The International Esports Federation (IESF) has appointed Saudi Arabian royal family member HRH Prince Faisal bin Bandar bin Sultan Al Saud as its Active President.
IESF’s former President, Vlad Marinescu, has stepped down from his position. Prince Faisal has assumed the role of President effective immediately until an upcoming General Assembly vote to confirm his position.
The International Esports Federation is an international body that aims to promote the legitimacy and recognition of esports. It also organises a global nation-based esports tournament, the World Esports Championship.
Prince Faisal is the President of the Saudi Esports Federation and a member of Saudi Arabia’s ruling royal family. He also holds the position of Vice President at rival esports body the Global Esports Federation, and is President of the Arab Esports Federation. Prince Faisal was appointed Statutory Vice President of IESF in June.
IESF said Vlad Marinescu had stepped down due to the ‘evolving demands’ of serving the global esports community. He claimed Prince Faisal was the right person to unify esports internationally and instigate closer relationships with publishers and the Olympic Movement.
In a press statement, outgoing President Marinescu commented: “[Prince Faisal] is a person that I respect and appreciate, who breath[e]s and bleeds esports. He has set an example in Saudi of what a National Federation can achieve. He is well respected and also holds high positions in the Global Esports Federation. He is a friend, who I trust with this heavy next task and to further develop and promote the IESF.”
The appointment comes soon after IESF’s announcement earlier in September that its next World Esports Championship event would take place in Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia has recently embarked on a major government-led investment effort in esports, which has included forming the ESL FACEIT Group for $1.5bn (~£1.1bn), acquiring Vindex, holding a $45m esports festival and buying stakes in multiple major game developers. In September 2022, the country’s leader Mohammed bin Salman unveiled a national gaming and esports strategy, and government-owned Savvy Games Group subsequently announced sweeping $38bn investment plans.
Saudi government-led involvement in esports has met criticism and pushback in esports due to the country’s human rights record, particularly regarding LGBTQ+ rights, women’s rights and censorship. Saudi Arabia claims its investment in esports is an attempt to diversify its economy away from oil and create new jobs, but some commentators have described Saudi involvement as an attempt to alter its public image through ‘esportswashing’.
Asked in September if IESF had any concerns about hosting an event in Saudi Arabia given the country’s human rights record, an IESF spokesperson told Esports Insider: “I don’t understand which concerns you are referring to, as IESF is not a political organisation. We are trying to facilitate positive relations and peace and friendship among all nations of the world.”
HRH Prince Faisal commented in a release that under his leadership, IESF would continue to organise worldwide events, and foster an inclusive environment of fair competition in order to “support the global esports community and drive our industry forward.”
In June, Starladder employee Andrei Yatsenko and local Romanian media reported multiple allegations of shady activity surrounding Romania’s Isai sports body and the IESF, including the payment of the World Esports Championship 2023 licence fee into a newly-established North Macedonian subsidiary effectively controlled by Vlad Marinescu rather than IESF headquarters. An IESF spokesperson previously told The Esports Advocate that it strongly denies any wrongdoing.