After almost three months since Vainglory shut down, I got through yet another pesky MOBA tutorial to start afresh. For the last three months, I’d been reminiscing with friends, putting some half-hearted attempts at playing in the community edition (that everyone seemed to already know was doomed to fail), and keenly keeping track of all news Vainglory related, hoping that somehow, someone would salvage what was left of possibly the best MOBA ever created. Really, now that all my heroes, talents and skins are stripped away, all I have now are screenshots of some memorable games from chats for memories.
Now, I wasn’t anywhere near any sort of competitive player — but I am competitive, and Vainglory was the first MOBA I ever picked up. A couple of colleagues started playing it right after it appeared in Apple’s Keynote for the iPhone 6 and I’ve never really looked back since. I spent money (copious amounts of it by my standards) for the first time on a game in Vainglory. I spent hours watching gameplays on Twitch and Youtube to improve my game. I spent even more hours trying to get good at the game, including farming, which I hate. All those were milestones for me as a casual player, and proportionate to the time spent, the game grew in significance to me.
The Beauty of the Game
One of the things that stood out to me initially and still stands out to me now is the absolute beauty of the game. The graphics are absolutely stunning. Even the nuanced changes season to season stood out, and playing the game brought joy. It was the first game that illustrated what gaming on iOS could be, and everything down to glow, bloom and dust particles were implemented with such skill. Characters are easy to get right, the overall UI of the game is not — yes, I’m looking right at a MOBA that chose to use a font that looks an awful lot like Helvetica for their game. This remains the one aspect of Vainglory that’s the hardest to articulate, and also the hardest to beat.
I Appreciated the Finesse the Game Demanded
One of Vainglory’s advantages for me is the sheer uniqueness of their heroes. When each hero is released, it introduces a different play style, fits into teams differently, and the overall skill spread of each hero is less structured than in other MOBAs I’ve tried. For example, I frequently used Flicker, a captain, as a jungler. The different game styles add a layer of complexity and I ended up training with different characters for different modes of play — just in laners alone, I’d use Samuel for a 5v5, Skaarf for a 3v3 and possibly Magnus in Blitz, and that’s not to mention training to be able to take up a jungler or support role within a team as well. With each character came different builds for different teams, and all in all, that complexity gave each game a fresh layer to enjoy and experiment with. At its highest level, skills like using vision strategically, securing multiple objectives, passing through walls were all fair game. Even then, the mastery of each character was never as high-commitment as DOTA 2, and the balance between making it adjustable for beginners on a smaller mobile frame was instrumental to Vainglory becoming so addictive in such a short span of time.
The Small Things: Tap Control, Balanced Gameplay, Better Customer Service
TAP CONTROLS ARE SO UNDERRATED. And this is the one thing that makes me feel a pang in my heart for good old Vainglory days. It’s small, but makes such a huge difference to gameplay.
The matchups in Vainglory were also much more balanced, aspirational almost. The algorithm behind matchups just got better over time, to the extent that near the end days of the game I would hardly have a match that I didn’t enjoy, even if I was on a 10-game losing streak. The system also did its job to weed out toxic players or no-shows, and that made the community much healthier as a whole.
The cherry on top of the entire cake is knowing that no matter the situation, the amazing SEMC team has got your back. The standards that they hold their customer service to is far beyond what most app developers, let alone game developers, would ask of their team. Nothing annoys me more than unsupportive app developers — but this level of excellence can only be supported by people who take pride in their work.
Product Lessons: Do the Hard Things First
No matter what Vainglory becomes in the future, SEMC will have left a legacy in creating the best MOBA for a long time to come. They did this by doing the hard things first — by not creating a MOBA that’s DOTA or LoL with a different skin. You’ll notice a lot of the critique about Vainglory centres around its balanced, and I think that’s the perfect testament to its construction. Its careful construction stands out best in that they’ve covered the fundamentals so well as a scaled down version of MOBAs on bigger screens. There are a million and one reasons why Vainglory came to its current state, a dozen discussions on whether Vainglory is really dead, but at the end of the day, Vainglory managed to achieve a level of product excellence that no other MOBA has been able to come close to.
I don’t have similarly high expectations for SEMC’s new game Catalyst Black (due to the gameplay), and for now I’m going to play as many games on Vainglory as I can with a new sense of urgency. I’m going to miss spending time mastering the game (especially watching Excoundrel play) and I’m going to miss even the simple strategizing I used to do while on the loading page waiting for a match to start. All good things must come to an end, and Vainglory is no exception — but it has been good, and for those years of alternately dominating and losing in the Halcyon Fold, I’m thankful. Nothing compares to you, really.
I’ll see you on the Sovereign’s Rise. 🙂