The Vainglory Interview, Part II. With Special Guest, Pro-Gamer George "Zekent" Liu

The Vainglory Interview, Part II. With Special Guest, Pro-Gamer Zekent

Out of all of the thousands of mobile games available to gamers, few if any have generated a buzz in the core gaming community like Vainglory has. Vainglory is an unapologetically core game, built from the ground up for the mobile touchscreen platform. I had the opportunity recently to sit down and chat with Vainglory's COO Kristian "EdTheShred" Segerstrale and former pro League of Legends player George "Zekent" Liu who now serves as Vainglory's Video Community Manager. What follows is an essential and informative read for anyone who is a core gamer in this day and age where touchscreens are increasingly becoming the dominant gaming platform.

The Vainglory Interview, Part II. With Special Guest, Pro-Gamer Zekent

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Considering that eSports are filling stadiums around the world with spectators there to witness intense video game competition, not to mention the millions of fans who tune in to live game streams via Twitch, it's no wonder that game developers are looking at ways that they can capitalize on the immense popularity of the mobile gaming platform.

Vainglory is a MOBA, or Multiplayer Online Battle Arena, and while it's not the first MOBA to turn up on touchscreens, it is by far the most critically acclaimed and finely tuned. You may even recall Vainglory making its debut on stage alongside Apple's iPhone 6 and 6 Plus last year.

The Vainglory Interview, Part II. With Special Guest, Pro-Gamer Zekent

The Vainglory crew graciously agreed to chat with iPhone Life, discussing their recent appearance at the PAX East gaming convention as well as new, upcoming in-game features and what the future holds for this sensational and remarkable game.


iPhone Life: Zekent, along with being the Video Community Manager, I heard that you also filled the role of coach for the PAX East challenges. Can you tell us a little about what that was like?

Zekent: We played with different captains on Saturday and Sunday and it was an interesting process, finding strategies that worked with both more experienced players and less experienced Vainglory players. Lady Wabeesh and I were doing a lot of strategizing for our team.

So PAX East, speaking of PAX East, wow, those were some spectacular live-streamed battles that viewers witnessed. Your team suffered two hard fought losses, one more dramatic than the other. The last game on Sunday was epic, your team came from behind and almost stole the win. You and Shinkaigan were both forces to be reckoned with, can we hope to see a public rematch between Shinkaigan and Zekent anytime soon?

Z: (Laughs) Yeah, we will definitely do that. Shin's actually taking over our official live stream this weekend. That was part of our bet, if he won he gets to take over our live stream this Friday [3/20/15]. So I'm thinking I might take him on again then, with a more prepared team.

At PAX East you debuted a ton of new features, including new hero skins and the introduction of Spectator mode. Perhaps the biggest news out of PAX was the news that Vainglory was going cross-platform and becoming compatible with Android devices. The benefit of Vainglory running on Android is pretty obvious as it opens up a whole new market of millions of potential players, but what can you tell us about the functionality of spectator mode? And when skins become available will they come with any heroic perks or are they strictly for a change in appearance?

Kristian Segerstrale: We actually haven't talked too much about skins publicly to date. We think that we have something pretty interesting things in mind in terms of the overall system of how skins will work in the game, and we're very excited about how this will evolve Vainglory, and also how this will push the broader mobile gaming genre forward.

We're always interested in how we can take this incredibly delightful way of playing with friends and make it even more interesting for players. That's been our philosophy; in terms of how we've created the map, how we've created the heroes, how we created the objectives in the game. And this will also be our approach to systems outside of the game, like skins.

What we wanted to show at PAX was that we've been listening to the community. Clearly they are as passionate about customization in gameplay as we are, and we wanted to give the very first hint that this is something that we are working on, and that we can't wait to reveal more updates in future livestreams.

As for Spectator mode, that is something that is really important to us for three reasons. One of the things that we have become most excited about since we began working on Spectator mode and as we've been testing it in the lair, is that it gives you such a different view of the game. Being able to see gold battles between the teams helps you understand the true difference between strategies between two teams in a much better way than just spectating on any individual. That ability to learn the game from spectation is really important to us and that's one reason why we are excited about it.

