Vainglory esports has seen some explosive growth over the past week, capped off today by the announcement that NRG Esports and Fnatic have joined their ranks. On the eve of the announcement, we caught up with Kristian Segerstrale, CEO of Vainglory developer Super Evil Megacorp, to chat about Vainglory's explosion of team signings over the past week and what's new for this competitive season.
From Super Evil Megacorp’s side, what’s been the biggest question that owners have approached with regarding Vainglory?
I think the conversation has shifted a lot over the course of the last year. Even as recently as a year ago, there was still a lot of questions about whether competitive play was viable on mobile platforms in the first place. Given the rapid growth of the esports audience and player base that Vainglory has seen since, the conversation has shifted a lot toward how to best get involved, what good teams are to talk to, and what our long range vision is with regard to the competitive framework for Vainglory.
Have the stakes been raised in your eyes for this upcoming season with all of these teams jumping in, even in the last week?
I think the stakes have definitely been raised. The rivalries between the new and existing multi-esports teams are real. And the players will have so much more support and resources behind them. I’m really excited to see the elevated levels of play as a result.
Any plans you can share for this upcoming season that will set it apart from previous seasons of VG esports?
Vainglory’s competitive framework is only one year old and it has evolved a lot over the past year. We started with a single tier of community tournaments that qualified for live championships. Six months ago that evolved into a two-tier structure of challenger tournaments during the week and the top-8 teams playing during the weekends and battling in the seasonal live championships. The year culminated in the World Championships, held in December in the TCL Chinese Theater in LA. We also got a college tier run by CSL toward the end of last year, further increasing the depth of the ecosystem.
This year, more than anything, we’ve been able to plan ahead a lot more, so we’re excited to have the full year’s calendar already published. It includes a full international structure across Asia, North America, and Europe, feeding into the 2nd World Championships to be held in December.
We are also evolving both the competitive format and the viewer experience:
The first important change is that we are evolving the pick and ban structure to incorporate a second round of bans to further increase the strategic depth of the pick phase, as well as increasing hero diversity in competitive play.
The second important change is that we are in the process of launching a developer API which lets us track statistics and in-game telemetry at a far greater level of depth than was previously possible. We will be evolving real-time telemetry during the year to offer the most interesting viewer experiences possible, as well as a deeper ability to analyze team performance.
Given the rate at which Vainglory is evolving, we will no doubt make further changes during the year. I’m really excited to be working with the whole community to figure out where to take it next!
How has the support been from Apple and Google, and do they seem to want to help push mobile esports forward? Or has it been more of a grassroots effort on SEMC’s part?
Google and Apple do a tremendous job at growing what today is the largest gaming platform in the world and supporting developers in the process. So far the growth of esports has been organic. Our partnerships with Twitch and major sponsors like NVidia and Amazon has helped, but it’s really down to the community. We expect many more partnerships and initiatives to further fuel that growth this year.
Has there been any interest in making teams geolocated, as was announced at the formation of the Vainglory Team Franchise program?
We’re really excited that so many of our top Vainglory teams want to work with us to help build local Vainglory communities. We will be experimenting with different ways of connecting teams and fans throughout the world, and will be making more announcements about this as the year progresses. One of Europe’s largest teams, Fnatic, has claimed London for example, and we look forward to organizing events there together!
Why do you think right now is the time that teams are choosing to jump into VG esports, and not before?
Vainglory grew very rapidly throughout 2016 with viewership growing by a factor of 10 to over 25,000 simultaneous viewers on Twitch at our World Championships. The earliest multi-esports pioneers - G2 Esports, SK Gaming, Team Secret and TSM - picked up Vainglory teams as early as a year or more ago. Cloud9 and mousesports joined more recently, and we’re excited that we can now welcome Immortals, Echo Fox, NRG, Rogue, and Fnatic.
In general, multi-esports organizations are facing a really interesting time with the broad growth of esports on all platforms - new titles, new tournaments, and a rapidly evolving commercial environment have meant that organizations need to prioritize carefully, and the right timing has been different for all of them. We’re thrilled that so many of them have chosen to join Vainglory to date.
But it’s not just these big organizations that we’re proud of. We’re also really excited that homegrown organizations like Gankstars, Hammers Esports, and Team Phoenix have been able to build out and become commercially viable, competitively highly successful Vainglory-first organizations and compete toe-to-toe with the biggest multi-esports organizations in the world!