How this startup’s research on military pilots helps gamers improve their skillz

by John Siegel
September 13, 2017

Drawing parallels between military pilots and professional video gamers might seem like a tall task, but one local tech CEO can, and he has data to do it.

Dr. Amine Issa, who specializes in biomedical engineering, was studying cognitive abilities of fighter pilots when the idea for his startup, Mobalytics, struck. 

In 2011, the United States Air Force grounded its entire fleet of F-22 fighter jets and brought in a research team to study how and why pilots were responding to a fatal flaw in the aircraft’s oxygen system. As Issa and his team developed new ways to track cognitive ability, Issa, a professional video game player who also was a coach and scout for world-renowned Fnatic, recognized similarities between fighter pilots and pro gamers.

“Imagine what a fighter pilot does: They're tracking the number of visual displays, processing that information rapidly, and making split-second decisions using a mechanism very similar to what controls video games,” said Issa. “We did a series of where we created dozens of cognitive tests that basically emulated reaction time in a real-time manner, and we were able to understand that the way you assess performance in an environment like that is very similar to the way you assess a gamer.”

This concept prompted Issa to leave the world of academia and start Mobalytics, a Santa Monica-based startup that offers personal performance analytics for gamers.

“The best way to think of it is an AI coach for players,” Issa said. “We take player data and process it through our machine learning algorithm to give people actionable advice based on their strengths and weaknesses. We identify your play style and help you figure out which areas you need to pinpoint to step up your game.”

Unlike training tools designed to help athletes in traditional sports become bigger, stronger and faster, tools for e-sports athletes are inherently different for a different reason: there aren’t any. The average professional baseball player spent thousands of hours working on his game while growing up, just as the average e-sports player. The difference is that the baseball player had access to many resources that simply don’t exist for gamers.

“If you're a college football or a basketball team and you're recruiting a player from high school, this athlete has been put through an infrastructure that includes a number of coaches and a ton of time spent playing with teammates,”  Issa said. “When e-sports teams recruit a player, it's a kid whose only experience with the craft comes from spending hours playing with their friends. Both sports, however, have a gestation period before a player is born, a real good player.”

Founded in October 2016, Mobalytics recently launched a public beta of the platform that will aid League of Legends players. Utilizing Riot’s API, the Mobalytics platform measures in-game performance to provide players with pre- and post-game analysis, breaking down strengths and weaknesses in-depth. In the week after the open, League of Legends beta was announced, Mobalytics saw the platform receive an influx of 80,000 new users, something that blew away Issa and his co-founders Bogdan Suchyk and Nikolay Lobanov.

“The community that forms around a product really reflects the care that the developers put into making it,” Issa said “The community that we’ve been able to grow has shocked us. We really believe in the potential of the tool to help quantify these things that were previously difficult to quantify and assist the player-coach relationship, how teams scout new players and manage training programs.”

With nearly 30 full-time employees, the company will start the fundraising process soon in order to expand to new games and explore new marketing avenues, Issa said. Though those processes might be foreign to someone used to scouting the world’s best video game players and fighter pilots, Issa feels strongly that LA is the best place to do it.

“We picked LA for one simple reason: it's the heart of e-sports,” he said. “The teams are here, the companies are here, and since we're working with them, it doesn't make sense for us to be anywhere else.”


Images via social media.

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