Vainglory Ushers in the Era of Mobile eSports

Brian HoughContributor ISeptember 2, 2016


A Massive Opportunity

If you speak with anyone at Super Evil Megacorp (SEMC), makers of the popular mobile game Vainglory, you will hear a familiar number thrown around: three billion.

That number represents the size of the mobile device market. It also makes up a significantly larger market than PCs, the traditional platform for games to which Vainglory owes a lot of its DNA. But most importantly, it is a massive opportunity for any developer who can deliver a unique experience on the platform.

Gaming on your phone is nothing new. Titles like Angry Birds and Clash of Clans have been a huge success. But these games service a different audience. Aimed at the casual or so-called mid-core crowds, these games often sacrifice long-term viability for short-term profit. These games have more in common with Facebook games like Farmville and Mafia Wars than the games most of us watch every day on Twitch.


Hardcore on Mobile

It is into these waters that SEMC dove when they released Vainglory back in 2015. Instead of being content to follow the model laid out by their predecessors, they decided to go after a genre that hadn't been attempted before on mobile and had proven to be a challenge for all but a few PC game developers.

Vainglory is a multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA), a type of game long associated with the most hardcore of audiences, even by PC standards. MOBAs include some of the most-played games in the world, including heavyweights like Riot's League of Legends and Valve's Dota 2. They are also often some of the most complicated games to learn to play well.

Instead of seeing this as a reason to shy away from bringing the complex genre to mobile, Kristian Segerstrale, COO and Executive Director of SEMC, saw it as the exact reason why they should: "Our dream was to bring to the touchscreen generation...the joy of real, long-form gaming".

As someone who grew up in the console generation, Kristian sees phones as the gaming platform of choice for this generation.


Kristian says the decision to go with a MOBA was a deliberate one: "When you play something that is top-down, it is a mini world you can touch. It felt really good to move heroes by touching them."

It wasn't just about making a mobile-friendly MOBA. They wanted to leave their stamp on the genre. Whether it is the unique single-lane map, the uniquely flexible item builds, or the quicker overall pace with no real farming phase, Vainglory is very much its own game.


From Mobile Game to Mobile eSport

So many games set out to create a competitive scene from even before launch. Whether it is with large, developer-backed prize pools or one-off invitational tournaments, making your game an eSport before it is even released has become the norm these days.

For every game that has successfully navigated the eSports waters, hundreds have failed.

SEMC had no intentions of tackling eSports so early in the game's life. Their community, however, was not willing to wait. Soon, player-run tournaments started sprouting up, "hacking" the system to be 2v2 and using the 3rd spot as a spectator mode of sorts.

Upon seeing this, SEMC rushed to get the feature in the game to preserve the gameplay as they had originally intended.

The community quickly started up its own organizations centered around mentoring players and competing in self-run tournaments.

Teams like GankStars and Halcyon Hammers are in large part responsible for the rise of Vainglory eSports and continue to be huge parts of the competitive scene, which, while maintaining its grassroots, has also grown beyond anyone's expectations.


Grassroots to The Big Stage

Seizing the opportunity ahead of them, last year SEMC quickly started running in-house tournaments. Relying in large part on community support, these tournaments quickly grew into a professional display that rivals some of the biggest competitive gaming tournaments. Earlier this year, SEMC took the next step by signing a multi-million dollar, multi-year deal with Twitch to produce and broadcast Vainglory eSports events.

Nick Allen, director of eSports operations at Twitch, had done his homework and saw the community that had sprung up around Vainglory: "There were already a ton of competitions and tournaments. The community was really strong."

According to Nick, Twitch wanted to get in early on a great game on a unique platform: "This is mobile eSports, we think there is a big opportunity there. The momentum the game has shown and the willingness for SEMC to provide resources, we just had to be involved."

It is not just Twitch that sees something special, eSports organizations have also jumped on board. Stalwarts such as Team SoloMid, Mousesports, and now Cloud9 have all gotten into the Vainglory scene, competing in the current summer split, further validating the game's presence in the world of eSports.

All this culminates this weekend, as Vainglory holds its Summer Championships live this weekend.

Amazon, another company that saw the potential in Vainglory, will be hosting the event on their campus from September 2 to 4. Plus, for the first time, teams will be competing for a spot in this December's Vainglory World Championships.

For anyone new to the game, they will get to experience a competition featuring some of the most notable organizations in eSports, that just happens to be played on a touch device.

For a game that had no aspirations of being an eSport, SEMC has proved that making a great game, regardless of platform, is the best way to get there.

All quotations acquired firsthand unless otherwise noted.


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