitable contributions. If the world of esports is really committed to equality for all, deals like this need to be called out, rather than glossed over, and we must accept that some money comes with too high a price to be worth taking.