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Archive • Feb 02, 2018

Can 5v5 Transform Vainglory into a Major Player in Esports?

Vainglory is one of the most popular mobile esport on the market, boasting prize pools of over $100,000, overall viewership in the millions, and a player base in the tens of millions. Despite its relative success, the game has been met with criticism from the hardcore MOBA fan base due to limitations of its 3v3 game mode. That all could change come February when Super Evil Megacorp releases the highly anticipated 5v5 game mode. Could this be the catalyst that rises mobile esports to the level of its PC and console counterparts? Multiplayer Online Battle Arenas, or MOBA for short, is one of the more popular genres in all of esports. With the highest prize pools ($24.8 million prize pool for the Dota 2 International 7) and the highest viewership (80 million unique viewers for the 2017 League of Legends World Championship), it makes sense why Super Evil Megacorp has remained vested in its pursuit of bringing the genre to the mobile space.
Cloud9 Celebrate — Credit Conor Beattie / Super Evil Megacorp
Ask many MOBA fans about Vainglory, though, and you’ll likely be met with scepticism for even mentioning the game in the same breath as more hardcore titles as League of Legends or Dota 2. Such a strong reaction might seem odd given the fact that these games operate in the same genre, but the reaction stems from the very nature of the MOBA genre itself. While most popular esports have a high skill ceiling, MOBAs are notorious for having some of the highest barriers of entry in the industry. The amount of variables that are in place during a given match outnumber that of almost any other genre, making it one of the toughest both to watch and to play. This high difficulty curve is why Vainglory initially came into the scene as a 3v3 MOBA. Not only did that make it easier to play on mobile, but it allowed the game to be accessible to players and viewers alike. Less players in the game meant a smaller, easier to digest map. It also meant simplified and less defined roles, as well as fewer items to buy and manage. All of this added up to an experience that was less punishing to newcomers as compared to LoL or Dota. All the while, Vainglory still lived up to the mantra of easy(ish) to learn, but difficult to master, which allowed a competitive scene to flourish. Multiple high-profile organizations, including the likes of G2 Esports, Cloud9, and SK Gaming, bought into the scene, fielding rosters that competed in tournaments and leagues all across the globe. The 2017 competitive season came to close last December in Singapore with Tribe taking home the lionshare of the $140,000 prize pool.
Tribe win the 2017 Vainglory World Championship  — Credit Conor Beattie / Super Evil Megacorp
Super Evil Megacorp managed to successfully ignore the naysayers for the better part of two years by creating a viable esport from scratch with strong results. However, faced with the pressure of competing with what purists would consider 'true' MOBAs, Super Evil Megacorp appears ready to make a change. “Mobile Gamers Deserve Better” declared the developers in the press release announcing the new 5v5 game mode. While this may feel like a natural progression, and it certainly is, it’s a natural progression that has the potential to change the landscape of the mobile esports space. First and foremost, 5v5 stands to bolster the pool of players that are willing to take up Vainglory as an esport. To date, there may have been some hardcore MOBA players that were hesitant to jump in due to the simplified 3v3 mode. This new mode will add to the level of complexity and give those players the satisfaction of mastering the game. It’ll also literally add more players, as each team will be expected to field two additional competitors, which could open up a variety of different opportunities for a fledgling player. The difference between a 3v3 MOBA and a 5v5 MOBA is larger than it may seem on paper. Not only does the map now expand, meaning there is more variable to become familiar with, but it will also create more defined roles for players to master. With only three players on each team currently, the roles can be a bit more fluid. You can have one player take care of the truncated jungle and the other two will share the load on the map’s single lane. Switching gears to 5v5 will completely the make up of a match up and each players' in game responsibilities.
Cloud9 Get Excited — Credit Conor Beattie / Super Evil Megacorp
Vainglory team compositions will likely move more towards what we see in LoL: top laner, jungler, mid laner, AD carry, and support. The names might differ in Vainglory, but the roles will be very similar. This should allow players to truly dive into a specific role and learn to master all the ins and outs of said role. While the differences are admittedly minute from LoL, the overarching mobile vs. PC argument should still keep the two games relatively unique. The shift in playstyles will not only allow for more experienced MOBA players to jump into the fold, but it will raise the level of competition in the competitive scene. It may take some time for teams to adjust to the new meta of 5v5, but it should inject a much-needed level of hype and excitement into an already highly competitive scene. Besides all that, the potential for an influx in viewers is perhaps too enticing to ignore. Many fans of LoL and Dota who may have been hesitant to fully jump into the Vainglory scene due to the limitations inherent with the 3v3 mode, might now be more likely to dive in headfirst. Bringing more viewers into the fold can help raise the already respectable viewership numbers Vainglory has put forth thus far. The 2017 World Championship saw a total of 1.5 million views across all channels on Twitch during the three-day tournament, with a peak of 56,000 during the final day. With the addition of the traditional MOBA fanbase, that number should only grow in 2018. All of this adds up to what could very well be a watershed moment for mobile esports as a whole. Despite a strong player base and esports scene, Vainglory has been existing under relative obscurity. If Super Evil Megacorp can successfully introduce their new 5v5 mode, while remaining true to its model, it has the potential to further catapult mobile esports into the spotlight. Mobile esports have seen a considerable boost in profile recently with the increasing popularity of 'battle royal' games, while strategy games like Clash Royale are similarly raising interest in the platform. Super Evil Megacorp now has a huge part to pay in forging the future of mobile esports with this 5v5 mode. Failure won’t necessarily doom the scene, as it could easily keep up its current level of viewership and engagement regardless. Success, on the other hand, has the potential to truly put mobile esports on the map. Time will tell which direction this 5v5 mode will take Vainglory and the mobile esports scene when it launches in February.