Written by: Adam Vaughn | November 4th, 2021
Artificial Gamer (Chad Herschberger, 2021) 2½ out of 4 stars.
Fans of the widely acclaimed game Defense of the Ancients 2 (more commonly abbreviated as “DOTA 2”) will be happy to know that director Chad Herschberger’s documentary Artificial Gamer depicts an incredible phenomenon in the world of artificial intelligence. The film not only fully embodies DOTA 2 as an international sensation, but it also clearly traces the achievements in artificial intelligence (AI) and how these innovations cross over to compete with the world’s greatest DOTA 2 players. While Artificial Gamer may fascinate the gamer fans, any non-gamers will find the film confusing at some points and may become detached from the film’s momentum and message.
Artificial Gamer begins at the 2017 annual eSports world championship, also known as “The International.” OpenAI, a leading company in inventing AI specifically for gaming, announces that an AI agent will play against some of the world’s best DOTA 2 players. As OpenAI’s software not only successfully matches the world’s top DOTA 2 players, but wins by a landslide in one-on-one competition, the creators behind the AI seek to step up their game and create a software that can successfully compete and win against five players in a five-on-five match.
The film is very personal, interviewing key players in the field, displaying fun and exciting sequences of gameplay that effectively change the pace of the film, and delivering a solid story arc balancing the viewpoints of the OpenAI creators as well as the DOTA 2 community. I thoroughly enjoyed learning just how expansive the DOTA 2 fanbase is, witnessing scenes of huge stadium-sized audiences. At times, there are several informative looks at the structure and process of creating AI, but overall the story focuses on its interviewees and their journey.
Unfortunately, Artificial Gamer may only succeed in entertaining and enthralling the DOTA community, and possibly the gaming community, in general. For the average viewer, Artificial Gamer very much limits itself by being too hyper-focused on the gaming aspect of the story, focusing only on AI as it pertains to the software being built to compete in tournaments. While it’s true that the film does itself justice by breaking down DOTA 2 as a game and the way it’s played, its momentum starts to fade if a viewer is not 100% invested in the franchise.
While the audience may be limited to DOTA 2 fans and technology enthusiasts, Artificial Gamer still presents a solid story and is true to its content throughout. I admire the immense amount of coverage found in the film, spanning several countries and competitions, and capturing some truly brilliant imagery that best represents the tournaments found in the DOTA 2 community. For DOTA 2 fans, this film will certainly become a staple. For everyone else, Artificial Gamermight stand as a fun introduction to the industry.