A Recap of the 2019 CEC Conference

I spoke at the 2019 CEC (Casino/Cloud eSports Conference) event. The conference ran September 4-5 and was in Las Vegas. The conference was small (maybe about 150 people) but was a very good event from my perspective because both the speakers and attendees were very knowledgeable about eSports (professional video game players competing against each other). See https://www.casinoesportconf.com.

If I had to summarize the event in a sentence, I’d say it was an event with forward-looking people thinking about how eSports can be monetized. Most of the talks I listened to focused on the huge obstacles facing eSports. There are the obvious legal and regulatory challenges. In this area, several speakers from the University of Nevada and various Nevada government agencies had lots of interesting and useful information.

The CEC Conference was held at the Luxor Hotel. The Luxor has one of the largest eSports facilities in the United States.

Another significant challenge is that the young people who play and watch eSports are just very, very different from the traditional audience that wagers on sports such as NFL football. According to anecdotal evidence, eSports participants have no need or desire to go to a casino or anywhere else other than their home computer in order to play their games. Note that this assumes users at home have sufficient network performance — for serious competition a standard venue with good infrastructure is needed.

I sat on a panel with four other members plus a speaker/moderator. All the panelists had quite different backgrounds, and all had interesting things to say. But, in short, there are far more questions than answers when it comes to monetizing eSports in brick-and-mortar environments.

Left: I explain deep reinforcement learning. Center: The theme of the panel I sat on was innovation. Right: I show a Zoltar run.

As someone who works in research, I was clearly an outsider. In my time slot, I educated attendees about the connection between deep reinforcement learning and gaming. In particular I described AlphaZero (the RL chess program that revolutionized computer chess) and AlphaStar (the first program to defeat expert-level human StarCraft players).

By coincidence, my talk was on Thursday, September 5, just a few hours before the first game of 2019 NFL professional football season featuring the Chicago Bears against the Green Bay Packers. I showed attendees a sample run of my Zoltar prediction program which predicted that the Bears would beat the Packers by more than the Las Vegas point spread of 3.0 points. (The Bears went on to lose by a score of 10-3, playing one of the worst games I’ve seen in a long time.)

When I was invited to speak at the CEC conference, my first thought was to decline because I’m not familiar with the eSports world. But my friends and colleagues who work at Microsoft Xbox encouraged me to go to CEC because they feel that eSports has tremendous potential for growth and monetization. But as I discovered, there are no clear paths and it’s my hunch that eSports will grow organically and unpredictably.

The 2019 CEC event was definitely a good use of my time and I will attend next year’s event if I can. If you are interested in eSports in any way, I recommend that you check out the CEC event.

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