10 August 2018128

Homo ludens: why e-sports can become an alternative to work?

Perhaps the robots will soon leave you without work. But there is good news: it will be possible to play whole days on the computer, teaching artificial intelligence.

While there are disputes, will people deprive people of the work of artificial intelligence or not, cybersport offers a third way, something in between the plot of the fantastic film and the history textbook - a new economic model where the unemployed low-skilled specialists, who will be replaced by robots, will train artificial intelligence based on computer games.

Now interest in the topic is fueled by the recent competition for the game Dota 2 between AI Ilona Mask and "organic" players, but the symbiosis of games and artificial intelligence began much earlier.

In the fight against AI for jobs.

Today, applied AI has gone far beyond the gaming world, but milestones of its development are still celebrated with the help of victories in games like chess (IBM Deep Blue, 1997), go (Google DeepMind, 2005) and Dota 2 (Open AI, 2017). Gradually, people began to seriously think that over time, AI can lose not only regular game battles, but also a war for real jobs.

According to forecasts of McKinsey, by 2055 50% of today's working activities will be automated. Despite the emergence of new jobs, they are unlikely to be enough for a growing population, which by that time is likely to exceed 10 billion people. Moreover, as a result of the introduction of machine learning and automation, a category of people may emerge that will not only become unemployed, but in principle "unworkable" - there will be no working activities in the world that they could learn to perform better than robots.

Automation is spreading unevenly, and if in developing countries there is no longer a replacement of "simple" occupations by machines, then in developed countries a model similar to the ancient Roman society can form. In it, the minority will continue to engage in uncontrolled AI tasks such as science, art and politics ("patricians"), the basis of the economy will be disenfranchised machines (in Rome, slaves played this role), and the remaining majority will mainly consume "bread and spectacle" instead of regular work.

If the concept of basic unconditional income is claimed for the role of "bread", not related to work, then it becomes more difficult with "shows". In a world without work, a person is deprived of purposeful activity, and then he has an existential crisis. One of the solutions already proposed is games that include a competitive element. If a person does not have a job, then they can entice him for whole days without the sensation of wasting time, as in Steven Spielberg's film "To the First Player to Be Prepared" - this is it, the "spectacle" of the 21st century!

Good for business.

The parallel development of games and artificial intelligence is rapidly changing markets, creating new business niches. How do large corporations and venture investors plan to earn this?

Among the technological giants, this vision is best combined with the strategy of Amazon. As the leader in the supply of bread, it takes 28% of the volume of American e-commerce and actively goes into the sphere of "entertainment", starting in 2006-2010 with distribution (Amazon Video) and production of classical media content (Amazon Studios), and acquisitions in this sphere.

When in 2014 the potential of games as mass immersion "shows" became apparent, Amazon began actively buying startups for the new ecosystem: developer Double Helix Games (now - Amazon Game Studios, 2014), streaming service Twitch (bought for $ 970 million, 2014) , esports agency GoodGame (2014), portal Сurse (2016) and server platform GameSparks (2017). Already, you can develop a game, place it in the cloud, monetize and broadcast, without going beyond the Amazon infrastructure.

Serious competition for Amazon's plans so far can only be a corporation Microsoft, which entered the gaming industry back in 2001 with its Xbox console and has its own cloud platform Azure. In recent years, she has acquired the developer of the legendary game Minecraft ($ 2.5 billion, 2014), the game engine Havok (2015), the streaming service Beam (2016), 3D technology for Simplygon games (2017) and the server platform Playfab (competitor GameSparks, 2018). On calls with investors, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella continues to focus on overcoming the $ 100 billion game market.

In this growing market and e-sports, in particular, behind the technological giants are traditional venture investors and local corporations. Russia is no exception: from the beginning of 2018, Mail.ru Group bought esports-holding ESforce for $ 150 million, MTS - gambling sports club Gambit Esports for 313 million rubles, and many funds with Russian roots invested in esports-start-ups.

Unlike traditional sports, online games collect in detail all the data about the players' actions, which opens up new useful applications on the basis of analysis with the help of machine learning. Therefore, one of the hottest niches in e-sports was analytical and educational applications, they were drawn to both serial entrepreneurs and venture investors.

The pioneer of the niche in 2016 was the German startup Dojo Madness, created by industry veteran Jans Hilgers and using the analytics of large data to train players. Since then, he has many competitors: the venture fund Almaz Capital has invested a service for Mobalytics players, in 2018 Runa Capital together with Sistema VC and French Ventech have invested in Gosu.ai, founded by Alisa Chumachenko, and the funds of Buran Venture Capital and ru-Net - in Learn2Play, the main one by Maxim Dreval.

Another fast-growing niche for venture capital investment, built on the analysis of esports-data, is the market of rates. On the one hand, often the amount of betting on sports discipline exceeds the market itself of this discipline (for example, in 2016 NFL generated a market of $ 13 billion at a rate of about $ 50 billion), so the potential volume of esports rates can be estimated no lower than the volume of the e-sports market , - $ 695 million in 2017 (+ 41% for the year). On the other hand, if the most popular sport in the world, football, with 3.5 billion spectators attracts rates at $ 500-700 billion a year, why would cybersport with 385 million current viewers not attract at least $ 50 billion in the future?

The inflow of investment money into similar niches will allow us to apply machine learning algorithms to new huge data sets, quickly receive feedback and, therefore, directions for further improvement of AI. This knowledge of AI will help to automate other sectors of the economy and thereby eventually increase the number of gamers. And then the circle will close.