The current men’s football (soccer) World Cup in Qatar feels like the clearest exemplar for everything wrong in the world. From its origins in a bribery scandal, to the horrendous deaths of thousands of migrant workers to make it happen, to the international support for the competition despite it being held in a nation with a disgusting human rights record, everything about it is sordid and dreadful. Meanwhile, in Fortnite, you can now dress your character up in soccer gear with Pride colors.
As Eurogamer reports, Fortnite has long featured official football (look, I’m British, I can’t call it “soccer” every time, I’ll get hurt in the street) skins, from Premiership team colors to official tie-in outfits from UEFA events. But this time out, during what is the biggest sporting event in the world, there are no official or sponsored tie-ins at all. It seems Epic has the sense to steer well clear of directly associating itself with this most problematic of tournaments. But, you know, still cashing in.
Called “Let Them Know,” the soccer-ish uniform skins are accompanied by a bunch of in-game tasks to unlock rewards, the usual Fortnite deal. What’s interesting is that Epic never explicitly states what they mean by “Let Them Know.” The closest they get is to say, “Let them know! Specifically, let the squad know what you’re all about,” which clears up absolutely nothing. Some are assuming it’s a suggestion that players could, y’know, use the color schemes available to dress their characters up in Pride-supporting outfits, as a response to the horrific treatment of gay people in Qatar. In fact, the main promotional image for the event (above) does look uncannily like the bisexual flag.
Subtle as it is, the apparent ability to make a statement about Qatar’s persecution of LGBTQ people seems like a nice gesture. However, when considering the sheer scope of the Cup’s human cost, the corruption that led to it, and the fact that any symbols of Pride are banned at the games themselves, it’s hard not to think it might have been better for Epic not to try profiting off the event at all.
In 2020, the New York Times reported that the U.S. Department of Justice had outright stated that FIFA officials (those who chose which nation gets to host the World Cup) were bribed by Qatar. The selection of a desert with no football pitches to host the event was considered deeply strange when it was announced in 2010, and the reasons why became ever more clear over the next decade.
Of course, Qatar then had to actually build enough stadia, hotels, and accompanying infrastructure to host the event, and to do this, it’s reported they relied on poorly paid migrant workers, working in abysmal and frequently deadly conditions. It’s been reported by the Guardian that at least 6,500 migrant workers have died in the last decade while working on the project.
Then there’s Qatar itself, a nation where homosexuality is illegal, punishable by up to seven years in prison, or even the death penalty. Human Rights Watch reports that LGBTQ people arrested for the “crime” of their identity are often brutally beaten in detention, with reports of this happening as recently as September this year. Meanwhile, HRW states that women’s rights are “severely curtailed,” with laws preventing women from being able to make decisions about their own lives.
It’s into this country that every qualifying nation is merrily sending its teams to play in the World Cup, while companies like Adidas, Crypto.com, McDonald’s Visa, and Coca-Cola sponsor the event.
So, you can see why Epic might not want to directly affiliate themselves with this monstrous debacle. Although, at the same time, still profit alongside it with a bunch of football-related events and outfits.