Got game?

In the $1.1 billion esports market, that's what matters. It's also about bragging rights for conquering worlds that are as real as a virtual world can be.

These days, artificial intelligence(AI) is replacing humans in mentorship, sportscasting, and in-game analysis. Competition is tough, and players want to defeat cunning and fast-moving opponents.

That level of passion (where teens and 40-year-old kids are so engrossed in video games as to neglect hygiene) makes esports a lucrative career.

As teens, Baby Boomers opened lemonade stands. Last year, Generation Z earned $41 million in prizes from "Dota 2" events, which are played in huge arenas. In July 2019, 16-year-old Kyle Giersdorf earned $3 million after becoming "Fortnite" world champion. Over a million viewers watched him online.

Here's how artificial intelligence gives participants an edge -- in esports as gaming, and as business.

Lone wolves lose. Get a coach.

Coaching predates the Greek Olympics. In the computer age, AI is replacing human coaches.

"We empower players to perform better, especially low to mid-level gamers who have room for improvement," says Berk Ozer, co-founder of FalconAI. The company develops an AI coach called SenpAI for "League of Legends" and "Dota 2."

The platform helps gamers to outmaneuver opponents in multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) games by improving preparation, making recommendations, and customizing strategy against enemies who place a certain style.

"We built an AI coach that models replicas of players, and generates implementable actions for better gameplay," says Ozer.

Thus, artificial intelligence is enabling gamers to win most efficiently. That helps them to rank higher and scoop prizes.

Improvement is a process.

Esports is helping computer researchers to design machine-learning systems that can solve real-world challenges. The real world is more complex than virtual reality, but video games are proxies for overcoming technical challenges step by step.

For example, Google's DeepMind built complex bots that not only solve games, but can also work with humans as part of the same team. That can be useful in downstream use-cases, as enterprises leverage AI in their industries.

Gaming helps developers to optimize machine learning in emerging fields. Like self-driving cars. (And how about fully-autonomous drones, airplanes, and spaceships?) That's because a computer (just like in esports) needs to detect objects, anticipate how others will behave, and create a roadmap.

Welcome AI to the broadcasting booth.

AI spending in 2019 will reach $36 billion and grow 38% annually until 2022, according to research firm IDC.

IBM, a Fortune 50 company, is bringing artificial intelligence to esports to boost player performance, and to create a better fan experience. In March, Big Blue announced an initiative that will introduce AI to esports "shoutcasting."

Using the same tech that IBM used in tennis's U.S. Open, IBM Watson will scan hundreds of hours of esports footage. Shoutcasters are then given A.I.-curated (and optimized) content to improve their livestreams.

Watson's language capability also has esports applications. IBM's powerful AI has been used in the PlayStation 4 game "Star Trek: Bridge Crew" where users control ships using voice commands.

For some games, AI could make joysticks obsolete.

The monthly esports audience will reach 276 million by 2022 when total monetization will reach $3 billion, according to Goldman Sachs. Developers are using AI to improve game play, and to create a better experience for the ecosystem.

Published on: Aug 7, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.