Saudi Arabia’s state-sponsored gaming booth is upsetting queer PAX East attendees

Qiddiya Gaming is a project of the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia and is part of a multibillion dollar initiative to bring esports to the country.

Saudi Arabia’s state-sponsored gaming booth is upsetting queer PAX East attendees
Credit: PAX East Nav Screenshot

Qiddiya Gaming has been keeping quiet about attending PAX East. There’s no press release on their press room, no posts on their social media, and nothing on their website about their attendance. But Qiddiya has appeared, quietly, on the PAX East homepage as one of their Featured Exhibitors, next to companies like Pokemon, Larian Studios, and Final Fantasy XIV. 

What’s not mentioned on the PAX East site or on the vendor listing is that Qiddiya Gaming is one of Saudi Arabia’s state-sponsored programs. It’s been widely reported (from outlets like The Guardian, Reuters, and the Associated Press) that Saudi Arabia is engaging in "sportswashing"—where the government, through investments in sports and games, hopes to "wash over" its less savory press... like human rights abuses. Qiddiya City, the multibillion dollar sportsplex outside of Riyadh, can be seen as another attempt by the authoritarian regime to distract from its horrendous record. Representatives of the Saudi government deny these accusations.

Despite being a Featured Exhibitor, it’s likely that Qiddiya Gaming was a late addition to the program. According to Brian Liberge, part of the leadership team for Games on Demand, the large booth was previously marked by only a number, and it’s only been a few days since their logo popped up on the PAX East Nav App.

After members of the tabletop community realized that Qiddiya Gaming would be attending PAX East, Games on Demand—an independent outfit that has run tabletop games at PAX conventions for over a decade—responded with a demand that ReedPOP (the convention production company behind PAX, Emerald City Comic Con, Star Wars Celebration, and New York Comic Con, among others) and PAX East specifically reconsider their association with Qiddiya.

"We have seen the PAX convention continuously work to make every gamer who comes to the table with a sincere desire to share their joy feel like a welcomed member of the community.” The statement, posted on March 8, reads. “The inclusion of Qiddiya goes against those efforts. One of the six rules of PAX is “Don’t harass anyone” and this group has gone far beyond breaking that rule."

Rascal reached out to PAX East on Friday March 8 and has not heard back. We will update this article if we receive a response. 

It bears explicitly stating: Qiddiya Gaming is very likely exclusively state funded by the authoritarian government of Saudi Arabia, via their Public Investment Fund, which is their Sovereign Wealth Fund. The PIF of Saudi Arabia has invested billions of dollars in the larger Qiddiya City, a new sportsplex/theme park a few miles to the south west of the capital city of Riyadh. All of the Qiddiya City projects, including esports initiatives, are described as part of the government’s Vision 2030 plan.