Earlier this year DeepMind’s game-playing agent AlphaStar trounced pro human players in a special series of StarCraft II matches. Today Blizzard Entertainment, the American video game developer and publisher behind the StarCraft series, announced that AlphaStar will join the competitive ladder in Europe on the online gaming platform Battle.net, where it will play a limited number of games against human players.
When StarCraft players click the “opt-in” button for a 1v1 game they will be pitted against either another human or possibly AlphaStar. However even if players do get matched against AlphaStar that will not be immediately apparent because the bot will be playing anonymously. DeepMind explained in a Q&A session released today by Blizzard that they are disguising AlphaStar in the hope that this will allow its games to proceed as a normal 1v1 ladder match would.
AlphaStar’s new mission is part of DeepMind’s ongoing research efforts to develop a more powerful and robust artificial intelligence system. The UK AI research company will publish a peer-reviewed scientific paper to present their findings along with replays of AlphaStar matches, but these replays will be used for performance evaluation rather than as training data.
Launched in 1998, StarCraft is one of the most popular 1v1 competitive video game series. Gameplay involves first choosing to play as one of three alien races (Zerg, Protoss or Terran), which each have different and specialized characteristics and abilities. Players start the game with a number of basic worker units and can collect resources to develop units, structures, technologies and capabilities to help them defeat enemies.
DeepMind says only Europe-based players will be able to play against AlphaStar in the 1v1 test matches. To balance the contests, AlphaStar’s game perception will be restricted to a camera-like view. (AlphaStar’s game perception was similarly restricted to camera view when 26 year-old Polish gamer Grzegorz “MaNa” Komincz managed the only human victory during the last human vs StarCraft showdown.) DeepMind has also restricted AlphaStar’s actions per minute (APM) and actions per second.
Another notable change from the last contest is that AlphaStar can now play as or against all three alien races rather than only playing Protoss as it did previously.
A win or a loss against AlphaStar will affect players’ MMR like any other game played on the competition ladder.
The news thrilled the StarCraft community. Many took to social media where they brainstormed tricks designed to “unmask” the AlphaStar agent: “I’m curious to see what kind of names AlphaStar will use on the ladder” and “…if your opponent doesn’t respond to your chat, they might be AlphaStar!”
Many StarCraft fans are also anticipating a possible showdown between AlphaStar and a StarCraft II World Global Champion, although DeepMind has not yet disclosed what might come next for its game-playing bot.
Journalist: Tony Peng | Editor: Michael Sarazen