The Vainglory Interview, Part I

iPhone Life Exclusive: The Vainglory Interview. Part I.

Vainglory (free) is a new iOS game that has taken the world of mobile gaming by storm. Developed by Super Evil Megacorp, Vainglory belongs to the Multiplayer Online Battle Arena genreMOBA in gaming vernacular. Recently I got to chat with Kristian Segerstrale, COO & Executive Director at Super Evil Megacorp. We had a great conversation and I even got to play a few rounds of Vainglory with pro gamer turned Vainglory Video Community Manager, George “Zekent” Liu, and Super Evil Megacorp's Director of Marketing and Communications, Heini Vesander. I'm even more excited than ever to see what the future holds for this game, a game that is not only the pinnacle of awesome, but is also poised to revolutionize the way core gamers perceive and interact with modern games on the iOS platform. The following transcription is a must-read for any core gamer, as we delve into the creation of what is being hailed as one of the best new iOS games, and the only MOBA perfected for touchscreens.

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iPhone Life Exclusive: The Vainglory Interview. Part I.

iPhone Life: Many thanks for taking the time to chat with iPhone Life. How are you folks doing today?

Kristian Segerstrale: Good! It's an exciting day for us! We just submitted our latest update late last night to Apple, and we are really excited to roll it out to our player base as soon as Apple approves it. It's a huge update, it's probably one of our most anticipated updates to date, with well over 200,000 people on Twitch having seen the reveal and had conversations with us about the new hero, so that's something we are very excited about.

iPL: How was the PAX South convention? I was able to catch some of the live Twitch streams and it looked like a great experience, the new hero is an awesome addition to the Vainglory hero lineup!

KS: We loved it! We are super community focused and player focused; we think it's something that is essential in order to build a successful game that relies on community and lives on for a long time. So all of us hang out on forums, all of us talk to players over social media, and being able to meet with players face to face was amazing. Hanging out on Twitch was great. Twitch is another important partner of ours who helps amplify what's going on with the game. So yeah, we really enjoyed PAX and all their support.

iPL: I imagine it would have been hard to ask for a better introduction to the world at large than being featured so prominently in both the iPhone 6 product launch event, as well as Apple's Christmas-time "Gamers" commercial starring celebrities, Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake. How did you folks manage to capture Apple's attention?

KS: It's a great question, and as you say, we continue to feel incredibly fortunate and over the moon about the amount of support that we have received from Apple in particular, but also from the broader gaming community. So we are very, very happy with that. As to how it came about, or why it came about, I think there is a little bit of history there. A lot of these things, as ever, tend to be the right timing; the right product at the right time in the right setting, and at the end of the day much of that is luck.

If you can't see Apple's embedded Gamers commercial click HERE.

But what was relevant about it is that one of the unique aspects of Super Evil Megacorp in general is that we have our own technology engine. We have an engine called the E.V.I.L. engine, which is ultimately a hyper-optimized engine to run core games on touchscreens. Some people write games on third-party engines, say Unity or Unreal or those types of things. Because we have our own engine, we are able to adapt to new products quicker than if you rely on a third-party engine. When Apple released their Metal SDK this summer, we were one of the first companies that were able to jump on squeezing the most power out of that hardware, which then meant that we were able to be perhaps, a little bit faster than many other companies at really showcasing the power of it. This led us to be one of the companies Apple would consider supporting. So we are super grateful for their support and it's been a really amazing journey with them.

iPL: Creating a game like Vainglory isn't as simple as taking something like League of Legends or Defense of the Ancients (DotA) and porting it to a tablet. Vainglory is one of those games that’s easy to learn and difficult to master. It is both simple and intuitive and yet incredibly deep and complex. What challenges did you face, bringing a game like this to iOS devices and how did you overcome them?

KS: Great question and I think it’s a really important point. We started by looking at map layouts. What kind of map layout would make for a good online battle arena for touch? We tried out lots of different things, for example there were two lanes at one point in time, there was a much larger jungle on the north side of the lane at one point in time, just to test things out, to see how it feels to play. Our main goal was to establish a map that has both tactical and strategic depth, but that is also as easy to learn as possible.

