Eighteen months ago, we got to know a new entry in the MOBA genre—a sweet little touch screen game called Vainglory. Made exclusively for mobile by small Bay Area development team Super Evil Megacorp, Vainglory dreamed its unique approach to competitive play would one day amount to something big. This weekend in Hollywood, California, that dream became reality as Super Evil Megacorp pulled off the first ever Vainglory World Championship.
Held at the world-famous Chinese Theater on Hollywood Boulevard, the three day event was completely sold out. Star-struck tourists posed for pictures under Vainglory banners while inside the venue, the world's best Vainglory teams battled it out for a $120,000 prize pool. Of course, this level of success isn't exactly a surprise. Over the last year and a half, Super Evil has inked some impressive deals with Twitch, Red Bull and Amazon, as well as some of the best-known esports teams, clear indicators of the game's global popularity.
Along with showcasing high-level Vainglory expertise, the World Championship served as a platform for Super Evil to reveal its plan for world esports domination. COO Kristian Segerstrale was at the show and eager to discuss Vainglory's role in advancing gameplay, esports, and gamers' expectations.
MMORPG: What were your expectations regarding this inaugural World Championship event?
KS: We're really excited that we've been able to sell out the Chinese Theater. It's a great atmosphere and for us the most fun thing is for the first time, seeing the best teams from around the world playing each other.
MMORPG: What was the tipping point for you in deciding Vainglory could support an event like this?
KS: It's been steady progress throughout. We're building for the touch screen generation the kind of gaming experiences we (PC gamers) grew up with. If you think of mobile gaming as a cultural phenomenon right now, it's sort of where PC gaming was in the mid-90's. The whole multi-player togetherness thing hasn't really started.
When we first released Vainglory two years ago on high end iOS devices, it was us beginning to learn 'what does this mean for the touch screen generation who do all of their entertainment on their phones?' What does this type of gaming mean for them? Working with the community throughout has been fun because it's helped us figure out how to fit into people's lives in the right way.
MMORPG: Have you ever been surprised in learning about those gamers' expectations?
KS: I don't think anyone has figured out how to use this platform to its absolute fullest. The thing we've been really focused on this year has been the truly mobile aspect of this game. More than half of our players get together physically like over lunch or coffee. It's sort of a mix between modern day LAN party and tabletop gaming. It's that feeling of playing together with friends that makes this experience so different from PC gaming or other forms of mobile gaming.
I think that's the experience that resonates with gamers throughout, whether you're a PC gamer by tradition or a mobile gamer by tradition. What we have seen is the expectation of breadcrumbing in the game itself is much higher with mobile first generation. It's something we've invested a lot into. This year we rolled out a quest system all of watching just videos. We're still working on that.
The thing that has really blown us away—a couple of updates ago we enabled you to do match replays and record those replays onto your device with a free camera or streaming direct from device onto platforms like Mob Crush. And that content creation appetite within the community has completely blown us away. The mobile generation is truly—surprise surprise—mobile first. They're very comfortable doing all the recording and editing locally.
MMORPG: What do you think means for the game business in general? Do you think the mobile generation's preferences will supplant those of the PC or console generations?
KS: I really don't think so. If you take any form of media so far; television didn't kill off movies, YouTube didn't kill off television. There's just more content being consumed in different ways. I think there's tremendous opportunity for growth in the at-home living room experiences through VR and all the amazing things the console companies are working on. I think that's early in its cycle. The market is lucrative but may not grow much in the short term. Compare that to the three billion people who own touch-screens.
I think it'll be a very healthy ecosystem throughout, and I as a gamer, I play everything on every platform. The thing we think is most exciting and that suits our skill set within this market is really is helping the mobile-first generation sort of graduate through the stand-alone experience to more shared multiplayer, having-fun-together-style experiences.
MMORPG: Back when Vainglory was first launched, MOBAs were the hot development trend; it seemed everyone was making one. How's the competition feel now that a good number of those games were either never finished or vanished after launch? Aside from League of Legends, are people still excited about MOBAs?
