AI Bests E-sports Professionals in Mobile Game Honor of Kings

In yet another example of machine learning algorithms besting highly skilled players, an artificial intelligence system devised by Tencent’s AI lab named Wukong AI defeated a human team in a five-on-five Honor of Kings match on Aug. 1.

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The Shenzhen-based tech giant says the win demonstrated the AI’s ability to solve [difficult] challenges, representing significant progress in the company’s exploration of strategic and collaborative AI.

Wukong AI’s victory came during the semi-finals of the 2019 Honor of Kings World Champion Cup in Kuala Lumpur. According to Tencent, the key to the success of Wukong AI (Juewu in Chinese), whose name roughly implies “excellent comprehension,” was the countless number of practice scenarios the system faced. Wukong AI plays more than 440 years’ worth of games against itself per day, leveraging big data and empowering itself to hone various techniques required to best opponents.

For those unfamiliar, Tencent’s Honor of Kings — or Arena of Valor outside of China — occupies the video game subgenre known as multiplayer online battle arenas (MOBA). Players are required to make decisions, adapt to changes, analyze, understand, and execute strategies in realtime, all of which combine to create massive challenges in AI research.

Despite the complexity involved, the system managed to skillfully plot out and execute strategies from a pool of millions of possible permutations to secure its victory, marking a great step in AI research for Tencent and the Chinese e-sports gaming sector.

“Many AI researchers in the industry believe that the next AI milestone is likely to be born in a complex strategy game,” said the company in a press release. “AI has the potential to be applied to [problems] with similar challenges.”

Wukong AI began its development in December 2017. The system had a roughly 48% win rate over 250 games against human players back in December 2018. The development has encountered many obstacles because it’s difficult for AI to make complex and fast decisions without prior information. With 10 players playing at the same time, there are a vast number of available in-game choices, including strategic planning, hero selection, skill application, route exploration and teamwork.

Tencent added that it is expecting the Chinese e-sports industry to benefit greatly from Wukong AI and other systems like it, where professional players will be able to engage in rigorous practice sessions at any time and have real-time analyses and commentaries on game strategy.

“If AI can learn, analyze, understand, reason, and make decisions in real-time in such a complex environment, it can play a greater role in a changing and solving complex real life situations,” said Yao Xing, vice president of Tencent.

Tencent’s Wukong AI will focus mainly on e-sports in the short term. In the long run, it will be a major cornerstone for Tencent to overcome challenges in artificial general intelligence (AGI), Xing added. One million operational possibilities will be available for the AI, according to Tencent.

Aside from video games, Tencent has also demonstrated its AI prowess in other entertainment sectors including popular abstract strategy board game Go. Jueyi, or FineArt, is a Go AI developed by Tencent that won the championship title in the 10th Computer Go UEC Cup in Japan in 2017. FineArt subsequently challenged and defeated other international AI systems including DeepZenGo, MayoiGo and Raynz during the 2017 Computer Go Tournament “AI Ryusei.”