Vainglory: How the new iOS MOBA turns newcomers into pro-gamers (Part 1)

The highly anticipated MOBA Vainglory by Super Evil Megacorp is just days from its global release. We've had the game for the last few weeks and played it a lot. Games with complex mechanics and deep gameplay are rare on mobile, so they make an intriguing case for examining how they work with the conventions and constraints of the iOS platform.

This deep-dive is split into three parts: How Vainglory introduces players to the game, how it enables players to master the game, and how it tries to monetize without becoming a pay-to-win game.

I'm new here, how to do I play this?

Apple's iPhone 6 keynote brought instant-fame to Vainglory. MOBA-enthusiasts weren't sure what to expect, and many others heard the term MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena) for the first time. Vainglory is aimed at both types of players and provides different types of introductions to the genre depending on how experienced you are.

In Vainglory two teams of three players each compete to destroy each others' vain crystal. On their way to the enemy's vain crystal each player levels up their hero and equips him or her with items and skills. It's a fast-paced game of skill that follows in the footsteps of the highly successful Dota 2 and League of Legends.

Vainglory starts everyone off with a tutorial that explains the layout of the map, the objectives and basic gameplay mechanics in a guided game session. Players can freely explore the map and popups explain concepts like Last Hitting (dealing the killing blow to an enemy, which is rewarded with gold), the jungle and the lane as players come across them. The tutorial uses common MOBA jargon, but also explains every term.

Players have to finish two tutorial levels before they can start a live match.

After finishing the introduction level, players need to practice last hitting in a "Gold Rush Challenge" before being allowed to play with real players. This second tutorial stage was only recently added and could foreshadow an extensive tutorial similar to what Dota 2 offers, where plenty of tutorial levels cover all areas of the gameplay, often wrapped into short, narrated missions. Since Vainglory is aimed at veteran players too they'll have to find a balance between funneling people through the tutorial and letting them join the real live battles quickly, something that's commonly accomplished by splitting the tutorial into an essential and an optional section.

Different instruction videos for different player types: newcomers and veterans.

Since few things are better than having an actual pro-gamer explain the nitty-gritty to you, Vainglory features an "Academy" section containing videos made by Super Evil Megacorp's own Cinderhelm giving tips on using the core game mechanics to your advantage. This section also contains two introduction videos aimed at both newcomers to the MOBA genre and veteran players who are coming from a Dota 2 or League of Legends background.

With a hardcore game like Vainglory it's especially important that players don't feel like they're getting dumbed down content and have the resources they need to learn and eventually master the game, which we'll look into in the second part of this series about Vainglory.

The Vainglory Series

Christian Ress

Co-Founder of PlaytestCloud. Currently playing The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.

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