PAID POST FOR COMCAST LIFT LABS

The 'gym equipment' for eSports is powered by Pivan Interactive's AI

This is one in a series of stories that highlights each company in the 2019 class of the Comcast NBCUniversal LIFT Labs Accelerator, powered by Techstars. Visit LIFT Labs to learn more about this world-class program for connectivity, media and entertainment startups, and get information on applications for the next class.

David Sturgeon and Constantine Tsang love gaming. Back when they were next-door neighbors in Boulder, Colorado, they were fierce rivals at classics like Call of Duty and FIFA. Well, not exactly fierce rivals.

"Constantine beats me at every game we play, hands down," Sturgeon said.

With some training, Sturgeon could eventually beat his longtime rival. But for years, that training didn't exist. A basketball player can analyze her shot with video. A baseball player can compare his swing to the professionals, but why a similar method didn't exist for gaming remained a mystery.

Sturgeon didn't have a training solution that used analytics and artificial intelligence to make him better at video games. So he and Tsang built it.

Their startup, Pivan Interactive, uses computer vision and deep learning to provide gamers with actionable training recommendations that help them improve. Their first product is called Uncanny.gg.

"We are building the digital gym equipment for esports athletes," Sturgeon said.

Unlike traditional sports, you don't need to be tall, fast or strong to play esports. But you do need to refine your skills. In the wildly popular open-world survival game Fortnite, for example, Pivan's technology will analyze a player's "weapon bloom," which is the size of the weapon's crosshairs as they expand and contract. The smaller the crosshair, the more likely a player will hit their target. Pivan compares people's gameplay to thousands of games from professionals and suggests ways gamers can improve — so they'll play more like the pros.

Advanced analytics and training are the logical next steps for esports as it continues exploding in popularity. In 2018, esports captured 400 million viewers worldwide and total revenues reached $869 million. By 2022, revenues are estimated to triple to $2.69 billion. The boom is hardly a surprise. Most people 40 years and under grew up playing video games, and many fantasized about being the best player in their neighborhood, city or country. Now they can compete to find out if they actually are.

"There are hundreds of millions of dollars in prize money at stake and celebrity-level careers available," Sturgeon said. "Amateur and competitive gamers are constantly looking for new ways to improve their play so they can compete at the very highest levels."

From NASA to Esports

Tsang certainly took an atypical path to entrepreneurship. He earned a Ph.D in astrophysics from the University of Oxford in England. Then he spent a decade implementing missions for NASA, the European Space Agency and The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. After long days of working on the complexities of space travel, Tsang would unwind by playing video games — and he just couldn't stop thinking about how to make himself (and others) better at them.

"Ultimately, it's about solving core problems," Tsang said. "In the space program, we always solved problems — whether we're looking at the universe or how to build a spaceship. When I came across the problem of training gamers, I thought, 'This will be a great and difficult problem I can help solve.' "

Sturgeon's story is much more typical. His grandfather was an entrepreneur and venture capitalist. In the early 2000s, he fiddled around with a variety of internet-driven businesses and eventually landed at eSwarm, a precursor to Groupon. From then on, entrepreneurship was an inevitable path for him and solving a core problem in the gaming industry was the perfect opportunity.

As he leads Pivan, Sturgeon keeps a simple philosophy: Build something that matters, something you care about and most importantly something that provides value.

From Boulder to Philly

To build their business, Sturgeon and Tsang traveled from Boulder to Philadelphia to take part in the Comcast To build their business, Sturgeon and Tsang traveled from Boulder to Philadelphia to take part in the Comcast NBCUniversal LIFT Labs Accelerator, powered by Techstars. During the program, they refined their business model and made connections in a city rich with esports players and experts. In fact, Comcast is building a $50 million esports arena in the heart of the Philadelphia sports complex. Meanwhile, the city's Overwatch team, The Philadelphia Fusion, which is owned by Comcast NBCUniversal and led by Tucker Roberts, earned second place in the 2018 Overwatch League Finals.

"We've been able to meet 90 to 100 mentors in the space of only a few weeks, and that's a credit to both Techstars and LIFT Labs," Tsang said. "For us, it's an eye-opener to learn about all the challenges people perceive for our company, but also the great encouragement for what we're trying to achieve and how we can solve those problems."

Sturgeon said he enjoys the family-like atmosphere at LIFT Labs.

"Oftentimes in entrepreneurship, you're very alone," he said. "Then you come to a place like this and everyone around you is trying to figure out solutions to difficult problems. There are no words for it. It's amazing."

The future is bright for Pivan and the growing number of esports athletes that rely on their Uncanny.gg platform.

"We've built some incredible technology that has the ability to help people," Sturgeon said. "It literally watches people play and absorbs data. Whether that has more value for professionals or amateurs is something yet to be determined. It would be amazing to help train the Michael Jordan of esports. And I think we can."

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