In this MarketFoolery podcast segment, host Chris Hill and Aaron Bush of Motley Fool Rule Breakers consider the latest news in the ongoing evolution of software that can think like, and outplay, humans in the games we love. It doesn't mean we'll stop playing against our fellow carbon-based life forms -- and bigger, more popular leagues are coming. It does represent another step forward in the methods those machines are using to learn to handle complexity.
A full transcript follows the video.
This video was recorded on Aug. 17, 2017.
Chris Hill: Question came into us on Twitter from Dan McGirt in Atlanta. He sent a link to an article and included the question, "So, did esports just die?" The article that he sent was about an artificial intelligence program that beat the human competition at a world championship video game contest, and it reminded me of years ago when Big Blue, the server computer from IBM, won a global championship and that was the whole thing, computer beats man, that sort of thing. Going back to Twitter for a second, when we tweeted this out that we were going to talk about this, immediately we got some reaction from listeners from the gaming community who were just like, "No." But, you are someone who follows esports and the video game industry. First, what was your reaction to the article?
Aaron Bush: I mean, I think it's fascinating what they're doing. I think this is a stepping stone for AI. It was OpenAI that did this. And if you couldn't think he could do more, this is Elon Musk's brainchild for developing --
Hill: He doesn't have enough to keep him occupied? He has to do this, too?
Bush: I guess not. He just has to build the best AI systems, too, I guess. I mean, I thought it was pretty interesting. It's a completely different narrative from esports. It's just that AI training is done in games. But the news is very significant in its own way. I think the best way to look at it is rewind a little bit. When the first computing system beat chess, that was because it was able to data crunch all the possible moves and outcomes. Probably a year and a half ago or so, when Alphabet's AlphaGo topped the world's best player in Go, that was important, because the possibilities of Go are so vast that it can't really be data crunched. So, the machine has to build its own intuition of sorts. That intuition, being able to make decisions under imperfect information, that was the breakthrough.
So, now, stepping from Go to Dota, which is a big game in the gaming world, that's a big deal, because it's a much more complex environment that operates in real time. I will note, the headlines are maybe a little bit misleading in the case that this particular Dota bot can only play one on one when the game is typically played five on five. And it can only play as and against one particular character out of more than 100 that you can choose from. So, it is pretty limited, but within that niche, that's still really impressive. I think it's important to remember that AI testing is occurring in games for a reason. Games are sandbox ecosystems with limited and particular rule sets. And the point of AI here is not to master the games. It's about learning how to master increasingly complex environments. And the more complex things get, that is breakthrough, and that is the fascinating story here.
Hill: Two questions around esports. When do you think the next advancement in essentially popular culture immersion will happen? And what form do you think that takes? Do you envision in the next few years that a significant television network puts esports on prime time and e-sports leagues are signing pretty big deals, not on the level of the NFL or something like that. But, is that what we should be looking for, for anyone who's looking to invest in this industry? I'm just wondering, what else, what clues should we be looking for?
Bush: I think it'll take form in a couple of different ways. One is going to be leagues gaining traction. For example, Blizzard is just now launching the OverWatch league. Seeing how that gains traction will be telling. There's also NBA 2K, which is Take-Two's game, that is partnering with the NBA to create its league. So, now we're seeing lots of big money from those big franchises pouring in there. So, seeing how fans respond to that is important. But no, I actually do think there will be -- maybe not necessarily ESPN prime time -- but BAMTech, which now ESPN and Disney owns the majority of, they have an exclusive deal, a $300 million deal with League of Legends. This is the largest game in the e-sports world, to stream those tournaments and championships. So, definitely, it's starting to cross paths with the big players, how those big players push it will determine how pop culture responds.
Suzanne Frey, an executive at Alphabet, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Aaron Bush owns shares of Activision Blizzard, Alphabet (C shares), Take-Two Interactive Software, Twitter, and Walt Disney. Aaron Bush has the following options: long January 2018 $80 calls on Walt Disney. Chris Hill owns shares of Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Activision Blizzard, Alphabet (A shares), Alphabet (C shares), Take-Two Interactive Software, Twitter, and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.