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Time for AI to cross the human range in StarCraft

Published 20 October, 2020; last updated 08 March, 2021

Progress in AI StarCraft performance took:

  • ~0 years to reach the level of an untrained human
  • ~21 years to pass from beginner level to high professional human level
  • ~2 years to continue from trained human to current performance (2020), with no particular end in sight.



We compare human and AI players on their direct ability to beat one another (rather than a measure of the overall performance of each).

AI milestones

Earliest attempt

Starcraft was released in 19981 The game allows the player to play against a computer opponent, however this built-in AI has access to information that a normal player would not have. For instance, it has real-time information about what the other player is doing at all times, which is normally hidden. We do not have detailed knowledge about early StarCraft AIs that do not have this advantage, but our impression is that it was possible to write them from the start (see next section).

Beginner level

Our impression is that since StarCraft Brood War came out in 1998, it has been possible to write a bot that can beat a player who recently learned the game, without “cheating” in the way that the game’s built-in computer opponents do. This is uncertain, and based on private discussion with people who write Starcraft AIs that compete in tournaments.

Professional level

In 2018, DeepMind’s AlphaStar beat MaNa2, a strong professional player (seemingly 13th place in the 2018 StarCraft II World Championship Series Circuit)3. This does not imply that AlphaStar was in general a stronger player than MaNa, but suggests AlphaStar was at a broadly high professional level. How AlphaStar’s performance compares to humans will depend on how narrowly the task is defined, so that if the AI is not allowed to give commands faster than a human is able, it will compare less favorably than if it is allowed to give commands very quickly4.

Times for AI to cross human-relative ranges 

Given the above dates, we have:

Range Start End Duration (years)
First attempt to beginner level 1998 1998 ~0
Beginner to superhuman 1998 2018 ~21
Above superhuman 2018 ? >2

Primary author: Rick Korzekwa


  1. “The series debuted with the video game StarCraft in 1998.”

    “StarCraft.” In Wikipedia, September 29, 2020.

  2. “In a series of test matches held on 19 December, AlphaStar decisively beat Team Liquid’s Grzegorz “MaNa” Komincz, one of the world’s strongest professional StarCraft players, 5-0, following a successful benchmark match against his team-mate Dario “TLO” Wünsch. The matches took place under professional match conditions on a competitive ladder map and without any game restrictions.”

    Deepmind. “AlphaStar: Mastering the Real-Time Strategy Game StarCraft II.” Accessed October 22, 2020. /blog/article/alphastar-mastering-real-time-strategy-game-starcraft-ii.

  3. Liquipedia StarCraft 2 Wiki. “2018 StarCraft II World Championship Series Circuit: Standings.” Accessed October 20, 2020.
  4. AI Impacts researcher Rick Korzekwa details this controversy in a blog post:

    “The Unexpected Difficulty of Comparing AlphaStar to Humans – AI Impacts.” Accessed October 22, 2020.

speed_of_ai_transition/range_of_human_performance/time_for_ai_to_cross_the_human_range_in_starcraft.txt · Last modified: 2022/09/21 07:37 (external edit)