AI has not yet taken on multiplayer games in Dota 2
Esports Betting Report

Artificial Intelligence Beating Pros In Dota 2 Could Pose ‘Devastating’ Threat To Esports

AI Dota 2
The news that an artificial intelligence bot has for the first time beaten top Dota 2 professionals in one-versus-one games has serious implications for the esports world and has the potential to disrupt the nascent betting scene in incalculable ways, according to an expert in gaming innovation.

AI and Dota 2

When AI developer called OpenAI – co-founded and chaired by Elon Musk – announced in mid-August that its bot had managed to beat some of the world’s best players in head-to-head match-ups, it sent shockwaves through the esports community.

Writing on the OpenAI blog, the team behind the bot said it had learned the game from scratch by self-play and did not use imitation learning.

“This is a step towards building AI systems which accomplish well-defined goals in messy, complicated situation involving real humans,” they told the world.

More on the OpenAI project here:

‘Devastating’ to esports?

Reacting to the developments, Daniel Sahl, associate director at the Center for Gaming Innovation at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, said AI had the potential to be “devastating” to esports competition.

“Computer assistance has always been a huge challenge to the viability of competitive video games,” he said. “It can be a real problem if, like in a game of Starcraft back in the day, people can see ‘the whole map’.”

While game developers can try their best to counter cheats, “it’s like an arms race.” “There will always be those looking to get an advantage and use game assists and AI is going nuclear on stuff like that.”

The OpenAI bot took on top Dota 2 players in best-of-three one-versus-one matches. Sahl drew comparisons with the effect that bots have had in online poker should AI become prevalent in esports games.

“Is online poker as enjoyable to play today as it was 10 or 15 years ago?” he questioned. “When you have all these people using programs to help them, playing ten hands at once, you have bots with auto-fold or auto-discard. How does that affect the player pool?”

Exponential improvements in Dota 2 AI

The OpenAI team points out in its blog that in the span of a month between early July and early August this year, the system went from barely matching a high-ranked player to beating the top pros.

It has continued to improve since then, due to the nature of the AI self-learning process:

  • March 1: OpenAI sees first “classical reinforcement learning” results in a simple Dota environment
  • May 8: Human tester reports getting better at the game than the bot
  • Early June: Bot beats novice human tester
  • June 30: Bot wins games against more experienced testers
  • July 8: “Barely” wins game against semi-pro tester
  • Aug. 7: Beats former pros ‘Blitz’, ‘Pajkatt’ and ‘CC&C’
  • Aug. 9: Beats top pro Arteezy
  • Aug. 10: Beats top 1v1 player Sumail – also plays Aug. 9 bot and wins 2-1
  • Aug. 11: Beats former world champion and “old-school favorite” Dendi 2-0 – bot also has 60 percent win rate vs. Aug. 10 bot

Sahl says bookmakers would be unlikely to be caught out in the initial stages of AI bots becoming prevalent in esports games.

“If you have a team that has figured out a way to use AI undetected, that will be reflected by their win rate” Sahl says.

“But the risk is much more severe if AI becomes too rampant, then the games will lose the player pool base,” he adds.

An ‘ocean of complexity’ in mutiplayer

What happens when whole teams of AI bots take to the games is a matter for conjecture. The rate of advance being made by OpenAI is likely to overtake the initial assumptions about its impact. As the team that built the bot explains, while 1v1 is “complicated,” a multiplayer 5v5 game is an “ocean of complexity.”

“We know we’ll need to further push the limits of AI in order to solve it,” they suggest, before pointing out exactly how they think they will tackle the task.

“One well-established place to start is with behavioural cloning,” says the blog posting.

Dota 2 has about a million public matches a day, and the replays for these matches are stored on Valve’s servers for two weeks.  “We’ve been downloading every expert-level replay since last November, and have amassed a dataset of 5.8 million games (where each game is about 45 minutes with 10 humans),” the blog continues.

“If the publishers can’t stop OpenAI from interfering with their games, then there will be huge disruption in the popularity of competitive esports,” says Sahl. “The audiences derive from people feeling passionate about the gameplay. So if you see AI invade the space, it ruins the experience.”

The impact on betting

Traditional betting would presumably go the same way, but Sahl does see an upside for the games publishers – and by implication a potentially large role in the future for skin betting.

“OpenAI could be a real problem for competitive player-versus-player games, but at the same time AI will make the games more immersive, story-telling games far more compelling. People might not care whether they are playing against AI.”

He concludes: “The worlds we enter will become more real. We’re already seeing it with skin betting. The skins have a tangible market value.”

In this brave new world, esports betting operators will be in a better position than operators of traditional gambling activities.

“This means nothing good for casinos,” he forecasts. “When people have these virtual worlds, the thrill of winning at a casino might begin to pall.”

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Scott Longley
- Scott Longley has been a journalist since the early noughties covering personal finance, sport and gambling. He has worked for a number of publications including Investor's Week, Bloomberg Money, Football First, eGaming Review and Gambling Compliance. He now runs his own editorial consultancy Clear Concise Media and writes for a number of online and print titles.