Ubisoft drops plan to hold Rainbow Six Siege major in United Arab Emirates

Rainbow Six Siege
(Image credit: Ubisoft)

Update: Following community outcry against the decision to hold a Rainbow Six Siege Major in the United Arab Emirates, a country where being LGBTQ+ is illegal, Ubisoft has announced that it will move the August 2022 Major to a different location. 

Ubisoft defended the initial decision to have the event in the UAE, saying it was made following "extensive discussions with our local teams in the region, the UAE government, and our local esports partner." All involved parties had committed to ensuring that "anyone, of all gender identities, sexual orientations, cultural backgrounds, or other individual traits, would be included and welcomed."

"With that in mind, we also hear loud and clear that members of the international Siege community question this choice, and we have taken the decision to move the Six Major of August 2022 to another Rainbow Six Esports region, with the exact location yet to be determined," Ubisoft said in the update announcement on Twitter.

Despite the change, Ubisoft committed to continuing to develop local Rainbow Six esports events in the Middle East-North Africa (MENA) region, saying that it is "fast evolving into a key videogame hub in the world."

Original story: Rainbow Six Siege recently announced its roadmap for year seven, which is first of all a big number and a reminder of just how right Ubisoft managed to get things with this competitive FPS. Siege is in rude health, has an established community that (mostly) loves it, and in recent years this most gruff spec-ops experience has been making moves towards a more inclusive cast and atmosphere: multiple in-game operators are LGBTQ+, as are several prominent members of the pro scene.

All of which is necessary context for the news that Ubisoft has announced one of this year's three Rainbow Six Siege Majors will take place in the United Arab Emirates. The game's three marquee events in 2022 will be held in the United States, the UAE, and the last in Asia.

Season 2022:

  • Stage 1 Major - May 2022: United-States.
  • Stage 2 Major - August 2022: United Arab Emirates.
  • Stage 3 Major - November 2022: Asia.

The UAE is a country where being LGBTQ+ is still a crime, and the legal punishment for homosexuality could be death (albeit this has not been applied in modern times). It also discriminates against women and migrants, has an appalling human rights track record, targets and abducts (at best) critics of the regime, and retains capital punishment. The UAE is ranked 2/100 by the equality index: the second-worst country in the world in terms of legal rights.

This hasn't gone down well with the Siege community. The basic argument is that the country's culture is not compatible with how Siege has presented itself, and that this is ultimately an example of esportswashing. It's like greenwashing, but with cheering arenas and human rights violations instead of ad campaigns and trees.

PC Gamer spoke to a prominent member of Siege's pro scene, who asked to remain anonymous, about the decision. They explained that people felt Ubisoft had been less-than-straightforward about announcing this, and there was a sense the publisher had attempted to sneak the decision out during a tribute to KiXSTAr, a former Siege pro player and commentator who passed away in October 2021.

The conflation with the Kix tribute does seem an especial bone of contention, though the smokescreen may have been unintentional. The esports segment streamed to viewers was pre-recorded, so it's possible it was made before the summer Major had been set for the UAE. The buck for R6 Siege competitive stops with Francois-Xavier Deniele, senior esports director at Ubisoft.

There are apparently behind-the-scenes discussions ongoing in the pro scene about a concerted pushback in order to make Ubisoft reconsider the decision: though what form this would take is unclear. One thing that has happened is the launch of a petition calling on Ubisoft to cancel the UAE event, which so far has attracted just over 12,000 signatures.

A segment of the petition reads: "UAE or United Arab Emirates has documented serious LGBTQ+ right issues in the past year, criminalising homosexuality resulting in floggings, fines, deportation, chemical castration, forced conversion therapy, honour killings, vigilante execution and more.

"With the inclusion of LGBTQ+ members of R6:S talent, we believe as a collective that this decision is short-sighted, dangerous and backwards to the developing ideology of esports, Rainbow Six: Siege and it’s community. Within SI 2022, there was an emphasis on the importance of Rainbow’s community, and this announcement is borderline insulting to our identity. We demand a change."

The signatories include various personalities from the Siege scene and at least one community manager.

Fans against the decision have pointed out that two big talents in the R6 pro scene, Jess and Fluke, are respectively bisexual and a trans woman. Whether they'd want to go to the UAE is questionable, to put it mildly. Fluke took to Twitter in the aftermath of the news and posted the below tweet.

There's also the fact that Siege itself now contains multiple LGBTQ+ operators such as Flores and Osa. Presumably they'll be included in the Major, which seems an odd juxtaposition. The writer behind Pulse, a bisexual operator, called the decision a "slap in the face."

To zoom-out a little from this, Ubisoft is hardly alone among companies and sports willing to take the dirham. The Abu Dhabi grand prix has been a part of the F1 calendar since 2009, and cycling has had a UAE tour since 2019. Perhaps the biggest example of 'sportswashing' is Manchester City F.C., always a decently-sized English club with a proud history, which in 2008 was taken over by a UAE holding company, injected with countless millions, and has been an enormous success on the pitch. Subsequently New York City FC, also ultimately owned by the Abu Dhabi royal family, was established in Major League Soccer.

Getting back to Siege, no-one's expecting Sheikh Mansour to be presenting the gongs. It's simply that it puts R6S down on the list of activities that are happy enough to associate with the UAE and turn a blind eye to the culture of the place and what it stands for. 

This does seem like a needless own-goal for Siege in the light of its ongoing push towards a more diverse cast and a generally welcoming esports scene. And it creates questions that Ubisoft will have to employ pretzel logic to answer.

I contacted Ubisoft about this decision, but there's no comment at the time of writing. I'll update this article with any response.

Rich Stanton

Rich is a games journalist with 15 years' experience, beginning his career on Edge magazine before working for a wide range of outlets, including Ars Technica, Eurogamer, GamesRadar+, Gamespot, the Guardian, IGN, the New Statesman, Polygon, and Vice. He was the editor of Kotaku UK, the UK arm of Kotaku, for three years before joining PC Gamer. He is the author of a Brief History of Video Games, a full history of the medium, which the Midwest Book Review described as "[a] must-read for serious minded game historians and curious video game connoisseurs alike."