Artificial Intelligence in the Future of Sports | Technology and Sports

Artificial Intelligence in the Future of Sports | Technology and Sports
Artificial Intelligence in the Future of Sports 

Is Artificial Intelligence (AI) the future of sports?

AI is rapidly changing the face of traditional games and sports.  Whose side are you on?

He sees an opening on the left flank and immediately punishes them.  After rushing to the side, he finds his teammates in the center and quickly crosses for the finish!

Turn on any sports channel and you'll hear something similar.  Chances are you've imagined Ronaldo or another star player running down a new pitch.  In fact , this could describe a play by an AI bot at a recent international tournament .  It's time to change our thinking as AI becomes the star player.

As we already know, the use of AI to improve the performance of human athletes is becoming mainstream.  The next step for AI in esports is to introduce AI players.  In fact, we currently have AI agents smart enough to mimic high-level human tactics.  They have the potential to revolutionize the esports industry while pushing the limits of what AI can actually do.

  • Competitive AI
  • Electronic sports
  • Conventional AI
  • Advanced Robotics

The immediate response of many people is that this world will never exist: how could we enjoy watching machines?  Many claim that playing against traditional AI can often be a repetitive and boring experience.  Others cannot imagine the joy of beating their machine opponents.  To address this, let's start by examining why we love traditional sports, and then describe how AI will come to meet these demands.

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Why do we love sports?

Sports fanatic psychologists have identified eight fundamental reasons why people love their sports.

8 reasons why we love sports 

Group Affiliation

Sports provide a common topic for friends to discuss and enjoy.


This is similar to group membership, but applies particularly to family members.


Sport can act as a tool to bet and earn money.


Sports can be a distraction from any dissatisfaction with normal life. 


Sports provide various forms of pleasurable entertainment. 


Sports can arouse a pleasant level of stress through excitement, through competition with others.


Sports can be perceived as an aesthetic pleasure for the viewer.


Sports can provide people with higher self-esteem.

Many of the motivations mentioned above are not unique to traditional sports.  For example, getting together with friends and family to bond is about the people, not the sport.  As such, if the conditions are right, a similar variant involving AI could make inroads into the industry.

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How is AI used in sports?

The adoption of AI in the world of sports will be slower than that of other AI applications and software.  Many of the motivations of sports are related to how others think and behave around an individual, so it is not enough to change some people;  you need to change preconceptions around an entire industry to be truly effective.  Here are four ways we're already seeing AI infiltrate sports and how those apps engage our existing interest in sports:

  • Competitive AI
  • The rise of esports
  • Conventional AI
  • Advanced Robotics

1. Competitive AI

First of all, the AI ​​must be able to compete with humans for humans to be interested.  We can already see the competitive advantage of AI in some of our most complex table games and esports.  Here are some key cases:

  • Chess: Deep Blue first won in 1997 and started winning against human opponents in 2005.
  • Go: AlphaGo has consistently won since 2016.
  • StarCraft: AlphaStar beat a top-tier StarCraft player in 2018.
  • Dota 2: OpenAI bot defeated several amateur players in 2018 (but still lost to pro players).

These are all examples of deep learning AI, where strategies are not pre-programmed, but learned.  Deep learning systems consist of up to billions of individual parameters that are superimposed to create a complex network.  Some goal is defined for the system, such as winning a simple two-player game, towards which the system can start optimizing.  This optimization process occurs through machine-based trial and error.  The system plays millions of games with itself, each time learning what works and what doesn't, and adjusting its parameters.  After all of these games, the system will (hopefully) have learned to play the game as well or better than its human counterparts, which is exactly what we've seen with the games mentioned above.  This brings us to the wild world of esports.

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2. The rise of esports

Our robotics capabilities are still somewhat limited, as seen in various robotics games like soccer.  It will still be some time before we can apply AI players to most traditional sports (although Boston Dynamics is quickly getting there).  Instead, AI is likely to become more common in the world of esports.

Is AI the future of sports? Maybe not...

