One of the most important aspects to a good MOBA community is the user base. It may sound strange if you're a newcomer to the genre, but MOBAs live and die depending on how many people are playing the game. If you can't build up a sizable audience, your matchmaking is going to perform poorly, with long wait times and common drop outs. The worse your matchmaking, the more your community will begin to crumble. In many ways, it's a vicious cycle, causing even great MOBAs to die on the vine without much hope of a growing fan base.
For that reason, it's only natural we select our first entry for this list to be Vainglory—after all, it is one of the most popular MOBAs you can download on the Play Store right now. At over 5 million downloads and counting, Vainglory has a huge following on both iOS and Android, the latter of which will be our main focus for our review.
Vainglory is a rarity for mobile MOBAs, offering plenty of depth that often isn't seen on mobile. First launched on iOS in 2014—and shown off at Apple's 2014 iPhone 6 launch event, to demonstrate the graphic capabilities of the company's newest flagship device—the game came to Android devices in the summer of 2015. Over the past two years, the game has risen in popularity to become one of the fastest-growing MOBAs on the market. Vainglory's central premise is simple: take the MOBA and make it mainstream by creating an easy-to-control mobile experience for players around the world. For the most part, developer Super Evil Megacorp—a great name—succeeds in their goal, even if they fall short of the PC-based MOBA experience.
We should preface this in-depth look at gameplay by mentioning Vainglory isn't a great game for experienced MOBA players looking for something new to play while on the move. Vainglory tries really hard to be a simpler game than most in the genre, and in the process makes an experience too simple for most dedicated MOBA players. If you've played a MOBA before—or you read our explainer above—upon launching your first Vainglory game, you'll notice one major change immediately. Gone are the three lanes that make up a typical MOBA map, replaced by one central lane similar to League of Legends' ARAM (All Random All Mid) mode. This streamlines the entire game, making matches shorter (roughly 25 minutes for a standard match, though match length varies based on the skill and strength of both teams) and a bit less strategic than your typical game of League or DotA. Instead of focusing on team composition or planning sneak attacking your opponent—called "ganking" in the MOBA community—the entire focus of Vainglory's one-lane map becomes killing the enemy team (each team has three players) as fast as possible to take down their towers.
That doesn't mean that Vainglory completely does away with MOBA tropes. Creeps—referred to in Vainglory as "minions"—still fill the lane, working in tandem with your team to distract the towers while you attempt to clear the lane. And unlike League's ARAM mode, a jungle still exists inside of Vainglory, offering several different buffs for your team. The jungle itself has a few interesting twists on the standard jungle system. First, there's an independent shop inside the jungle that can be used to buy items, mitigating the need to teleport back to your base to spend your gold. There are several different neutral minions to defeat: a Minion Miner, a Gold Miner, and a Kraken. The Minion Miner and Gold Miner offer buffs on your minion strength and gold count, respectively, making both important sources of control—the more gold you have, the better items you can buy; likewise, the stronger your minions, the more time it takes to take them out. The Kraken, meanwhile, doesn't spawn until the 16 minute mark of the game, and can be recruited to your team by destroying the monster. Much like the Baron Nashor, which offers a strong team-wide buff in League of Legends, taking out the Kraken with your team is a great way to either make up ground for your team or completely destroy the opposing enemy.
Gameplay-wise, the game is incredibly solid, if a bit more slight than competing games on the PC. Because of the depth and complexity of the MOBA genre, it can be incredibly difficult to create a solid experience on a device without a keyboard or mouse, so the streamlining of genre tropes is to be expected. One of the reasons Vainglory has become so popular is because it knows where to cut corners while still making an incredible experience for mobile devices. The controls, for example, are as tight as they can be on a mobile device. Obviously, everything is controlled by simple taps and swipes, browsing menus and activating key abilities by selecting the corresponding icon from your icons in the bottom section of your display. We found the game to have the best controls of any of the six titles we tested, and though nothing will ever come close to the specific control offered by a keyboard and mouse, Vainglory's tap-based control scheme came the closest. If you're new to the MOBA field, you might find the controls a bit challenging to learn, as is the case with any game in the genre. Once you get a handle on the constant movement and flow of battle, however, you'll find the game comes closest to recreating that PC-professional feeling.
As far as performance, how the game looks and runs will really depend on the strength of your phone or (preferably) tablet. When we tested the game on an Nvidia Shield Tablet, we found performance to exceed our expectations; both graphics performance and frame rates were above the average title in the mobile MOBA genre. While we didn't have a frame counter running for the game, it seemed to be pushing 60 FPS rather consistently in our tests. The game looked sharp and vivid on the tablet's 1080p display, and I didn't experience any game crashes or bugs during my testing experience. Finally, in a move that some will see as positive: the game doesn't feature a standard chat interface, for obvious reasons. This allows Vainglory to avoid the standard toxic community that plagues nearly every MOBA on the market. You can ping locations on the map to get your teammate's attention, and you can send emotes to members to detail how an action or event made you feel.
Our conclusion: it isn't even a contest when it comes to the best MOBA experience on Android. Vainglory offers smooth performance and gameplay, fantastic controls, and a sense of depth that isn't typically seen on mobile entries to the MOBA genre. The player base is larger than nearly any other on Android, so matchmaking is an absolute breeze. The in-game help system is well-organized and easy to follow, and the entire experience is great for newcomers to the genre. For players of PC-based MOBAs like League or DotA, you might be disappointed by the streamlined gameplay, lack of lanes, and smaller team composition, but for anyone looking for a title that approaches the depth of strategy offered by the hardcore titles on PC while still maintaining strong performance and controls, you needn't look any further than Vainglory. Yes, it's that good.