The other reason we are really excited about is that we can not wait to see more competitive play, and spectation is a must-have for really competitive play. Thirdly, we have been incredibly overwhelmed and thankful for the streamer and content creator community, and we love watching people stream and play the game in general and it is just so much more entertaining to watch it in spectator mode than to watch it from just a single person's perspective. So when we think about, "How do we evolve Spectator mode and improve the game?" all of those things are top of mind.

Initially what you will see will be spectation in the context of a private match between friends. Additional people will be able to spectate, but not that many at first. At first, it will probably not be what we would like to have in the long term, which would be that any match being played anywhere; you could just connect to it and watch it, with slight delay of course, to prevent cheating.

However, even in the current spectator mode you can rotate between which character's point of view you see or where the center of the camera is. What we are trying to do is create an experience so that whether you are a competing player, whether you are a streamer, or whether you are just interested in learning the game, we are helping you learn to do all those three things.

Absolutely impressive. I have to say, there's no other mobile game out there that's doing what you folks are doing. Your game is unique in a lot of different ways, one being that Vainglory is a free game, with no in-game advertising. How does a game like Vainglory turn a profit?

K.S: Well, the first thing to note when we talk about this; we are building something for the very long term, so our complete, total, and utter focus is as a company right now, is to build a community that is passionate about the experience that we are passionate about. We are building that experience together with the community to get better all the time.

Around a year ago we raised a significant round of financing, precisely to be able to take that long term view, to not have to think about, "How do we maximize our revenue streams in the short term in order to fund our future development?" But rather, how do we focus first on building a community, and let the business evolve on its own.

The Vainglory Interview, Part II. With Special Guest, Pro-Gamer Zekent

The kind of business models around MOBAs have been fairly well explored in the PC space. Unlike what mobile companies usually call "free-to-play," we think of free-to-play, as endlessly free-to-play. You can play as much as you possibly want, you can play your heart out.

We grew up ourselves playing PC multiplayer games where you would start at 9 p.m. and you suddenly realize at 5 a.m. that you have played all night. That should be possible also on touchscreens. We don't want there to be a generation of kids growing up on touchscreens that never have that experience of passionate, intense, multiplayer playing with friends. That is important.

So when we think about business models, I think you will see us being far more similar to how PC free-to-play games think about free-to-play as opposed to how mobile "free-to-play" games practice "free-to-play." We think of ourselves as having the opportunity to evolve what has happened on PC, over to the next generation of hardware, and the next generation of service to consumers. There are plenty of good examples of PC games that are able to fund their own development moving forward.

We are not making Vainglory to make money. We want to make sure we make enough money to be able to make Vainglory into the service that we want it to be over the next 510 years, that's more the approach we are taking as a company.

I love to hear that. That sounds great!

K.S: Of course, at the end of the day, we have to pay people salaries and be able to pay our rent and ideally buy a pizza or two, so that said, business models will come, but our promise to players is endlessly free to play across the board, never pay-to-win, never a scenario where by paying money you get a distinct advantage over other players in any way. We want to keep complete fairness.

Absolutely, and one of the things that I really appreciate is that you keep talking about the long term goal. It sounds like there's a real commitment to be in this for the long haul and to see where it takes you. I think that Vainglory has great things ahead of it. In my perception, there is no other mobile game like this.

K.S: Thank you! We still feel like we owe the community so muchwith you and the press includedbeing so nice to us. We still feel there are so many things, so many features that you guys told us ages ago that you needed and wanted, and we are still working really hard to try and get them out just as quickly as we can. So the sense of appreciation is certainly mutual, if not more. We totally understand what we owe the community and we want to make sure that we do them right over time.

The new tips feature that shows before every game is awesome, very useful, especially considering so many people who are playing this game are new to MOBA. Do you have any personal Vainglory gaming tips or strategies that you can share? Some pointers especially for people for whom Vainglory is their first MOBA experience?

