Riot Games’ League of Legends is one of the top games in the rapidly growing eSports world, a frenzied multiplayer online battle arena that requires significant skill, ability, and practice in order to climb its ranks. It is, in other words, really hard to get good, and players are desperate to identify anything that can help them improve performance.
Now a Santa Monica-based software startup and a 19-year-old Swedish tech company say they have a tool that can help even the most unskilled gamer avoid getting ganked: Eye-tracking systems that help players measure their performance, compare it to the pros, and learn what they’re doing wrong —in the blink of an eye.
“Eye tracking is basically a gateway to the player’s brain. It’s the closest thing we have to being able to give you real time information on where someone is focused,” says Amine Issa, co-founder of the eSports startup Mobalytics. “The best players [succeed] because they’re looking for the right information and anticipating things at the right time.”
Mobalytics sells software tools that help video game players analyze their performance. At present, most of those apps analyze recordings of matches, so all the system knows is what was on the screen: Did the player score a point, kill an enemy, that sort of thing. But by adding in eye-tracking data collected via a sensor made by Stockholm-based Tobii, Mobalytics can perform a much broader analysis based on not just what the player did, but what they were actually looking at during each second of the match: Did they see incoming threats? Did they check their mini-map often? Were they tracking the position of an enemy that scored?
Mobalytics has studied the eye movements of different players at different skill levels, so they can take this data and compare it to standards set after analyzing top professionals. For instance, Mobalytics’ studies have found that top League of Legends players look at the mini-map almost twice as often as average players: By using the eye-tracking system, the software can tell a user whether they need to check it more or less often.
Other data points offer more complex behavioral analyses, like whether a player is just looking at a map or actually processing the information there and acting on potential threats.
“What’s really important is the amount and frequency of information that the better players can retain, [not just] the timing of when they look,” says Issa. “We’re able to infer [behavior] from different pieces of data —some come from eye tracking, some come from the game. And we’re able to combine those different channels, look at the context, and say ‘this worked’ or ‘this didn’t.’”
Issa began studying video game performance when he was a student working on his his PhD at the Mayo Clinic Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. “I’d been playing video games all my life, and when I was doing my PhD in human physiology and biomedical engineering, what I was really studying was World of Warcraft,” Issa says. “I played so much World of Warcraft, that I ended up playing professionally for Team Fnatic. And I got super curious what made players really good and what made their play style different.”
Issa co-founded Mobalytics in 2016 to develop software to analyze and improve player performance. The company won the TechCrunch Startup Battlefield competition at Disrupt 2016, and has raised more than $2.6 million from investors including Almaz Capital, BetaBridge Capital, Deep Space Ventures, Founders Fund, General Catalyst, GGV Capital, and assorted angel investors.
At present, Mobalytics’ tools are only publicly available for use with three games —League of Legends, Legends of Runeterra and Teamfight Tactics— because their publisher, Riot Games, has an open public API that makes data accessible to outside companies. But the company is currently operating a beta test of their software for Valve’s Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, and now that eye-tracking hardware from companies like Tobii are becoming more affordable and commonplace in PC gaming rigs, they’re also adding eye-tracking capabilities to the system.
This spring, Mobalytics and Tobii will launch a beta test of the technology: Participants will need an external Tobii eye tracker or an Alienware laptop with integrated Tobii eye tracking to join in, as well as a free Mobalytics account. (Interested parties can sign up here.)
“We have years of experience doing eye tracking research to study human behavior and performance, which is why it’s so exciting for us now to take all of that knowledge and bring that understanding to competitive gaming,” says Martin Lindgren, Head of Gaming for Tobii. “For me personally and for us as a company, it’s a really exciting new use case… understanding what makes a good player good by knowing what they’re looking at and what they’re paying attention to.”