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Athenascope nabs $2.5M seed led by First Round to bring gamers AI-edited highlight reels – TechCrunch

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As massive cross-platform gaming titles become even larger time-sucks for a lot of people, it’s probably worth reflecting on how to savor your in-game accomplishments.

Streaming of esports celebrities on sites like Twitch has taken off like no one imagined, but for the most part the toil-heavy editing process has left this attention largely focused on those with the ambitions of making gaming their full-time gig.

Athenascope is a small startup aiming to tap computer vision intelligence to record, review and recap what more novice gamers were able to pull off in their latest battle royale with a short, shareable highlight reel. The team is led by Chris Kirmse, who previously founded Xfire, a game messaging client that Viacom bought in 2006 for north of $100 million.

The company announced this week that they’ve closed a $2.5 million seed round led by First Round Capital to grow its tools and its team. They’re also rolling out their AI highlight reel tool for gamers. The tool is pretty customized for individual titles; they’re launching with support for Fortnite, Rocket League and PUBG, but Kirmse hopes to expand that list significantly in the future.

Josh Kopelman, a partner at First Round Capital who is joining Athenascope’s board, highlighted that a lot of existing tools for gaming entertainment are “really skewed towards the high-end.”

“They’re not democratized, they’re for professional gamers,” Kopelman told TechCrunch. “What I think Chris is trying to do with Athenascope is enable anyone to create these high-quality game highlights — what the pros have to do manually.”

The company is tackling a problem familiar to video-editing software companies: how to prevent footage from dying on the device. The answer here is the same as many others have posited, tapping computer vision deep learning to do the heavy lifting in determining which footage is interesting and worthy of a highlight reel. Athenascope has some key advantages over the companies like GoPro that are trying to do the same with real-world video, namely the games they support operate in fundamentally more predictable ways and 2D interface cues offer some pretty healthy indicators of when exciting stuff is going down.

The game isn’t a plug-in that needs pipeline access to your Fortnite account or anything, the product simply analyzes exactly what you’re seeing when you play. The startup is also working on cool tools that allow you to see multiple perspectives of individual moments in gameplay by essentially syncing footage from other people involved in a match that are also Athenascope’s service and giving a sort of multi-view replay.

The company has broader ambitions of how it can evolve these gaming insights with computer vision, including ways to help gamers learn about their strengths and weaknesses in a way that lets Athenascope serve as a sort of computer vision coach. For now though, the big focus is on getting gamers these entertaining snapshots of their gaming experiences in an intelligent way.

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Gaming

GamersNexus’ Steve Burke overclocks his YouTube channel’s best comments

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Produced by Adam Lance Garcia, edited by Richard Trammell. Click here for transcript.

GamersNexus has been a staple of our RSS feeds for more than a decade. The site has quickly become a must-read for anyone looking to build a PC, especially a gaming PC. And in addition to running that enterprise, Editor-in-Chief Steve Burke has more recently become a staple of our weekly viewing, too, as he helms GamersNexus’ equally popular YouTube channel.

It doesn’t take a lot of time to realize thatGamersNexus clearly shares a lot of DNA with the Orbital HQ. In every video, Burke and his team both inform and entertain, skimping neither on technical jargon nor opportunities to create useful Reddit memes. By now, GamersNexus videos have focused on everything from putting PCs from Walmart through genuine technical paces to emptying (literally, emptying) a tube of thermal paste on a poor CPU. You’ll learn useful info every time, even if it’s what new parts not to covet.
“I think we made it pretty clear in the video, but if someone is trying to build a PC and wonders, ‘Hmm, how do I apply thermal paste?” they type in ‘thermal paste,’ they click on this video, and then they watch five seconds and go, ‘Oh, I get it. I don’t need the rest of this tutorial,”‘ Burke told Ars in our recent Personal History interview. “Otherwise they’d have a pretty messy CPU socket, I think.” (Burke, by the way, suggests the best way to actually apply thermal paste is just by making a quick X. “It allows me to get CPUs up to 5GhZ, 6GhZ, no problem.”)

In our 25-minute chat above, Burke is generous with the liquid nitrogen, shares tips for making successful how-to videos, and fields troubleshooting questions on everything from all black wiring to handling dead bugs in the power supply. Come for the discussion of CPU fans, stay for learning why component jargon is the one true universal language.

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QAnon in crisis as day of reckoning fails to materialize

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Enlarge / A demonstrator holds a “Q” sign outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021.

Bloomberg | Getty Images

QAnon adherents called it “the storm.” At midday on Wednesday, there were supposed to be blackouts across the US, military tribunals led by Donald Trump and the mass execution of Democrats in the streets.

It did not happen. Instead, Joe Biden was inaugurated as the 46th US president and the day of reckoning anticipated by the pro-Trump conspiracy cult failed to materialize, dismaying the faithful.

“QAnon believers invested all their remaining hopes in false beliefs that Trump would take action validating their theories before or during inauguration,” said Jared Holt, a research fellow focused on extremism at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab. “For some followers, watching Biden and (Vice-president Kamala) Harris sworn into office was a breaking point in their beliefs.”

