Man and Machine all set for Battle at eSports’ Biggest Tournament

IMAGE SOURCE: @DotaSLTV via Twitter

Whether you are a huge fan or yet to get immersed in it, there is simply no denying that the world of eSports is continuing to just grow and grow. Professional competitive gaming is on the cusp of breaking into the mainstream, with exciting new competitions like the Overwatch League emerging alongside more established competitions to bring top-quality action to the masses.

To say the industry is in rude health would be an understatement. According to research from Newzoo, the global eSports economy is expected to be worth $905.6 million this year, with much of this being driven by advertising and sponsorship as big brands continue to dip their toes into the hugely popular area.

Jewel in the crown

However, for all of the growth which has happened and is expected to continue into the future, one tournament is still arguably viewed as the jewel in the eSports crown – The International event for online battle arena title Dota 2.

Held annually and set to take place in August this year, The International is a tournament like no other – specifically due to the huge level of prize money which is on offer. Last year, the winning side Team Liquid took home an incredible $10 million share of the $24 million prize pool, which was raised for the event through a base contribution from organisers Valve and funds generated from the release of special content linked to the tournament.

With this year’s competition in Vancouver edging ever closer, the 2018 prize pool stands at more than $19 million and – as of July 4th – Betway had Team Liquid and Virtus Pro as joint-favourites with both sides having odds of 3/1 to win outright. Away from the main action though, a new subplot has also emerged in relation to this year’s event, which is sure to attract a lot of attention and interest when the competition gets underway.

Science fiction becomes reality

The idea of humans doing battle with machines sounds like something straight out of a science fiction film, but this year’s The International is set to see top gamers go head-to-head with artificial intelligence to see who will come out on top.

According to Variety, the research company OpenAI are behind a plan which will see five neural networks compete against a team of professional competitors in a match. The ‘team’ of AI players has apparently already beaten some amateur human sides and they are playing in the region of 180 years of matches between themselves in order to master the game. Ahead of The International, OpenAI is also hosting a game against human competitors at the end of July, which will be broadcast live on Twitch. Speaking to Variety, OpenAI added that it was “focused” on being prepared for The International and that its AI team had “a real shot”.

The next chapter

The match between humans and the AI players is sure to be a fascinating sight and it is just the latest example of occasions when people have pitted their wits against machines.

Probably the most famous was, of course, Garry Kasparov’s famous chess matches against the IBM supercomputer Deep Blue. Two six-game contests were held, with Kasparov winning the first in 1996 and Deep Blue taking the second in 1997. The latter was the first time a reigning world chess champion was beaten by a computer program.

AI’s relationship with chess was even back in the news at the end of last year, with the AlphaZero program created by Google’s Deep Mind beating the previous champion program Stockfish 8 in a 100-game match. Perhaps most remarkably, AlphaZero had actually taught itself to play chess in less than four hours – a clear sign of the increasing power and complexity of artificial intelligence.

An interesting side-plot

The International 2018 is a truly prestigious event and the major prize money on offer means that everyone who loves eSports will be watching closely to see the outcome. However, news of this planned meeting between an AI team and human players is an interesting side plot to an already intriguing event.

eSports continues to grow and the fact that the latest battle between humans and AI is taking place in competitive gaming is perhaps yet another sign that the industry is becoming more widely accepted and embraced across the world.

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