Esports is rapidly becoming comparable (in terms of market share) to traditional sports.  The industry has eclipsed $1 billion in revenue in 2021 and is projected to grow 15 percent year over year.  The biggest esports team, Cloud 9, had a valuation of more than $300 million, which is equal to five percent of the world's biggest sports franchise, the Dallas Cowboys, at $7 billion.  In prize pools, esports already tops many, including the Golf Masters and the Confederations Cup, with more than $40 million.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that esports is still relatively new.  Unlike traditional sports, some of which have franchises that are over a century old and have been big business for over 30 years.  , esports started only 25 years ago and the most popular game, Dota 2, was released only 10 years ago.  The size of the prize pools compared to young esports shows how quickly the industry has grown.  Once this continued growth reaches critical mass and breaks into the mainstream, esports can provide family and group affiliation motivation similar to what we see in traditional sports.

Consider that FIFA now hosts an international esports tournament for its own games.  For fans at home, the experience is pretty much the same, watching the same game on the same TV with the same live commentary.  Granted, the animation of current games still has room for improvement, but it gets better every year with new games.  The fast-forwarding animations, coupled with the fact that they're AI-generated, allow for much more creativity.  For example, you can watch in 3D and experience being in the game or maybe even in the referee's shoes.  The fact that the most lucrative sport in the world (football) is already moving towards esports, so it won't be long before others follow suit.

There are other reasons esports is a good first choice for those interested in AI gaming, such as the ability to train and improve AI more efficiently.  For a computer game, the AI ​​can play millions of games (for example, 5 million games for AlphaGo) to train, unlike traditional sports where the AI ​​must physically play the game to learn the strategy and test its performance (and even this limitation is something OpenAI is working on).

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3. Conventional AI

Right now, if someone asks you to watch two shows competing with each other within another show, you might think they're a little weird.  This is a reasonable reaction, but like it or not, AI competitions are becoming more and more popular.

There are various competitions between AIs that attract millions of viewers.  Here is a list of various AI games and performances on YouTube that already have a large audience.

I tried (and failed) to beat the new sentient robots in Rocket League.

Rocket League is a popular soccer-like game, which has an active bot community.  His videos featuring AI competitions have millions of views.  The game itself has around 50 million human players. 

Code Bullet focuses on programming various AIs to play in games such as Flappy Bird and Storm the House.  The channel has over 2.5 million subscribers with videos getting up to 15 million views.  For reference, the Dallas Cowboys have 90,000 subscribers while Real Madrid FC has 4.5 million subscribers.

The first stream of the new StarCraft AI had over 2 million views.  For reference, the 2018 StarCraft Main Tournament Final (Human Only) had 1 million views.

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A video showing the training of a Super Mario AI received more than 10 million views.

Halo, a first-person shooter game, has several AI vs. AI competitions organized by the players.  These can receive up to 400,000 views each.

Injustice 2 has an AI simulator feature that allows players to customize how the AI ​​plays, leading many users to post their AI strategies, videos receiving 100,000 views.

Fighting games lend themselves well to AI as they have a very controlled environment.  This Killer Instinct AI video describes its innovative AI and has almost 20,000 views.

Overall, this is on the order of 100 million views on YouTube, which was only about two percent of a day of streaming (as of 2017).  However, given the relatively small community, this number is significant.  Combining the growth of AI bots with the growth of esports will create a massive expansion in the genre as a whole.  However, this growth will not be sustainable unless AI remains interesting.

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Once watching AI compete becomes commonplace, we'll need to find new ways to keep viewers engaged.  To achieve this, it is essential that we diversify our AI.  People don't want to see the same thing over and over again.  As mentioned above, one of the motivators for watching sports is the entertainment that comes from the random factor of not knowing who will come out on top on any given day.  To achieve this, Agents need to be able to pull off a number of high level rather than easy plays (which we've already seen with Dota 2 and Go, to name a few).

In fact, there is a misconception that watching AI is a boring experience as they copy unintelligent humans or follow pre-described sets of rules.  Certainly that was true for machines of the past, but for many years we have had an AI that can act in creative and amazing ways.

