Esports, or digital sports, are an exciting new entertainment option that is relatively new. I’ve been playing video games all my life, ever since I was a teenager, but the increasing trend of people watching other people play, not physically but seeing them play virtually online, is something of a recent phenomenon that is becoming very popular.
Esports can be enhanced a lot with AI. Obviously, you have people playing against AI characters all the time. As time goes by, AI players are going to become more intelligent, until they achieve almost human level or superhuman level of intelligence and skill, possibly depending on some game difficulty setting. This will enable us to see interesting stuff happening in the different games that exist and make for more exciting esports events of man against the machine type tournaments.
One of the earliest introductions to AI and sports, if you can call it esports, was in the early games of AI chess, for example the famous game between Gary Kasparov and IBM’s DeepBlue system in 1996 and 1997, which was one of the first events that led to a resurgence in current AI systems. The excitement raised by DeepMind’s AlphaGo playing Go against Lee Sedol in 2016 in Seoul was palpable, as AI managed to beat a professional level player at a game that is notoriously hard to master. Effectively, Man vs Man and Man vs Machines and having the events streamed and available online is at the core of what esports is all about. Esports is also about people playing against people in different video games, making sure they have different avatars, different fantasy worlds … and this is something that I believe is going to be one of the main entertainment options of the future.
As with any other sports, esports is becoming something that is very professional and leading to exciting new avenues of entertainment that just didn’t exist before — and I think that this is something that is here to stay. As different communities come together in esports and various industries spring up and build on top of the events, new services and aspects of esports that didn’t exist will be created by the inevitable innovation that comes along when entertainment, showbiz and money come together.
AI will power the next generation of esports that will involve virtual reality and augmented reality. We will see people playing augmented reality games, hopefully getting off their couches and having some element of physical exercise as part of esports — making esports and real live sports get closer together. There are also different things like drone races and technology enhanced games that are being enabled by AI. Who knows when the first driverless car will manage to beat a human driver at Formula 1? And when the first Esports live event achieves the same level of viewership as the soccer World Cup?
Immersive experiences can also be increasingly obtained at home using AI. For example, if someone throws a grenade during a war fighting game, you may want to have some kind of explosion simulation behind you, that immerses you not just in sound, but also with light and different effects that will become common in the living room of the future. This kind of augmentation of the Esports experience, will blur the lines between the virtual and the real and make it more exciting and more immersive. We may not have the Star Trek holodeck (yet!) but AI is helping Esports make inroads more quickly than most other sports have ever done before!