AlphaStar AI becomes first to reach Grandmaster rank in StarCraft

Tom Beer • November 5, 18:00

An artificial intelligence called AlphaStar has reached the top rank in Blizzard’s real-time strategy game StarCraft 2.

DeepMind Technologies has announced that AlphaStar had reached the highly coveted Grandmaster rank on the StarCraft 2 ladder, meaning that the AI is better than 99% of ranked players in the game. This achievement also marks the first time an AI has reached the top tier of a competitive title while playing under the same conditions as human players.

According the DeepMind blog, AlphaStar played on the Blizzard owned ranked servers, on the same maps and under the same conditions that any human player would log on and play under. Fans can even download the replays of the games that AlphaStar played. 

The AI was developed alongside StarCraft 2 professional players Dario “TLO” Wünsch and Diego “Kelazhur” Schwimer, who played against AlphaStar in January of this year. According to TLO, the system doesn’t feel like it’s cheating, nor does it feel like it carries an artificial advantage. TLO says it feels fair playing against the advanced AI.

“I’ve found AlphaStar’s gameplay incredibly impressive – the system is very skilled at assessing its strategic position, and knows exactly when to engage or disengage with its opponent,” TLO said. “It doesn’t feel superhuman certainly not on a level that a human couldn’t theoretically achieve. Overall, it feels very fair like it is playing a ‘real’ game of StarCraft.” 

AlphaStar has a separate neural network for each of the three races available to StarCraft 2 players, and each one learned to play by using a database of past games. These networks then played against each other to further refine their decision making processes. DeepMind hope that these developments can help with future development of AI systems.

The techniques we used to develop AlphaStar will help further the safety and robustness of AI systems in general, and, we hope, may serve to advance our research in real-world domains,” the team said.

This is not the first time an AI has managed to beat human players in a complex game, as the IBM-developed supercomputer Deep Blue first managed to defeat a chess grandmaster in 1997. With literally millions of choices available to a StarCraft 2 player at any moment, this feat is arguably more impressive. 

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