AI Prize Fight founders share bold vision for future of esports

Virginia Glaze

A group of AI ‘free thinkers’ are hosting a bot-vs-bot tournament in Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike. I met with the minds behind the event to understand why they put together such an unorthodox fighting game tournament and what their goals are in the esports scene.

In May 2024, “thought leaders” in the independent AI space revealed they’d be hosting ‘AI Prize Fight,’ a tournament series where tech enthusiasts and fighting game fans can join a dojo and create an AI ‘agent’ to battle it out on their behalf in a game of Street Fighter.

With $15K in prizes on the line, the event has already seen a good amount of excitement on social media… but I wasn’t convinced. I had to know more, especially given their claims of hoping to “change the landscape” of esports with this new initiative.

Given that the fighting game community is founded on competition between human opponents, I found it odd that leaders in the AI space would seek to change such a vibrant community in such a major way, and doubted that the FGC would buy whatever they were trying to sell.

I got to speak with Mike Anderson and Jesse Bryan, the organizers of the event and figureheads of 6079, an independent AI group, about their goals for the tournament and what they hope to achieve in esports.

It turns out that they aren’t actually trying to replace fighting game pros with AI-powered bots… but they do believe that this initiative could, and likely will, bring about a new genre of competitive gaming altogether.

“These emerging AI artists, if you dig into their backgrounds, most of them didn’t go to fine art schools and things like that. They were like, ‘I could almost think my way to these amazing designs.’ It’s a different kind of competition,” Bryan told me.

“Exactly in the same way that people will talk about AI art, I think it’s gonna be the same type of thing. It’s like, I do esports, but I’m on the AI side. Almost like BattleBots, where you have to think about your battle bot before it goes to battle and build it, and then you put it in an arena and see what happens. Businesses are gonna need prompt engineers. In the same way as in the past, you needed engineers to build software, now, you’re going to need prompt engineers.”

Bryan foresees a future where a new type of gaming competition will emerge — one where players build out AI “agents” using a series of prompts. Rather than being based on reaction times and perfect inputs, this type of esport will reward the person who can make the best prompt… although it’s unclear how high that particular skill ceiling will go.

Fighting games are rife with colorful combat between human players – but AI bot fights are becoming more popular, as seen when players began pitting SF6’s Level 8 CPUs against each other.

In fact, he claims that there’s a future where players will create agents to play a game for them, even throwing around the idea that esports pros might create their own AI agents based on themselves, which they could then trademark and sell to further boost their income.

“This is a way to try to show people that this is possible. The cool thing is that we’re using Street Fighter as a framework for this, but you could use any game and put it on top of it. I really think about it like a new category of gaming.

“In the same way it used to be, if you had a small bakery, you would try to find software to run your bakery. In the future, instead of buying software, somebody will have created an agent that’s for running small bakeries, and it’ll have all that information you need. It’ll kind of run the bakery for you. I feel like gaming’s gonna be very similar, where if you go into a really difficult or strategic game, you’re gonna start bringing your agents with you — almost like your squad will be agents that you actually build and prompt and bring into existence.

“This is a fun way for people to start to figure out, ‘I can do this. I can control my own future. I can have custody of my own data, I can create my own IP, and then I can license it to other people.’ I do think we’re not far at all from really serious gamers building out, or in essence, duplicating themselves, and then being able to license that to other people. So you have Ninja on your team, all that stuff. We could build that for people right now if they wanted to do that.”

Bryan claims that AI Prize Fight is less of a challenge to the greater esports scene and more of a fun and interactive way to introduce players to the world of programming, comparing it to a “tech demo” of sorts.

“It shows how fast, in essence, it can think, because it’s a new type of esport where you have to think through your strategy in text form. You almost have to pregame the whole thing out. And so it’s like, the new skill is, can you communicate your intentions and your strategy to the AI in a way that it can act on your behalf?

“You can watch it happening in real time, which is also wild. So it’s more like chess in that the two AI prompt fighters have to really think through what they’re doing, and kind of watch game tape of the last person’s fight and seek out what they’re doing and tweak their prompts in between every fight.”

An Eddy Gordo bot is wreaking havoc in Tekken 8 and becoming quite the celebrity within the FGC – something that’s just the tip of the iceberg for what AI Prize Fight’s founders see for the future of esports.

While bot vs bot fights are nothing new in the fighting game scene, the degree to which AI Prize Fight is taking the idea is unprecedented… and they’re already making plans to expand.

“We have plans to create games that actually would let the AI agent have even more control in the future,” Anderson said. “I would also say that this actually secures decentralized AI, and the reason it does is because it’s a head-to-head competition. So it demonstrates that each one of these networks is capable of winning.”

For Bryan and Anderson, decentralizing artificial intelligence is a key part of their mission — and with companies like Apple making massive deals with OpenAI, it’s more important for them now than ever before, and AI Prize Fight is just the tip of the iceberg in helping the average person take their information into their own hands.

“I bet most gamers have never thought about what they’re doing as data collection,” Bryan told me. “It’s almost the same way that you can use Wi-Fi to map someone’s house and things like that. If you looked at the data, you can see how someone plays, and it would actually give you a whole psychographic profile. Whether or not gamers care about that is a different thing, but you have a unique style and that’s being mapped. The question is: Who’s going to own it?”

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