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Cheaters Hacked an AI Bot—and Beat the ‘Rocket League’ Elite

Rolv, a member of the collective that built Nexto, who provided only a first name and says they work in AI, says the AI ​​bots are not designed to work in competitive play, only as practical opponents. But apparently someone hacked Nexto to allow it to play in a human’s place. Rolv says the collective has several more advanced bots in the works, including one that can learn from watching human gameplay. The group is now reconsidering whether to release those more powerful bots to prevent cheaters from making use of them as happened with Nexto.

Sergey Levinean associate professor at UC Berkeley who studies reinforcement learning, says the situation roiling the Rocket League elite reflects how rapidly AI tools are becoming more accessible. He adds that it may be possible to detect bots like Nexto using machine learning, but that this is still an emerging science. “One way to detect RL agents is with other RL agents,” Levine says. “Applying this requires running training against the bot thousands of times.”

Another Rocket League bot developer, who knows the developers of Nexto and declined to give a real name but uses the handle Zealan on Discord, says the game is a fascinating challenge from an AI perspective. To have a chance in playing against humans, bots must anticipate the result of actions many seconds ahead. “Nexto is already superhuman in some situations,” says Zealan, who has an interest in machine learning. “Trust me, in a couple years, there will be top level beyond-pro Rocket League bots.”

Epic declined to comment but told PC Gamer that it is working on ways of detecting and blocking bots like Nexto. That could start a game of cat and mouse, with cheaters using more advanced bots and more complex methods to avoid detection, and the company responding in turn with new countermeasures. Psyonix later issued a statement saying that it had banned a number of accounts found to have been using the bot. The company said that it had introduced a new way for users to report suspected cheating, as well as new bot countermeasures, although it did not provide further details.

“I’m interested in how the situation will evolve,” says Ted Xiao, an AI researcher who has been following the episode with interest. “I’ve heard players are sharing the exploits that Nexto fails against, and I suspect the bot abusers don’t have the technical chops to fine-tune the agents further, so maybe there will be an impasse for now.”

Wilen, the elite player surprised by Nexto, says the situation may become more pressing if the bot learns to fling itself through the air with the ball in addition to dribbling on the ground. “I’ve heard that it will be soon, and when that happens, it’s not gonna be a fun sight for others Rocket League players.”

Updated 01-19-2022, 5.25 pm EST: This article has been updated with information from a statement released by Psyonix.

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