Android and iPhone MOBA Vainglory has already cemented its position as the most promising mobile eSport, but today the scene takes another big step towards professionalisation, with one of the game’s top teams announcing a partnership with Amazon.
Ahead of the hotly anticipated Vainglory Winter Championship, SK Gaming are teaming up with Amazon AppStore. The sponsorship will allow the team’s Vainglory squads to focus more of their time on the game, an important factor with a prize pool of $25,000 on the line.
“There is huge potential in mobile eSports and having Amazon Appstore on board as a strong partner is just amazing,” says SK Mobile head manager Martin Marquardt. “The sponsorship will allow both of us to expand our position and continue leading the market by putting ambitious goals into action.”
As Marquardt explains, those ambitious goals include nothing short of victory at the Winter Championship, after a strong showing at the Autumn Finals in December last year.
“We were only able to send one team to the Autumn Live Finals. Nonetheless we finished in fourth place and at the same time we sent another team to South Korea to attend OGNs VIPL. Participating simultaneously in different events all over the globe was a special situation for the Vainglory department which resulted in us doing experimental roster changes. The overall performance was still decent and was undoubtedly a very valuable learning experience.”
SK’s Vainglory teams are back at full strength for the Winter Season Live Championships in London this weekend, however.
“All of our players were pioneers in Vainglory, leading the European competitive scene, and beyond that, they have had experience in other MOBAs prior to Vainglory,” Marquardt says. “We are currently running two teams in Europe; SK Prometheus with starplayers jetpacks and WalDeMar who are supported by Raph, our youngest player within the Vainglory section. They have an exceptional skillset of adaptation and can switch their roles.
Our second team, SK Chimaera, consists of players like ADzero and Cr3am who have already attended several international live events, and the rising star IIoH4uK. They all bring the mechanical skills and strategical awareness required for high-level play.”
Marquadt’s aware that SK will face some stiff competition at the tournament, sponsored or not. “The competition is becoming much tougher and the teams we prepare against the most are Team Secret and Rebirth of Empire. We will come up with innovating drafts and hopefully bring the EU Winter Championship title home.”
The teams have been training hard, both remotely and together on the same Wi-Fi network. “The main part of our training is inhouse scrimmages between the two teams we have. We invest a lot of time in theory-crafting, drafting and analysing games we have recorded. If we feel a team’s synergy needs polishing up, we will use the SK Gaming facilities for a bootcamp and bring the players in to train together in the same room,” Marquadt says.
Vainglory is unusual for a MOBA in that it can be played on Android and iOS devices of all shapes and sizes, smartphones and tablets, and SK’s team still haven’t settled on one machine that works for them. “Our guys play on their own devices. It amazes me every time to see the different personal preferences. For example, we have Bayu playing on a 4.7-inch smartphone and then there’s Raph who uses a 12.9-inch tablet.”
Amazon’s partnership will allow the team to make use of their Fire tablets. “We will be able to equip our players with Amazon hardware which will put them in an even better position for high performance playing.”
Perhaps even more crucially, it’ll save them some money on nabbing important in-game items with actual currency. “Moreover, with Amazon Coins we’ll be able to save on ICE in-game purchases, which is the in-game currency used to acquire heroes, skins and cards. There is huge potential in mobile eSports and having Amazon Appstore on board as a strong partner is just amazing. The sponsorship will allow both of us to expand our position and continue leading the market by putting ambitious goals into action.”
The move is also a first for Amazon, who are keen to break into the eSports scene. “We’re very keen to support the eSports community and in particular this talented, storied team. Mobile MOBAs align well with what we offer through the Amazon Appstore,” says Amazon's strategic partnership manager for games, Annie Dumitrescu.
“For us, it’s a natural addition. We hope to promote them and help them reach a larger audience.”
Sponsorship isn’t just about logos and hats, however: it ultimately means a more competitive scene for everyone, as teams are able to train more and reach the next level – and a game’s entire meta evolves with that.
“We hope that the sponsorship allows SK to continue to attend as many tournaments as possible and continue to compete at the highest levels of their chosen games,” Dumitrescu adds.
It’s already been a big year for eSports in general, with more Majors sporting six and seven digit figure prize pools. Most games are still PC or console-based titles, but VainGlory and Hearthstone (which can be played on Android and iPhone) are gaining more momentum. Dumitrescu says though this isn’t the year mobile eSports eclipse their desktop counterparts, but they’re moving the right way nonetheless.
“It’s certainly headed in the right direction; Vainglory has all the right components to achieve success in the space, they care deeply about their gamers and the community and continue to exceed people’s expectations of how good a MOBA can be on mobile. We can’t wait to see how the market segment will evolve within the next months and years as devices people play on become more powerful at lower price points more and more gamers are going to get involved with eSports.”