Arena of Valor Interview: How the World's Most Popular Mobile MOBA Will Conquer the West

arena of valor 2
(Photo: Tencent)

With over 200 million registered players, Arena of Valor is one of the most popular games in the world. Tencent has managed to take a fully-featured 5-vs-5 MOBA and distill it into an accessible, highly-competitive mobile title. It's only been out in the U.S. for a few weeks, but players are smitten. It's highly polished, it's overly generous with its free content, and it boasts a huge roster of compelling champions.

We recently sat down with Tencent to discuss Arena of Valor's prospects in the West, where "mobile gaming" is still a touchy subject (pun intended). How does Tencent plan to attract core console gamers with Arena of Valor? When will we finally get to play as our favorite DC heroes? What can we expect from the Nintendo Switch version? You can read our conversation below:

WWG: It's no secret that mobile gaming is much more popular in China and in the East than it is in the U.S. It's been about three weeks since the Western soft launch -- do you guys have any early data on downloads or retention that has shaped or changed your projections for Arena of Valor in the West?

Tencent: We do know the challenge here. We know that mobile has always been seen as casual to hardcore gamers in this country. We're still waiting to see the outcomes after launching during the Christmas season. However, without a very big marketing campaign we were able to attract lots of mobile players to play this game, and they're excited about it. We are doing our best to engage with the community more deeply and develop this community along with them.

WWG: How heavily is the competitive gaming scene weighing into Tencent's marketing strategy for Arena of Valor? Are you guys counting on a lively esports scene to generate awareness and get more people playing the game?

Tencent: The perception we are trying very hard to encourage is that true competition can happen on the mobile platform, and Arena of Valor is proof of that. We are putting a lot of effort into demonstrating that, and esports are a part of that. Our esports approach is still being finalized, but we have participated in esports in different scales in southeast Asia and in Europe. It has proven to work, and we're confident that it can work in the U.S. market.

WWG: When it comes to the West, the partnership with Warner Bros. and DC Comics is obviously a huge bonus, especially in the U.S. where mobile gaming isn't as big. Are these DC heroes seen as a vital part of the promotional push? How vital is this partnership?

Tencent: We take all of our partnerships very seriously. The Warner Bros. partnership is very important to us, but what we want to emphasize is that while we believe that our partnerships are important, we believe that the game itself, and how fun it is, is the most important part to our fans.

WWG: I think that perspective is definitely paying off. Everyone that I know who has played the game has noted how tightly it controls and how good it feels. I wanted to ask about the DC heroes, though: Can this be seen as a limited-time promotion? Does this licensing deal have a ticking clock attached to it, or can we consider Wonder Woman, Batman, Joker, and Superman permanent parts of Arena of Valor?

Tencent: The partnership with those DC characters are part of our effort to make this game more relatable to Western gamers. The partnership, so far as I can tell, is permanent. We don't have any plan to replace those characters. In fact we are still talking with other IP owners in the US and in Europe to bring more champions to the game that players in those areas can relate to.

WWG: We're looking forward to playing Wonder Woman later this week. Do you guys have any kind of set release schedule for the rest of the DC heroes? Can we look forward to one a month? One every few weeks, or...

Tencent: So the way that we work is we have a plan for the year, but we adjust our schedules according to feedback from the community, and it varies from market to market. We know for sure that Wonder Woman is coming soon, as you said, and I believe the other DC characters are going to be introduced to U.S. gamers in a very short period of time.

WWG: Okay, that will be enough to get our readers excited. What I personally am most excited to talk to you about is Arena of Valor on Nintendo Switch. Did Tencent approach Nintendo about this, or did Nintendo approach Tencent about getting Arena of Valor on the Switch?

Tencent: Frankly I don't have that answer. The Nintendo version of Arena of Valor is being handled by a different team at the moment. We're supporting the Nintendo version with beta testing, branding, and everything company-side. We have the closed beta testing coming up for Europe, and after we have the results from that beta testing, we'll have a more clear timetable for launches in different regions.

WWG: So at this time you do not have a timeline for a North American beta test or North American launch, is that right?

Tencent: That's correct. For the mobile version we launched in Europe first, as you know, and so that server was prepared ahead of the U.S. That's why we're testing in Europe right now, but we're actually planning to catch up the U.S. market after seeing the positive feedback. Everything is still under discussion, and we'll share more soon.

WWG: Is the pricing structure planned to be the same on the Switch? Will Arena of Valor remain free to play with in-game purchases, or would you opt for a one-time purchasing fee?

Tencent: We haven't made a decision about that. Monetization has never been the "start." It's not the major concern early on, for any version of the game. We will have more information after the beta test in EU.

WWG: For players, like me, who have been playing the mobile version daily, will we be able to transfer our progress, champions, and skins to the Switch version? Will there be one shared account, or separate accounts for the two versions of the game?

Tencent: We had that discussion earlier, internally. The answer is that the decision is still being made. It is technically possible, but having people on the mobile version and Switch version competing with each other may compromise the arena as a "fair" arena, if you see what I mean. Because they're using different devices, when they compete with each other we feel it could generate complaints of unfair competition, so we're still balancing it.

WWG: That's all I had, and thank you so much for you time. Did you have anything else you wanted to say or address while we have you here?

Tencent: I just want to say that we're very happy to see how all of this is going, and we are very committed to engage with our fans and cultivate this community.

(Arena of Valor is now available to download and play for free on iOS and Android.)