QAnon followers had been among the rioters who stormed the US Capitol on January 6 in the hopes of overturning the results of the November presidential election, which Mr. Trump and many of his followers say was rigged.

According to QAnon prophecies, Mr. Trump would maintain power as electrical outages spread across the US on January 20. But when the lights stayed on in America, the mood in QAnon circles turned dark.

Believers began proclaiming: “Nothing!!!!” on messaging apps, their verdict sometimes accompanied by angry face or broken heart emojis.

“We all got scammed, you caused us all to lose friends over this charade,” posted one member of a QAnon discussion group created a few days after the Capitol riot. “Now we all sit with egg on our face.”

“Q,” the pseudonymous poster or posters behind the nearly 5,000 arcane messages that form the central scripture of the conspiracy theory, did not offer any explanation.

But Ron Watkins, whose father owns the imageboard where QAnon’s posts are hosted, said: “We gave it our all. Now we need to keep our chins up and go back to our lives as best we are able.”

The setback was only the latest in a series of reversals for the QAnon movement, whose ranks grew dramatically in 2020 during coronavirus pandemic-related lockdowns.

Facebook said on Tuesday that it had removed more than 40,000 QAnon Facebook and Instagram pages and accounts since August as part of a clampdown on extremists. Accounts belonging to QAnon influencers were removed by Twitter earlier this month, shortly before the website permanently suspended Mr. Trump.

QAnon supporters were also affected by the closure of Parler, the “free speech” social network popular with conservatives, after Amazon suspended web hosting services to the platform earlier this month.

Nevertheless, some QAnon believers attempted to find ways to explain the situation, or fell back on the cryptic messages that characterized many of QAnon’s posts. “Trust the plan,” wrote one.

Experts warned that individual conspiracies within the wider ideology—such as anti-5G and anti-vaccine narratives—would likely live on, possibly morphing into something more menacing.

“For many people, there won’t be an easy step back. The engagement cycle has been too addicting and empowering,” said Molly McKew, chief executive of consultancy Fianna Strategies and an information warfare expert. “And what if they decide to latch on to a new, less lazy and incompetent leader than Trump? The power in this belief system hasn’t dispersed yet.”

© 2020 The Financial Times Ltd. All rights reserved Not to be redistributed, copied, or modified in any way.

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Twitch’s Trump ban sustained after leaving office

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Enlarge / Photo illustration of the Twitch logo on a smartphone.

On Wednesday, an automated alert about Twitch account bans included a somewhat surprising account name: “@DonaldTrump.” The surprise came because Twitch had already “indefinitely suspended” the former president’s official Twitch channel on January 7 in the wake of his January 6 speech inciting a seditious riot at the US Capitol.

Following this Wednesday alert, Twitch confirmed to Ars Technica that this was no accident: Trump’s account is indeed outright banned. Twitch continues to call the ban an “indefinite suspension,” but it has not offered any timeline for its return or steps that its account holders (either Trump himself or any representatives) may take to reverse the decision. Wednesday’s news lines up with a Tuesday claim by DW News reporter Dana Regev, who had hinted at Twitch waiting until after President Joe Biden’s inauguration to make a firmer ruling on the previous ban.

The service took the rare step of outlining the exact reason for the ban, a courtesy generally not reserved to those affected. This lack of clarity emerged in particular when Twitch offered no explanation for banning Guy “DrDisrespect” Beahm in the wake of spreading COVID-19 misinformation.

In Trump’s case, Twitch cited “the ongoing risk of further incitement of violence” as a primary reason for the ban. The statement, as issued to Ars Technica by a Twitch representative, continued:

The President’s statements continue to be interpreted as calls to action, and we are taking this action to remove the potential for harm to our community and the general public.

Twitch has clear rules that prohibit hateful conduct, harassment, or incitement of violence on our service, and we consider off-service events when making enforcement decisions. However, the events of the past weeks have highlighted a gap with respect to rhetoric that encourages violence, regardless of whether or not it was directly streamed on Twitch. We will be updating our policies as a result of our consideration of this situation.

Twitch has recently enacted sweeping new rules to allow moderators to take context into account when deciding whether content qualifies as “hateful” speech. In December, the company’s official channel cited specific gamer slang terms as examples of this context-sensitive approach, but the resulting video became widely cited as being an official ban on certain words and a hint of jargon whack-a-mole as opposed to an example of sweeping moderation changes to come.

Today’s statement strongly hints that Twitch’s rule-changing stance is far from over and that the company is clearly looking to enforce the rules, based on statements made outside of Twitch video streams.

Feels bad, man

The @DonaldTrump account, launched in October 2019, was used to either livestream or rebroadcast official Trump speeches and affiliated events as opposed to hosting the service’s usual gaming-related video streams—all while hosting a chat channel for the account’s followers. Twitch has long faced issues with chat toxicity, particularly with many streamers continuing to embrace the “Pepe frog” meme without denouncing white supremacists’ embrace of the icon (a fact that led its original creator to sue those who co-opted the image without his consent).

Trump’s Twitch account had been in hot water previously due to its rebroadcasts of rule-breaking speeches. His channel’s last temporary ban, enacted on June 29, happened because it had aired his notorious statements about Mexico “sending… rapists” to the United States.

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