Z: One main thing is make sure you get CS (Creep Score) because last hitting is very important in multiple MOBAs, especially Vainglory, where each creep you kill is like, forty to one hundred gold, and that is kind of massive.

Also vision control is very important. Make sure you buy Scout Traps, make sure you buy Flares, being able to see where your enemies are can help you make good decisions about what you want your team to do next, or what you want to do next. Like if you see three of them in the lane, maybe you want to go defend your turret, or maybe you want to go invade their jungle.

You always want to make informed choices, you rarely want to just face-check in the bushes, and be like "Oh, I just walked in here and suddenly there's like, three people here! It looks like I am going to die." That's generally not such a good plan!

The Vainglory Interview, Part II. With Special Guest, Pro-Gamer Zekent

In Vainglory, we also have a very easy to understand item system. If you see your opponent buy red items, that's weapon damage, if you see them buy blue, that's crystal damage. So you can build your defenses accordingly, you can go yellow for shielding, you can go brown for armor to counter weapon.

And learning how to play each character at a very basic level will help you get so much better at the game, just because you'll understand what your opponents can do to you, what your allies are trying to do, and how to basically play against any character.

K.S: Another thing I've heard George say many times is that "losing is just part of the game." One of my own questions to George was "What does it feel like to be a professional player? There must be massive pressure on you!" And he told me about how he sees losing as just part of the game, and how after every loss, it's not that the world comes to an end when you lose, it's just that you learn from it. It's actually okay to lose, it's fine. Sure, some part of you always feels awful when you lose, but at the same time, you can always learn more from a loss than you can from a win. That whole mentality of getting into every game and wanting to learn something from every game whether you win or lose is really how one becomes a better player. I thought that was really insightful of him.

Z: Yeah, definitely. If you're playing tournaments then of course you want to win. But if you are playing with friends and just trying to get better at the game, take a loss as a lesson. If you completely stomp your enemy, you're probably not learning too much since you completely destroyed them. However if you are losing a game, you have to understand why you lost, how you could have done better. Even if you are on your own and your teammates aren't doing so hot, if you can find out, "What could I have done better to help my team?" Even though it might still have ended up as a loss, ask, "How could I have made this last just one second longer, or just two seconds longer? How could I have made this a better game for my team?"

Also we have a lot of tactical pings, which I person find to be extremely useful, especially when I'm playing solo queue. Being able to be like, "Group up here!" or "Watch out, there might be some enemies in this bush!" Just being able to warn your teammates, sort of control them around the map, but also to give them more information.

Agreed, those pings are just dynamite, extremely helpful indeed.

Z: Communication is super important in the game, being able to keep a happy team environment, especially with the new social pings. Send some cheers out to your friends, send some thumbs up, some sad faces and some happy faces are also fantastic.

K: We should actually release some data on whether people who send more beers to each other win more. 

Z: You mean "apple cider" right?

K.S: (Everyone laughing) Right, "apple cider", obviously apple cider! I don't know what I was saying there!

Zekent, Are you still involved with the League of Legends pro-circuit? And if so, in what capacity?

Z: No, I am not. I still talk to a lot of guys over there but no, I am not involved in it competitively.

I realize that the heroes of Vainglory are somewhat hybrid in their abilities and therefore relatively well-balancedin other words, you can take a number of different build paths with most any given hero. Players can craft a deadly crystal Saw or a weaponized Petal or turn the protective Adagio into a powerful carry. That said, do you have any stats as to whether top players favor any particular heroes? Are there certain heroes that tend to perform better than others, or that simply get used more often?

Z: There are definitely some heroes that get used more often in high Elo play. Some heroes are just better when you're playing against better players. Like assassins in general are probably just a little bit weaker at higher level play because the team is more coordinated at higher level play. It's easier to coordinate stuns on them. As soon as an assassin jumps in they'll get instantly stunned, or they'll get chain stunned and they'll just die! Also players tend to generally favor more mobility, so while you might see a lot of Saws in lower ratings, Ringo becomes much more popular when you are playing against the pros.

