Building communities: Vainglory’s road to success

With impressive year-on-year projections, everybody wants a slice of the esports pie but not just anyone can sit at the table. Rapidly making themselves known in the volatile mobile space is Super Evil Megacorp’s (SEMC) Vainglory, the “MOBA perfected for touch.” Following its iOS and Android debut in 2014 and 2015 respectively, the game has since attracted a thriving competitive scene that culminated in its first world championships in 2016.

While it may not be the largest mobile MOBA out there — that title goes to Honor of Kings in China, which SEMC is now attempting to overthrow — Vainglory maintains a strong presence in regions it’s already made landfall in. Singapore’s player base is largely split between Vainglory and Mobile Legends, yet the former goes uncontested when it comes to activities and support. From endorsing a course at the SCOGA Esports Academy to sponsoring fan-run tournaments, building communities has been a company philosophy since the get-go. It wound up being their key to success.

“Back when we started, we always thought that community would be our best asset,” recounts Akane Yoshizaki, SEMC’s Marketing and Communications Manager.

“One of the first things we did was to find people that were streaming Vainglory on Twitch. They weren’t anybody famous but we would make sure to support and promote them so that they could become stars through Vainglory. We’ve also supported players who organize their own tournaments or meet-ups, even providing gifts so they would feel empowered to do more for their local communities. That’s one thing we’ve done differently from other companies.”

Akane also pointed out that Singapore could be considered Vainglory’s original community, seeing how it was the first country to get a server during the alpha stage (then known as Kindred). These players have stuck around for “a very, very long time”, even volunteering to run the game’s first local booth during the SHINE Festival in July. These close-knit friendships drive Vainglory’s outreach, with notions of how the game plays better with friends a recurring message.

Even Singapore’s Team Impunity, who have once again clinched a seat at the world finals, are friends first and teammates second.

Once SEMC had fostered active, loyal communities around the globe, the esports attention naturally followed.

“The pro organizations started coming in from the West and Asia. Here we have Team Impunity, in Japan there’s DetonatioN Gaming, Korea’s ROX Armada, and TSM [North America’s Team SoloMid] — all big names. I think that legitimacy, the fact that these classic esport brands have recognized that Vainglory is competitive and sustainable, adds to the game’s appeal.”

Granted, SEMC had some other things going for it. They were founded by industry veterans, had Vainglory premiere at the iPhone 6 announcement, and secured esports partnerships not long out of the gates. Of course, the game itself needed to be up to scratch in terms of core mechanics and the ongoing meta too, but this whirlwind of factors wouldn’t have mattered it not for early waves of players acting as community ambassadors.

“Mobile games used to be short experiences – you download it, play it for a few weeks, and then you forget about them. I think when you look at games on the PC or consoles, you see certain franchises being played for years, like World of Warcraft.

“We wanted to create that experience for the next generation of players because we think that mobile will be the main gaming console for many. Smartphones and tablets will be the first gaming device that kids play on, so we had to make Vainglory a meaningful experience.”

To back it up, Akane says she’d gladly accept in-game invitations should players come across her IGN, “akanester”. Chances are she’d be playing the Munion master, Petal, a character she likes so much that she wound up buying the legendary skin before the company got around to giving staff a copy.

Though Vainglory may be in a good position now, SEMC aren’t taking a breather. They’re about to drastically shake things up once a promised 5v5 mode is released, potentially upending all the careful work they’ve done in honing their standard 3v3. Mouse and keyboard support was recently implemented by way of the Samsung DeX docking station, which may translate to greater potential in the competitive circuit. And while not indicative of anything at this point, Akane says that their in-house E.V.I.L. Engine is capable of rendering much more than what is shown on-screen, with 4K output supported on the spectator client.

There’s a long road ahead for Vainglory, with new territories to conquer and a PC-first esports crowd to captivate. With the help of their dedicated and growing player base, however, we won’t be surprised if their next achievement comes sooner rather than later.

We’ll have more details on the 12-team Vainglory World Championships hosted in Singapore soon.


Ade Putra

Ade thinks there's nothing quite like a good game and a snug headcrab. He grew up with HIDEO KOJIMA's Metal Gear Solid, lives for RPGs, and is waiting for light guns to make their comeback.