MG Meets Ronen Shoval, CEO of Blink, a pioneering mobile-first eSports social network platform. Leveraging the cognitive core of artificial intelligence (AI) and deep learning, Blink focuses on the world of eSports where the technology unlocks the value of game-play video for all players. This interactive and personalised gaming experience has been taken to a whole new level with their latest project – the long-loved digital card game Hearthstone – connecting the player community like it never has been before and using AI to detect game highlights at scale. For the app’s challenge, Blink required players to create a minion (character) with the highest number of health and damage possible within the Hearthstone game. The results were a clear indication of the power of this kind of engagement and users created minions so large that the game could not keep count! Here’s Ronen to take up the story…
For the ‘Hearthstone Challenge’ We were looking for a way to test the limits of our AI and Shai, our product manager, came up with this idea. We asked the community to create the largest minion they could. We figured it would make for some spectacular highlights and also give the AI a workout. What happened was amazing. First #Jezza created a chain reaction that gave him an endless turn. Blink users love Hearthstone but at some point #Jezza had to put down the phone, but not before creating a massive minion. Not to be outdone, #Tomer created a minion so big it destructed itself! It turns out that #Tomer, a math student, spent several days planning this special operation.
‘The Challenge was super fun, it was in ranked mode so it took two of us to do and quite a lot of homework but in the end, we pulled off a rare combo,’ #Tomer said. He was able to build a minion with 2,147,483,647, the maximum positive value for a 32-bit signed binary integer in computing. As his final move, he added one single health to this mega minion and watched it disappear. #Tomer not only broke Hearthstone, but he broke computing altogether!
As a result of this success, we issue regular challenges to the community. We are continually impressed at the depth of engagement created when you offer gamers a chance to highlight their special achievements.
Please could you give a brief summary of your career journey that led you to become the CEO of Blink…
My grandmother always asked me what I would do with my PhD in Philosophy. I would never have thought that my love for video games would be so helpful! After working in several startups that bought cutting edge tech to the world I figured it was time for me to combine my love for games and technology. I joined forces with my friend Yair and we began the exciting process of creating Blink, the world’s first social network for gamers.
How did the idea for Blink originate and what was the key to your success?
We looked at the historical progression of filmed entertainment, from cinema which is a community experience, to TV which is a family experience and now to mobile which is a personal, portable, interactive experience. Each evolution required a change in storytelling. Linear video does not take full advantage of the mobile platforms. Blink was conceived to bring interactivity and personalisation to mobile video.
I believe the key to our success was the decision to focus on eSports and gaming. This space is already huge and growing fast with 600 million gamers generating close to $140 billion last year. Gamers play for hours each day but currently don’t have a practical way to share their achievements. Blink’s use of AI technology to detect key moments to create exciting, digestible clips not only answers the gamers need for self-expression but generates engagement with games long after the session is over. The value here is clear for gamers and publishers alike. What Musical.ly did for music, Blink is doing for gaming.
What’s the most important aspect of your role as CEO of Blink?
We are in the process of creating something that has never existed. As CEO, my most important task is to turn the dream into reality. This requires translating the vision into specific tasks and to make sure they are completed at the highest level while responding to the constantly developing market.
Please can you tell our readers more about Blink: your structure, how you operate as a company, plus how your business model differs to others in the online gaming industry…
The Blink team has a unique structure. We are all avid gamers, but we are also divided into developers and storytellers. Our storytelling team consists of video editors, graphic artists, and AI experts. Their job is to develop a deep understanding of gaming narratives, to uncover where the compelling storylines are in the game and how to build Blinks that feature them. The developers then have to create automated (programmatic) versions of these narratives to implement at scale.
I think it all starts with how we look at the world. At its core, Blink is a team of storytellers. Our aim is to write the story of every gamer in the clips we create for them. It’s not enough for us to find the RNG or Missed Lethal. We look at the context of the win in the day, week, and month of games. We look at who the player is and what they like as much as how they built the combo and what deck they used. This unique perspective changes the nature of the content we produce and the discussion the players have around their achievements.
Please could you tell us more about how AI lets you connect to the player community…
The best example of this is in the ‘keep’ functionality. By enabling users to touch a small overlay icon in the game we let users tell us where they think a highlight is. This provides two major insights. First, it gives the users the freedom to control what content they receive in their Blinks. Secondly, it helps to train our AI. Being part of the community and building a product offers real value is a vital aspect of our continued success.
Enough about business, what are your hobbies outside of work?
I’m a dad to five girls. Taking care of the family is the best hobby there is!
What was best piece of advice you were ever given?
Under promise, over deliver.
Finally, if you could have one superpower, what would it be?
The ability to play football like Messi!
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