On the eve of the announcement of Vainglory's new Team Franchise Program, we had the opportunity to speak with Kristian Segerstrale, COO and Executive Director at Super Evil Megacorp to discuss the development of the program and what it means for Vainglory esports going forward.
Has the decision to franchise Vainglory esports come as a result of observing the growing pains that other esports have run into?
We think of it as more of a natural evolution: continuing to work closely with the competitive teams that are already part of the ecosystem, growing our support of professional teams, working closely with our community to listen to feedback.
In esports terms it is still very early for Vainglory and we stand on the shoulder of Giants. So of course we are learning a lot from others. There are many philosophies out there and developers differ in many ways. Do they let 3rd parties self organize? Do they offer a support framework and mostly let 3rd parties handle it? Is there a singular partnership that drives the management of the league? Do they completely own and run the scene? We are still in the early stages so I am sure we will learn a lot along the way but our philosophy is to have a flexible, 3rd party empowered, yet supported ecosystem. Rather than attempting to emulate something uniform and fully regulated like the NFL, we are instead aiming to be something broader and more flexible, like soccer.
The decision for optional home teams seems to be taking a cue from Blizzard's Overwatch League. Was this done to play into existing plans that teams may have for that league?
No, it wasn’t inspired by Overwatch - although we are very intrigued to see how their experiment pans out. It’s not totally surprising if you look at professional sports around the world, to consider a regional angle.
We have a unique model of our own. What’s unique about Vainglory as compared to other esports is that players can set up LAN parties almost anywhere, so we’ve grown primarily through grassroot events and initiatives. We’ve had teams express interest in helping to grow the competitive communities in cities to which they’re tied and we absolutely wanted to build out a way to support those teams, without mandating it of others.
We are bringing city-based support (but not requiring it) to develop deeper roots into the community and surface more great players and cultivate home pride, without requiring teams be tied to locations. It is an experimental way to connect our local player communities with nearby teams - we will see how it catches on.
If teams are not guaranteed a slot in top competition, when a franchised team underperforms, are they still entitled to the benefits of being a franchise holder? If yes, does a newer (potentially more successful) team get access to the same rights as a franchise holder?
With this program, we’re opening up eight franchise slots to teams that are invested in Vainglory and want to work with us to grow the overall ecosystem. We will share esports revenue in exchange for teams acting as good ambassadors for the game. We do ask that teams remain competitive in the esports scene but that does not mean that they need to be competitive at the top level. Our objective is to encourage Vainglory’s growth, which will benefit everyone.
So yes, a franchise team can temporarily underperform without any consequences and new teams can absolutely qualify into the top level competition without holding a franchise. The only benefit a franchise holder has is a share in the long term Vainglory esports revenue.
Why is now the right time for Vainglory to move to a franchise model?
Just over a year ago, we hosted our first live esports event. Since that time, we’ve grown very quickly with approximately 2 million views for the Summer Season Championships. This weekend we are hosting our first Worlds Championship at the Chinese Theater in Los Angeles.
What we’re doing with the franchise program is taking the next natural step in nurturing our competitive ecosystem. We already work very closely with teams to build out Vainglory esports organically, so this next step will ensure that we grow a healthy ecosystem as the competitive scene grows. It is still very early for Vainglory across the board but we feel this program is a good way to lay the foundations for the future and learn to work with the biggest organizations in the world to build a sustainable ecosystem together.
What's been the biggest challenge in getting teams to compete in Vainglory, which due to its control scheme, is different than other existing esports?
We are very happy about our progress in getting teams to compete. We have Vainglory first teams like Gankstars, we have big brand teams like TSM setting up a Vainglory house.
The challenge is actually not controls at all. We worked hard on those throughout product development and seasoned vainglory players are just as accurate with arguably higher actions per minute than even PC controls.
The main challenge is - like with anything new - cultural. Competitive multiplayer gaming is a new phenomenon on mobile - just like it was on PC 15 years ago.
In fact, we grew up as PC players ourselves and with Vainglory we want to create the same feelings we felt - highs and lows, the anticipation and excitement - for players on touch devices. And now it is happening. We are very pleased with the momentum on a platform new to esports.
With over 3 billion touchscreen devices in the world compared to 700-800M gaming PCs, we see a huge potential for esports growth in the touchscreen generation.