Interview w/ Jack J of iTero Gaming: a dive into Esports Analytics & AI
Those who might not know the esports industry well might think that professional gaming is the only way to go. In reality, there are a lot more working opportunities than you might think, from jobs in management, event planning, operations, social media management, and marketing just to name a few.
Today, we will be talking with Jack J, a professional Data Scientist who is applying AI to competitive gaming and esports.
This marks the start of a series about those jobs that may be unnoticed with the possibility of learning from those who already have worked in the world of esports.
Interview with Jack J, the founder of iTero Gaming
Q: Hi Jack J and welcome! Can you kindly introduce yourself and walk us through how you got into the esports world?
Sure, I’m Jack J and I’m a professional Data Scientist, formerly of HSBC and Deloitte, and now the founder and CEO of iTero Gaming, a start-up focusing on applying artificial intelligence (AI) to competitive gaming.
I’ve been casually involved in esports for years. Everything started off with me using the skill set that I was developing as part of my day job as a Data Scientist and applying it to gaming-related data. I worked on the analysis of teams and players’ performance, figuring out which dragon souls were the strongest and writing various articles about each meta and what were the most optimal champions.
Over time I became more and more involved and in 2021 I was invited to visit the Excel Esports gaming suite in Twickenham Stadium, London. There, I had the pleasure of meeting their analyst at the time (Logan ‘Owl’ Mansfield) who gave me a glimpse into the inner workings of an esports team.
From that day onwards, I knew I wanted to explore my idea more fully, so I handed in my notice at work and founded “iTero Gaming” with a rough plan of “using AI for gaming”.
Q: So what is iTero Gaming? And what was the idea behind the project? Tell us more about how you brought AI into esports.
The original concept for iTero Gaming was to build an AI capable of improving the very best professional teams in the world. The idea is that although players and coaches have a considerable understanding of the game, there are also some blind spots. While a person can only watch a limited number of games each day, AI can absorb millions of data points and learn incredibly complex rules. That isn’t to say that I believe that AI will ever be in a position to replace a coach, but it certainly can improve their understanding by identifying hard-to-spot patterns. Throughout the 2022 LEC Spring Split, I had the chance to work with various LEC coaches and analysts to better understand how the draft impacts a team’s chance of winning the game, with the intention of creating a product capable of giving teams the edge in Champion Select.
Ultimately, we ended up deciding to take those same technologies that we built specifically for esports and made them available to everyone through the iTero Drafting Coach.
Q: What are your and iTero Gaming’s goals for the next few years?
This year saw the launch of our first publicly available tool, the drafting coach, which works for any draft-based queue (it doesn’t support ARAM yet, sorry!). So far we’ve had fantastic feedback, as well as plenty of suggestions for improvements, so we’ll continue to focus on perfecting our tool and aim to become th best in the market. This includes adding AI-powered item and rune recommendations, as well as some extra functionality for creating your team’s perfect Clash composition.
As for next year, we will move on to developing the next phase of our project. This is going to be a more holistic League of Legends AI coach, capable of analyzing not just your decisions in draft but your behaviors throughout the game. There are also plans to explore how a tool like this could be used in other competitive games, like Valorant or CS:GO.
Finally, we have ambitions to return to our roots of esports, and we have plans to become more involved in that space by making full use of the advanced technologies we have available. More on that one another time…!
Q: For those who aren’t familiar with it, why do you think data analysis is important for esports and League specifically?
Unlocking data in the right way will create a fundamental shift in esports. There’s plenty of stories out there that show this in more traditional sports. Look at the “Moneyball” story in baseball, how mathematical models changed the rhythm of baseketball, or how Brentford football club changed their fate by using data to pick out the best players.
Essentially, data analysis is the natural progression of any sport and provides the next phase of innovation once getting ahead based on raw talent alone is no longer possible. For example, in League, the meta can become stale very quickly. Champions are repeated over and over again because teams have no systematic ways of testing various team compositions and counterpicks. In such a situation, data analysis comes into its own place with the goal of helping teams pinpoint the most effective team compositions and strategies. That being said, this process is time-consuming and due to the time constraints and how the game is constantly updated every two weeks or so, it can be tough to find what works best.
With AI, instead, we can more effectively predict the results of a game based on the draft, and have the ability to reinvent the meta time and time again by providing those secret pocket picks hidden away in the data at a much faster pace.
Q: You previously have worked on jung.gg, a project born to help players find the best jungle paths. Riot recently announced their intention of bringing a similar built-in tool. What’s your opinion about it and how do you think it will impact the player base overall? Will it help new players get into League?
There exists an interesting relationship between app developers like myself and game publishers. We spend years building out tools that will add value to a player’s experience, and if those tools are well-liked and become mainstream then it’s great for us and great for the users. However, if it’s great for the players that manage to discover the tools, why not just add them into the game natively and offer that value to everyone? This is something we fundamentally agree with and think that Riot’s recent announcement to include jungle pathing recommendations is the right move. Now, of course, that means that jung.gg no longer offers the same value to users as it used to, so we made the decision this month to take the site down.
This is the natural lifecycle of projects like these: the best thing we can do is to keep innovating and improving on our projects so that we’re always offering more value.
As to this change specifically, I believe it still hits that balance of making the game easier to understand for new players without taking away the advantage of experience. In other words, a new player will be given the basic understanding of what a good jungle path looks like, but the seasoned player will still have the advantage of knowing how to adapt these paths to their specific circumstance. In that way, it’s very similar to the item recommendation system.
However, I will also add that although I believe this to be a positive change, I do not think it will make any major difference in attracting and retaining new players. If Riot wants to solve that issue, they need to deal with smurfing, toxicity and bots – these issues are considerably more impactful to a new player’s experience than any amount of help with item, rune or jungle path recommendations. These are also areas that AI is in a prime position to help with.
Q: You have worked part-time with teams and players before launching your own AI-based tool. What are some of the tips that you would like to give to newcomers that would like to get into esports analytics? Are there lots of chances to get into esports through this career path?
I’ve recently started a series of interviews myself where I speak to esports analysts in the LEC or LCS and ask them this very same question. A consistent piece of advice they have all given is that the best thing for a newcomer to do is to start by creating something useful. It doesn’t need to be perfect, the technology doesn’t need to be sophisticated and it doesn’t need all the bells and whistles. Just create something, in any way that you can, that could offer value. Then, find people to give you feedback. Accept the fact that your first attempt will be your worst attempt. The great thing about getting into esports is that everyone is very approachable. The iTero Discord, for instance, has a handful of LEC and LCS coaching staff and I am confident every single one of them would be happy to provide feedback, as long as you’re proving to them that you’re trying to provide value. The only failure is not having tried.
As to the number of opportunities in this area, being an analyst has one very important advantage: the skills are transferable. If your aim is to join the LCS or LEC as an analyst, then yes, it will be tough and there are only a limited number of roles available. However, as part of that journey, you’ll need to learn the technical skills required to get, examine and display data. These skills are incredibly valuable, both in and out of esports.
For instance, you could look at roles as a business or marketing analyst for an esports team and use that as a way of training your skills and meeting the right people to eventually move into being a team analyst.
Besides, esports is only growing and so the number of analyst roles will grow with it – there are very few reasons not to try!