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Friday, November 04, 2016
BLIZZCON Returns With News About DeepMind AI Playing Starcraft, 'Overwatch' e-sports League

Google's Google's DeepMind AI takes on popular video game Starcraft, Activision Blizzard is creating a professional e-sports league based around its first-person shooter videogame "Overwatch", and is is remaking the original Diablo inside of Diablo 3.

These are among the announcement made at BlizzCon 2016, Blizzard Entertainment’s two-day gaming festival, which kicked off on Friday, November 4 to the Anaheim Convention Center in Anaheim, California.

We are starting with Google’s DeepMind AI unit which earlier this year achieved a breakthrough in computer intelligence by creating software that beat the world’s best human player at the strategy game Go. This time DeepMind AI is turning its attention to the sci-fi video game Starcraft.

Google's DeepMind has reached a deal with Blizzard Entertainment to create an interface to let artificial intelligence researchers connect machine-learning software to the Starcraft II game.

"We’re still a long way from being able to challenge a professional human player," DeepMind research scientist Oriol Vinyals said. But the company’s announcement shows it’s looking seriously at Starcraft as a candidate for a breakthrough in machine intelligence.

Starcraft comes closer to simulating "the messiness of the real world" than games like chess or Go, Vinyals said. "An agent that can play Starcraft will need to demonstrate effective use of memory, an ability to plan over a long time and the capacity to adapt plans to new information," he said, adding that techniques required to create a machine-learning system that mastered these skills in order to play Starcraft "could ultimately transfer to real-world tasks."

In the game, which is played in real-time over the internet, players choose one of three character types, each of which has distinct strengths and weaknesses. Players must run an in-game economy, discovering and mining minerals and other commodities in order to conquer new territory. A successful player needs to remember large volumes of information about places they’ve scouted in the past, even when those places are not immediately observable on their screen.

The player’s view of what an opposing player is doing is limited. Furthermore, unlike in a game where players take turns, a machine-learning system has to deal with an environment that is constantly in flux. Starcraft in particular also requires an ability to plan both a long-term strategy and make very quick tactical decisions to stay ahead of an opponent.

Starcraft II shattered sales records for a strategy game when it was released in 2010, selling 1.5 million copies within 48 hours.

'Overwatch' e-sports league

Activision Blizzard also said on Friday it is creating a professional e-sports league based around its popular first-person shooter videogame "Overwatch."

The company's Blizzard unit, best known for creating the "World of Warcraft" franchise, will start the first league in 2017. The teams will be representing major cities across the world.

The Overwatch League combines the best elements of esports and traditional sports to create a pro-level competitive experience for players and fans of Blizzard’s team-based shooter.

"The Overwatch League represents not only the pinnacle of Overwatch competition, but also a genuine career opportunity for the most skilled Overwatch players," said Mike Morhaime, CEO and cofounder of Blizzard Entertainment. "We’re building a league that’s accessible to players and fans, sustainable, and exciting for everyone involved."

At the start of the season, Blizzard will host a combine, where eligible players who have previously distinguished themselves in competition will be invited to try out for teams. Players at the combine will be evaluated across a range of tests, giving teams the opportunity to sign those who best round out their rosters. Anyone picked up by a team during the signing period will be guaranteed a contract that includes a baseline minimum salary and benefits package.

To support the growth and sustainability of local fan bases, Overwatch League teams will represent major cities from different regions. Once these city-based teams have been admitted to the league, their spots will be secured, giving them the best opportunity to grow and thrive for years to come.

Blizzard said that team announcements and additional Overwatch League information will be shared in the coming months.

The league is expected to generate broadcast, licensing and sponsorship revenue, which will be split between Activision Blizzard and the teams.

'Overwatch's Sombra Unveiled

For months now, Overwatch players have been tasked with solving an elaborate ARG for a new hacker character named Sombra, deciphering encrypted data, hacking dummy websites, waiting for endless countdown timers, and so on. And tnoe, Blizzard debuted the character at BlizzCon.

Sombra is the start of a new short, "Infiltration," which you can watch below. It takes place in Volskaya, Russia, and has the team of Sombra, Reaper and Widowmaker trying to take down a mech-building target.

Remaking of the original Diablo inside of Diablo 3

This year marks the 20th anniversary of Blizzard’s dungeon crawler Diablo, and to celebrate, Blizzard is remaking the classic game inside of Diablo 3.

The original Diablo returns in the form of a new anniversary update called "Darkening of Tristram," which brings the graphics, gameplay, and style of the first game to Diablo 3. The update will include a 16-level dungeon with the four main bosses from Diablo, and will limit players to the 8-degree-of-freedom movement along with applying an old-school filter to invoke the original Diablo atmosphere. The “"arkening of Tristram" will be free when it releases, and can be played as early as next week in the Diablo 3 Public Test Realm server.

Additionally, Blizzard also announced a second update, the Rise of the Necromancer Pack, planned for next year, that brings a new character class - the Necromancer - to Diablo 3. It’s a paid add-on that will require both the base Diablo 3 game and Reaper of Souls expansion to use. Besides the general 2017 date, no price or release information has been announced yet.

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