KS: The MOBA market is so PC-oriented, we don't really target that. Even if no one in this world who owned a PC ever touched Vainglory, we'd still have three or four times the addressable audience. The idea of playing together where our skills complement each other and we achieve together is a very universal thing. Nintendo got that early on. It's all about togetherness.
And the kind of game you play is beside the point. Great game design is great game design. So I don't think too much about MOBA as a genre. I don't know anyone who says, “I'm a MOBA player.” They say, “I'm a League player or I'm a DOTA player.” We haven't thought of it as, we're part of a genre. We're thinking as trying to create a whole new kind of play experience for the mobile generation.
MMORPG: So you're trying to build that kind of community-slash-lifestyle for Vainglory?
MMORPG: So where's your biggest audience? Where do most of your players come from?
KS: We've grown really rapidly recently. This year we've more than tripled our audience on Android. Android's very popular in Southeast Asia. There's been places in Southeast Asia where there's Vainglory cafes and big regional get-togethers. We've also grown in a very healthy fashion in North America and Europe. One of the most fun things about our growth is that the very first place where we released the beta of the game was Singapore.
We've never done any marketing in Singapore, but today it has the highest ratio of Vainglory players per capita in the world. Just organically, through the community. Vainglory lives in the popular consciousness there in a whole different way than anywhere else in the world. To us, that's a good story that if we take care of our community, the community thrives.
MMORPG: What's your plan for working with teams and players with your new franchise program?
KS: We've worked very closely with all the teams. The professional teams have done an awful lot to educate the player base and to create incredible content for everyone to watch. Many of the large organizations have joined. They've sort of taken a leap into the unknown by joining in the past year. TSM, Cloud 9, etc. What we are doing with the franchise program is the natural next step in that. We're deepening these partnerships and formalizing them as they have been already.
The broad gist of it is we say “Thank you so much for helping us grow this game and grow the competitive scene for Vainglory. Please continue doing that moving forward and let's together come up with a good set of rules for promoting a competitive ecosystem that's really great to watch and play, that takes care of its players, that's long-term sustainable, that's a good business for everyone. We do that together and we'll share the proceeds that this system generates.
What we are not saying is “buy a franchise from us in order to compete at the highest level.” In fact, you don't need a franchise to compete at the highest level. You still have to earn your top spot. That's important to us. The dream has to be alive that you can get together with two others and qualify all the way. But at the same time, those teams that are really investing a lot of time and money into promoting Vainglory, we want to make sure that's rewarded with a share of the revenue.
MMORPG: So what's more important to you—building community or helping people become professional gamers?
KS: Ultimately our dream is to have a competitive ecosystem which is played at all levels. All the way from the little leagues to world championships. To make that happen, we think it's very important that we promote both grass roots level competition—like there are now college level leagues in the United Kingdom and the 'States. This weekend's competition, there's a $120,000 prize pool, but we don't want this thing to be just about the prize pool.
Because the top teams work so hard on so many levels to grow Vainglory, we think they deserve not just a share of the revenue pool, but also our help in connecting with fans and creating their sponsorship businesses, their merchandising and other income sources. So ultimately they are running a sustainable business.
MMORPG: So how does this relate to launching the developer API?
KS: The franchise program goes hand in hand with launching the developer API. It shows further the blurring between PC gaming and mobile gaming. Being able to empower the community to create more content, to analyze more statistics both from the competitive scene and the amateur scene. We did the Twitch deal six months ago to partner on the broadcast and event organization side. We're launching the developer API to unleash the broader community. It's part of working very closely with our community to help grow the game.
Day two of competition was fierce, the highlight being the twist-filled battle between North American team Team SoloMid and Southeast Asian team Infamous Legion over a place in the semi-finals. Ultimately, Infamous Legion lost, but Southeast Asia's honor was restored on day three when team Phoenix Armada defeated Team SoloMid to win the Championship title and starting early 2017, a prominent display at the Chinese Theater touting their win. The new year promises good things for the losing teams as well, since 2017 marks the launch of Super Evil Megacorp's new franchise program.
For news about the upcoming program or information on how to become a Vainglory contender, check out the official Vainglory website.