Malta: How Artificial Intelligence Is Revolutionising Esports

Last Updated: 20 September 2019
Article by Mark O'Sullivan
Most Read Contributor in Malta, September 2019

When it comes to the highly competitive world of esports, every edge counts. Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology can be that edge, offering elite players the chance to raise the bar. It can give them the training competition they need to improve and master their skill. AI-powered analysis and prediction mechanisms can help to identify ways to improve the player's own gameplay, whilst also ensuring that opponent strategies are effectively combatted.

As has been the case in many industries since the industrial revolution, there is a gradual creep whereby machines are replacing humans in particular roles. Initially this was in relation to manual roles, but more recently, we are beginning to see more complex roles being replaced. Esports may be no different in the future, i.e. the team of bots with the best AI programmers would be the best team. As scary as this sounds, it is not all bad. If we look at another piece of interesting technology, virtual reality, this has similar potential. You could participate in a title fight as a professional boxer using VR technology, without ever suffering the short term pain and lasting damage of a punch. Clearly, this would reduce the long-term effects of injuries found in such combat sports, as well as others like American football, ice hockey and rugby, to name just a few.

For professional players, AI can assist in a wide array of ways, particularly when it come to gameplay analysis, strategy predictions, AI bot training partners and AI bot training opponents. For governing bodies, AI has the potential to intuitively search for match-fixing within esports and provide detailed reports for follow up by the governing bodies. If we look at this from an iGaming perspective, operators are, of course, on the lookout for scams and match-fixing scenarios within esports. AI can assist greatly in the identification mechanisms used by governing bodies and iGaming operators alike. This, combined with the innovative approaches being undertaken by the likes of Google Stadia's new platform, will help to reduce, and possibly even eradicate, match-fixing and cheating.

AI-powered bots are beginning to match, and even surpass, the skillset of human players. Equally important is the fact that bots won't succumb to the pressures of a live tournament atmosphere, which is in contrast to human players. An AI bot will play to its maximum level every time, and each time the bot plays, this should maximum reach higher levels than before through state-of-the-art algorithms.

Through Elon Musk's OpenAI Five esports team, an AI-powered Dota 2 bot, has beaten the world's top single player Dota 2 players just a few months ago. Another company you may have heard of, Google, has developed a similar AI-powered bot named "AlphaStar" which beat two of Team Liquid's best players in a whitewash at Blizzard's StarCraft II in December 2018. It is important to note that these bots have been developed to play within the same gameplay conditions as a human player, e.g. similar actions per minute, viewing angles, etc. In essence, these bots are not being created in order to develop the world's best player (beyond that of human limits), but to develop the world's best human-like player. In fact, the aforementioned AI bots use less clicks per minute than the best human players (approximately half), but have a greater level of efficiency per click, showing that the bots are more strategic in their choices.

Although not rooted in AI, this kind of battle between humans and robots has been running for many years. Many of us will have taken a penalty kick against a robotic goalkeeper at an event. It's likely that you would have missed more than you scored. Add AI to this technology and it's quite possible that you may never score a goal against this goalkeeper again, given its iterative improvement.

Malta has a history of firmly establishing itself as a global hub for particular technological economic niches. It had successfully done so with iGaming over the last couple of decades, and in recent years, this has been the case with the video games and DLT sectors. In 2019, Malta has set its sights on the AI and esports industries. My feeling is that these industries are quite compatible and will grow together alongside Malta's other niches and its well-established ecosystem.

After firmly asserting itself as a leader in the DLT sphere in 2018, Malta is working to develop a national AI strategy and framework. The country's vision for AI was released in November 2018, with the subsequent establishment of the Malta.AI Taskforce. In March 2019, the taskforce held its first public consultation workshop, where it was explained that Malta will prove itself to be an attractive hub for AI-focused projects and companies. Alongside this, the government has committed itself to work towards the creation of a strong regulatory environment to protect this technology's implementation. So, how does this relate to esports in Malta? As mentioned, Malta's bustling video games industry is beginning to spill over into that of esports. There are some well-established passionate esports event organisers on the island, who have worked tirelessly in recent years to grow interest locally. Additionally, many of the world's largest iGaming operators based in Malta are looking very closely at the esports market, hoping to gain the interest of the next generation. As local players and companies begin to reach new heights, the crossover between the esports and AI industries in Malta is inevitable.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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