In terms of build diversity, I also see that a lot of high Elo players will change their build plan. They'll be like; "I see that this game or this person is building something, so I'm gonna counter-build with this item or that item instead of just following the same build path every time.

K.S: I'd actually like to add a couple of things onto that. Balance is something that, as you no doubt appreciate, is something that we keep a paranoid eye on all the time. The game should feel completely fair and you should be able to be successful with any hero in almost any situation. That said, the thing that makes this difficult is that what works in solo at lower levels of experience may be different from what works at higher levels. What works very well in solo queue might be different from the picks you make when working as a team. When you work as a team, you may do better with even more specialized heroes, because you know that you can achieve that team organization which you don't always know if you can do in solo queue.

It's one of those things that we pay very close attention too across the board. We look into these numbers a lot, to see what kind of changes or tweaks we can make in the next update. As you saw for example, Koshka had a radical change in the last update, we keep a pretty close eye on these things.

From the looks of things, the Vainglory community has been incredibly supportive and enthusiastic, organizing teams and regularly streaming games on Twitch. Word has it that you are a wizard when it comes to streaming. What system works best for you when streaming Vainglory to Twitch? Do you have any advice to help someone who's never streamed a game get started?

Z: I personally find it really depends on what you like using. It's very easy to set up a Mac to stream on to Twitch because all you need is a Lightning cable and you can download OBS [Open Broadcast Software], and you can basically set it up within three minutes. I feel that right now, because there are more streaming platforms on PC, like XSplit, and the OBS on PC is actually more refined at this pointI know that they are trying to update it on Mac tooI feel like there are a few more options when streaming to PC. Like you can embed videos into your stream, there's actually quite a few options there. It does take quite a bit longer to set up on PC, and most of those ways are a bit more pricey to actually purchase. But for the most part, having a good capture card and a cable to an iDevice is very very effective.

The Vainglory Interview, Part II. With Special Guest, Pro-Gamer Zekent

Are there currently any Vainglory tournaments in the works that will offer cash prizes?

Z: I know there are some community tournaments that offer cash prizes, however we have not decided when we are going to have an official one. Probably not until after the official Spectator mode comes out.

I've written a lot over the years about how mobile gaming is rapidly overtaking console and PC gaming in terms of revenue. With the multiplayer online battle arena being one of the most popular and profitable genres do you think Vainglory has the potential to give games like League of Legends and DotA a legitimate run for the money?

K.S: We are big core gamers ourselves, and we play probably every big core game there is. Our mission is not to go out and take down some other game, that is not why we are here. What we are excited about is to offer core players a new way of enjoying core gaming, which is much more physical. You are there with your friends, you are not cooped up in front of your PC or TV. A way that's more free, because you can play anywhere and even when you are not with your friends, you can play a legitimate game of Vainglory while you are at Starbucks or at work, and not confined to being in front of the other gaming platform.

We believe that core gamers who love games ultimately don't care about what hardware they play on, they care about the game itself. Because touchscreens are growing in popularity so much and so quickly, we think that as developers are creating better core game content for touchscreens many more people will spend many more hours playing core games on touchscreens.

In some ways, if you think about industry dynamics, and you think about the amount of existing consoles on the market versus the existing high performance touchscreens, you would think that a lot of people would be interested in creating core gaming content for touchscreens. We feel like it is a change that will happen in the industry, but from our perspective we are just excited about offering players a new way to play, and a new way to be more social and present as you play these games. When we released our very first trailer (see video below), where we said, "Welcome to the LAN party!" that idea of taking play out into the world, instead of just being cooped up with your PC set up at home, is the thing that we are really excited about. So it is just as exciting and tantalizing and emotionally satisfying to us, the fact that you get to be around other people.

Absolutely. Well, personally, I won't be surprised if I start seeing Vainglory represented in stadium competitions.

K.S: Well, certainly, we would love that, we would be honored. But we feel it's something we have to earn. We have really been overwhelmed by how quickly people have gravitated to this, and how much people have wanted spectation and wanted eSports on touchscreens.

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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