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The Convergence of Artificial Intelligence and eSports

Will esports one day be dominated by AI overlords?

Source: Pixabay

Esports, competitive video game playing, is an emerging market sector that is rapidly going mainstream, attracting not only fans, but also investors, media, technology companies, brand sponsors and venture capital. Goldman Sachs estimates esports monetization to reach $3 billion and attract as many viewers as the U.S. National Football League (NFL) by 2022 [1]. Video game playing is becoming a popular spectator sport with professional gamers, leagues, and big money tournaments. With IBM’s Deep Blue defeating world chess champion Garry Kasparov in 1997 and DeepMind’s (part of Alphabet) AlphaGo defeating world’s best Go player Ke Jie in 2017, it was only a matter of time before the trajectories of esports and artificial intelligence (AI) would converge.

On June 26, 2018, Bill Gates hailed the OpenAI’s bot victory over human Dota 2 esport players in a tweet as “a huge milestone in advancing artificial intelligence [2].” OpenAI is a non-profit AI research company that includes Elon Musk, Reid Hoffman, Sam Altman, Peter Thiel, Greg Brockman, Jessica Livingston, Microsoft, Amazon Web Services, Open Philanthropy Project, Infosys, and Y Combinator Research as sponsors.

Esports is a global opportunity with a handful of games and teams dominating the market. According to Nielsen’s 2017 “The eSports Playbook” report, 61 percent in the U.S. play Call of Duty, 63 percent play Grand Theft Auto in the UK, 48 percent play Call of Duty in France, and 54 percent play Grand Theft Auto in Germany. Also according to the Nielsen report, the top three commonly followed esports teams in the same geographies are as follows:

  • U.S. – Cloud 9, OpTic Gaming, Team Liquid
  • UK – Cloud 9, Fnatic, OpTic Gaming
  • France – Fnatic, G2 eSports, Cloud 9
  • Germany – Fnatic, Cloud 9, SK Gaming

In May 2018, Epic Games announced it will give out $100 million in prize pools for Fortnite tournaments for the 2018-2019 season [3]. Market research company NewZoo estimates 2018 esports revenue to reach $345 million in North America, $169 million in Western Europe, and $164 million in China [4]. In addition to AI bots as esports players, investors are backing AI entrepreneurs in audience monetization, spectator experience, training, and AI developer competition.

Global AI Monetization of eSports Audiences

Esports monetization startup FanAI Inc. has raised $4.5 million in funding from investors and venture capital companies for its AI-based platform that provides its customers with esport audience demographics, predictive analysis and analytics [5].

AI-enhanced eSports Spectator Experience

Seattle-based startup Taunt, which raised $3 million in seed financing led by Foundry Group in 2018, plans to create a social esports spectator platform that will be predictive and interactive [6].

“NAB 2017 Best Startup” award recipient Elastic Media, with $3 million in seed funding, relaunched in March 2018 as Blink, a mobile esports platform with a cognitive core of AI and deep learning technology to make esports viewing an interactive experience with programmatic storytelling clips on a non-streaming platform [7].

AI Training eSports Players

Venture-backed startup, founded by Alisa Chumachenko, raised $1.9 million in funding for its PC-based platform AI assistant aimed at providing training for esports athletes [8]. It currently works on Dota 2 and plans to expand to PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive [9].

AI Developers Competing in eSports

British startup AI Gaming is building a global community of AI developers where they may compete and earn cryptocurrency for winning esports AI bots. This may create a new genre of esports gaming—pitting AI developers against each other [10].

In the future, gaming may even become an Olympic sport. On July 21, 2018, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Global Association of International Sports Federations will host a forum to develop relationships and establish a dialogue between the Olympics and esports ecosystem of players, gaming executives and corporate sponsors [11].

The esports industry is a gold rush, and the future is bright. The increase of live-streaming and corporate sponsorships, coupled with the emergence of well-funded esports leagues, and increased investments from the technology sector, venture capitalists, celebrities, professional athletes, and team franchises are accelerating the growth of esports. The market opportunity for AI is a wide-open playing field in the booming esports industry.

Copyright © 2018 Cami Rosso All rights reserved.


1. Ross, Katherine. “By 2022, Goldman Sachs Thinks eSports Will Have 300 Million Viewers Like the NFL.” TheStreet. Jun 26, 2018.

2. Zhou, Marrian. “Now AI is beating us at our favorite video games.” CNET. June 27, 2018

3. Kim, Tae. “Epic makes ‘Fortnite’ biggest esport in the world with $100 million in prize money.” CNBC. 22 May 2018.

4. Pannekeet, Jurre. “Newzoo: Global Esports Economy Will Reach $905.6 Million in 2018 as Brand Investment Grows by 48%.” NewZoo. Feb 21, 2018.

5. Cooke, Sam. “FanAI, AI driven esports monetization platform, raises $2.5m.” Esports Insider. February 22, 2018.

6. Schlosser, Kurt. “Taunt esports startup raises $3M to build new platform for fan interaction.” GeekWire. June 28, 2018.

7. Blink. (2018, March 15). Elastic Media Relaunches as Blink to Offer First AI-Powered Mobile eSports Platform [Press release].

8. Takahashi, Dean. “ raises $1.9 million to automate game training advice.” VentureBeat. March 21, 2018.

9. Ibid.

10. Heitner, Darren. “How Artificial Intelligence May Further Develop The Fast-Growing Esports Industry.” Forbes. May 13, 2018.

11. Associated Press. “IOC plans esports forum as it weighs video games in Olympics.” ESPN. Jun 26, 2018.

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