For instance, if you think of a game like chess, chess has the simplest possible map in the world, but it allows for infinite combinations of strategies and tactics and play. The whole idea for me as a player is that I should be thinking about, "What do you think that I'm going to do next? How do I anticipate what you are going to do and how do I thwart that strategy?" We wanted to create a map that allows for that, but yet is also as simple to comprehend as possible and where action can take place as quickly as possible.

Map layout and the strategic objectives are a great example of how Vainglory is really built up from scratch, as opposed to being moved over from a different platform. Another example is actually the heroes themselves. There are many MOBAs out there with many different heroes and hero archetypes and there are lots of different preconceived roles for heroes. What we wanted to do with heroes (and we have fewer heroes than many other MOBAs) is try to make the heroes really unique, even compared to other MOBAs.

If you are unable to see the Vainglory trailer above, click HERE.

Vainglory's heroes are unique in terms of what they can do, and also very flexible. We wanted to avoid situations where a hero is "mapped" to a role, where if you play a specific hero you can only play a specific role. Almost all of our heroes are hybrid. For instance, take Adagio. He is simultaneously a Support—he can heal others and he can empower others to inflict more damage—but he is also one of the very effective Carries in the game, which means basically that he is a big damage dealer himself. He's a good example of a hybrid role and how heroes in Vainglory are hybrid. What that means is that every hero can cater to multiple play styles, so that you can, as a player, have a larger roster of heroes that fit in with your play style

Another thing we wanted to do with heroes  was make sure they could be built in multiple ways. So unlike most MOBAs where heroes have only one viable build path, in Vainglory every hero has a viable path down a defense or down a weapon/damage path, or a crystal path, or down some kind of utility path. You can build a tank using team utility items, like a Warhorn that speeds up your team or a Crucible that shields your team.

As a good example, take Skaarf. Skaarf, as a Mage, is clearly designed to deal damage. But Skaarf also has a really viable tank build. For example, you see a lot of tank Skaarfs in the wild, which is a really confusing thing to play against because you think he should be a squishy [easy to kill], but he turns out to be a really unkillable monster out there. So these are two more examples where Vainglory is really built up from scratch.

iPhone Life Exclusive: The Vainglory Interview. Part I.

iPL: The Vainglory forums are great resources for tips and also for feedback. What kind of feedback are you folks getting the most and how are you incorporating that input moving forward. My main request, for the record: in-game chat!

KS: What is top in our mind is more content, more heroes; and we are working on a whole bunch, which we are very excited about. Followed by in-game communication features, which are very important and which we get a lot of requests for. Also, we are bringing more features to support competitive play, in particular, being able to spectate when other people play, or being able to play in a way that lets somebody shoutcast the actual match and explain to people what is going on. That would really help streamers.

There's also a set of other things. For instance, people want to be able to play background music while they are playing the game, which is actually something that is in our most recent update. Between more content, better communication, better competitive play, the last thing is better cooperative play. I think people feel like it's fun when you can play as part of a team, or part of a clan, or something bigger than you are, and that's something we think a lot about, that sense of being part of a team. Ultimately we dream of this experience where playing Vainglory feels a bit like playing soccer or football, where you enjoy playing with friends, but you can also play competitively, and you can also watch it, for a total experience that feels really enjoyable.

iPL: Can you tell me how many active players are participating in Vainglory worldwide? How about in North America?

KS: What makes an "active" player is sort of a difficult thing to define directly, but the thing that we care most about is the community, and how active the community is. And what's been amazing is to see, for example, the amount of Twitch viewers of the game grow from nothing to well over 270,000 monthly viewers.

