Fighting game AI Arena looks very similar to Nintendo’s Super Smash Bros. series, with cartoonish combatants brawling for supremacy. What’s immediately obvious is that, of course, the game doesn’t feature the likes of Mario and Donkey Kong trading blows in iconic locales.

What’s less obvious, however, is that there’s nobody mashing buttons to make these characters kick, punch, hop, and occasionally launch foes into the distance. They’re all controlled by artificial intelligence—but each AI has been meticulously trained by an individual human player.

That’s the unique hook of AI Arena, which shakes up the familiar-looking fighting action by reorienting the whole concept of the game. Instead of being the avatar in the arena, you’re effectively the coach in their corner, helping your fighter get up to snuff.

AI Arena aims to lead a wave of games that put AI front and center instead of simply in the background. But it’s also a crypto game, with a version that will rely on NFT access passes and serve as the elite proving ground for high-level players. It will have its own crypto token, too, called NRN.


That’s where the Gateway to the Arena play-to-airdrop push came in, with AI Arena launching the campaign in an effort to attract players while providing potential token rewards for playing the pre-release game.

The final round of Gateway to the Arena concluded last week, and during the competition, Decrypt’s GG spoke with ArenaX Labs co-founders about designing a model that draws attention to the game, avoids large-scale “botting,” and ultimately turns the whole thing into a team sport.

Gateway to the Arena was built around eight influencers and content creators in the crypto gaming space, including YellowPanther and Wale, each of whom managed a team of 1,000 players. Leveraging known personalities is a marketing move, no doubt, but there’s also incentive for captains to draw large followings—and for players to carefully choose a team.


The 8,000 players who took part earned a score based on their own performance—or rather, how well their trained AI fighters did—and then a potentially sizable multiplier based on how well the entire team did across the waves of competition.

Influencers with bigger followings or who had put in more “soft recruiting” ahead of the launch, as AI Arena COO Wei Xie told Decrypt’s GG, naturally saw their teams fill up faster. And they’d have to hope that their players were collectively the most dedicated to the cause.

“We created a separate incentive pool for the captains and basically made it performance-based in terms of how much of that incentive pool they're able to walk away with, depending on how well their team does in this activation campaign,” Xie explained.

Players, likewise, needed to try and choose a team wisely—their airdrop size also depended on it, thanks to the bonus structure. In other words, the incentives are aligned across the board. Overall, AI Arena will airdrop 80 million NRN tokens, half from the play-to-airdrop drive and half tied to “NRN Boxes,” or reward boxes tied to community engagement.

And if it all ultimately went as planned, then AI Arena will benefit from the buzz, and the players will benefit with bags of tokens when the airdrop ultimately takes place sometime in April or May, the team confirmed with Decrypt following the end of the competition.

It was also designed to minimize “botting,” or attempts by players to try and manipulate the size of their airdrop by signing up and playing with numerous wallets. By using “exaggerated” score multipliers, Xie said, it likely made more sense for any player to focus on one or maybe two accounts rather than spread their time across many such accounts.

“You're basically penalizing bot farms from investing a lot of time and not extracting a lot of yield from it,” he said, adding that such an approach makes sense for a game that is “looking for actual players—and not only that, but players that are very good at the game.”


Finding skilled players will be critical once the game is officially live. That’s because there will be two versions of AI Arena: one that is available for anyone to play and another one running on Arbitrum that will require an NFT. AI Arena’s co-founders see the latter as being where the competitive scene will flourish, attracting hardcore players who are deeply invested.

Fighting games have been a stalwart of the competitive gaming scene, and AI Arena sees esports potential ahead—even if you’re not the one throwing punches and trading kicks. It’s one of many potential twists and benefits that the team sees AI bringing to the gaming space in the years to come.

“I think we’re just scratching the surface,” Xie said.

Edited by Ryan Ozawa.

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