One of the most interesting parts of Google's AlphaGo was its creativity and the ways it played that game that were unexpected to humans.  Along the same lines, in the world of chess, when human players make moves that vary from the standard procedure, the arbiters begin to suspect that the players are using artificial intelligence systems as assistants.  Put another way, in the game of chess, creativity is no longer the mark of a human, but that of a machine.  It's the same in Go and as time goes on it will come true in other sports as well.

During the AlphaStar training, the Deepmind team observed that the bots adopted several good strategies.  One might expect bots to follow a specific strategy and get better and better over time.  In fact, bots could be grouped into multiple groups, with each group having a different way of playing (eg aggressive start, focus on a certain unit type, etc.).  In a way, each bot had its own player personality.  These personalities, with varied playstyles, will keep AI sports interesting and entertaining for human viewers.

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4. Advanced Robotics 

Once AI agents have become a regular part of our sports experience, advances in robotics will catch up, allowing them to play all the games we usually play, not just for us, but with us.  Soccer players will be able to practice against entire teams of AI robots that are ready to challenge them and help them grow.  They will also be able to compete in leagues of humans and robots.

While human biology is relatively fixed, robotics will continue to advance.  This means that sports can also continue to evolve.  Imagine a soccer game played at twice the speed with a magnetic ball and speeds equal to those of tennis?  Sounds pretty exciting to me.

Finally, new games can be created that only AI can perfect.  As mentioned above, exhaust and aesthetics are two of the motivators for sports fans.  Seeing an AI-powered machine conquer and handle complex games will create a sense of escape that we have never experienced before.

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What does AI sports mean for the future of gaming? 

If the above story comes to fruition, there would naturally be significant impacts on sports and entertainment.

Better AI

The rate of approach to the impending (and inevitable) AI revolution will be driven by the economic incentives provided by sports competitions.  There are currently some major well-funded organizations, such as Google and Elon Musk's OpenAI.  but the more competition, the faster growth we can see.

On Demand 

Since you don't need to worry about pesky biological needs, games can be played on demand.  Fans can also pick their own teams and see exactly how the games would have played out.  This takes fantasy football or fantasy soccer to a whole new level.  Similarly, the world of sports betting and the economic motivations discussed above will be heavily influenced by AI-played on-demand games.


Filming a live match between humans for fully immersive VR will always be difficult.  It's impossible to get a great camera crew moving all over the field of play.  However, with digital sports, it will be a matter of simulation that allows as many digital cameras as possible to be created, providing a better experience for the viewer.

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Right now a sports team can have 11 players who get all the glory.  Behind the scenes there are various members, including a doctor, a psychologist and a dietician, who help the player to perform, but the game day performance depends on the athletes.  For AI agents, it is more common for many different team members to work on parts responsible for making it a success.  Human programmers and engineers will collaborate, which means becoming an "elite athlete" will be a much more attainable dream for the average person, and it will mean something entirely different.

Financial incentives for non-athletes

Instead of massive salaries for players, the money could be spread out among programmers and their organizations.  Good AI is made up of teams of people, so AI sports can lead to a more diversified top ranking and a more equitable distribution of funds.

No Retirees 

Since players will only get better over time, you will be able to follow your favorite players indefinitely.  Of course, designers or trainers will still have their limitations, but personified bots can stay forever.

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Decreasing costs

There will be lower costs as the AI ​​plays games with cheaper components (or online).  This may counteract the trend of lower attendance or Covid closures that have hit the sports and entertainment industries.

Sports organizations and related businesses must start preparing for these changes before it is too late.  For the rest of us, it probably won't change much.  We cannot hope to imitate Cristiano Ronaldo's beautiful strokes or Federer's impossible serves and I will not be able to match the feats of our future robotic athletes.  At the very least, it will be interesting to see how sports evolve in the wake of AI development.  So for now, I'll sit back, pick a side, and enjoy the game with my friends.

Source: iArtificial, Direct News 99