The actual time that players spend on the appand this is a pretty cool statis north of 75 -minutes, so the average player spends more than 75 -minutes on the game on any given day. Which is between all of the players, not just the community players but also the player who just turns it on and checks the newsfeed and leaves. So we love the fact that our players are so engaged, and looking at our forums, at We are very happy with how active that community has become, as well as the sheer amount of YouTube videos that get created and shared right now. Back in December for instance, mere weeks after the game's debut, we had well over 25,000 forum posts for example, which is great for us. We are very much at the start of our journey and we feel that we are very fortunate to have as many players playing today as are out there. We are very, very focused on recruiting one player at a time, by bringing out more features, by finding better ways for people to play together and play with each other, and against each other, and slowly growing that way.

iPL: Eye tracking is an emerging technology that has been used effectively to help players improve their game. Recently at CES, game accessory maker SteelSeries introduced the Sentry eye tracker, which should be available to average consumers soon, with a back end that allows game developers to incorporate the Sentry into their programming. Have you folks looked at ways that such emerging technology, be it eye tracking, or even Virtual Reality headsets, might be incorporated into Vainglory's future development?

KS: It's a great question, and we are all technology geeks here and we have probably tried most emerging technologies that are out there and we would love to be able to support them when the time is right. That said, one of the things that is really core about our design philosophy overall is precision controls and total accuracy in terms of how you play. So for example, a lot of people ask us, "Why not support gesture control, or gyroscope control, one of those things that is more fashionable on touchscreens?" The reason is that ultimately as core gamers and as developers of an experience that we want to be unapologetically core and reflective of our own aspirations as gamers, we want controls to be sub-thirty millisecond, always. We want there to be zero uncertainty, you shouldn't have to think about the device you are playing on, you should only think about playing against the enemy, not playing against the device.

iPL: What do you imagine the future holds in store for a game the caliber of Vainglory? Do you believe it has the potential to become a full-fledged, professional eSport?

KS: That's a tricky one to answer. The thing I will say is that one of the things that has taken us by surprise has been that we expected to work on core features of the game first, like more heroes, and then maybe work on features that will encourage eSports over time, like spectator's mode and things like that. But the community has really surprised us by how quickly they have taken to playing Vainglory competitively. There are over 50 registered teams around the world right now. Our players are already organizing physical get togethers and mini tournaments, and they send us pictures. We've seen tournaments being organized in Germany, in St. Petersburg in Russia, in Singapore, and in Canada as well, and we really enjoy seeing this.

There's a whole set of tournaments being organized by the community, which are either 1v1 tournaments or 2v2 tournaments, because they are using the third player as a spectator in the tournament, which is not how we intended for the game to be played, but if the community is enjoying playing like that then that's great. But we've also heard loud and clear the demand for more features to support that kind of competitive play. So we are very encouraged by it. It is certainly very embryonic still; we would not go so far as to call ourselves an eSport on any level today. But it's certainly an aspiration and we hope that we can continue to earn that status by making the game better and deeper and more skilled.

*This was just a portion of my interview with the Super Evil Team. Stay tuned to iPhone Life for more of this intriguing glimpse into the development and evolution of one of the most popular and critically acclaimed games to hit the App Store. In the meantime, I invite you to check out this exciting video of one of the games I got to play (my In-Game Name: Digambara) with Super Evil Megocorp's own, Zekent and EvilFinn.

If you can't see the embedded video above, just click HERE.


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Author Details

Dig Om's picture

Author Details

Dig Om

As Senior Gear Editor at iPhone Life, Dig reports on the latest and greatest accessories built for the iOS ecosystem. From rugged gear and Bluetooth speakers, to headphones, unique iDevice cases, and iOS remote controlled vehicles, Dig's articles cover a wide range of great gear for the iPhone and iPad. A core gamer for over three decades, Dig also writes iPhone Life's Game Centered column, which focuses on the best iOS games and game related news. Additionally, Dig's company, iDoc Tech Support, offers web design and administration services as well as iPhone and iPad repairs. When not at his work desk, Dig loves spending time with family and enjoying the wonders of nature. You can follow him on Twitter @idoctech