An MIT Alumni Association Publication

Aaron Vontell ’18, MEng ’19 has loved technology competition ever since sixth grade, when he joined his first robotics team. Now, playtime is serious business, as Vontell hopes to steer his AI company, Regression Games, to success.

Inspired by an MIT programming competition called Battlecode, Vontell founded Regression Games in May 2022 to enable people to harness the power of artificial intelligence to play games with bots (virtual robots).

“Our number-one priority is working with game studios and providing value,” says Vontell, the company’s CEO, explaining that AI bots can be used both for game play and to automate aspects of game production, thus saving coders time and companies money. “Long term, I want us to be the platform people use for bots and games. I think there’s a big opportunity there.”

We want to have a fun way for anyone to build a bot and see how their strategy and their logic competes with someone.

A native of Connecticut, Vontell started participating in FIRST Robotics competitions during middle school. By the time he entered MIT, however, he had realized that he enjoyed programming more than constructing robots. “I love programming because it lets you build something from nothing,” he says, noting that coders can find many free resources online. “You can just start programming, making cool apps and products.”

Battlecode Training

Seeking a way to compete at MIT, Vontell was delighted to discover Battlecode, a real-time strategy game played during the Institute’s Independent Activities Period in January. In Battlecode, players program virtual robot armies to defeat enemies—setting up automated battles with code rather than controlling play moment by moment. Vontell won an award for playing in the most Battlecode matches during his first year at MIT and then went on to become a Battlecode game developer.

Eight pink digital robots stand left of blue line while ten blue digital robots stand right of blue line on virtual battlefield. Three pink robots, shaped as triangles, shoot towards one blue robot.
Visit MIT News to watch a video and learn more about Battlecode, shown above. Credit: Jason Kimball

Meanwhile, he racked up a long list of entrepreneurial experiences. “I had a passion for building and inventing things and making cool products, so I was always interested in starting my own company,” Vontell says. “At MIT, being surrounded by like-minded people, I got interested in that space.”

Vontell’s first venture focused on helping students apply to college. He then worked on a parking app for one business and a car-shopping app for another. In fall 2017, he formed his first company, Vontech Software, as an umbrella for his many app and website projects.

After earning his bachelor’s degree in Course 6-3 (computer science and engineering), Vontell got an internship and then a job at Instabase, a startup founded at MIT that develops AI for business. (He was among the first 10 employees at the company, which is now valued at $2 billion.) “That experience definitely helped me grow as an engineer,” says Vontell, who also earned his MEng during this period. “I learned a lot about software engineering practices and how to run a project.”

Minecraft Tournament

Vontell left Instabase in January 2022 and briefly went to work at Steamship, which focuses on language AI, to gain a little additional experience. Then he launched Regression Games that spring. Following a $4.2 million seed round of funding, he hired three engineers, and the company put its new tools to the test by holding an online tournament in April 2023.

Structured like Battlecode, the game challenged players to build bots that could play a Minecraft version of capture the flag. Vontell says the event provided him with crucial feedback that will help his company reach its top goal: making AI for gaming and e-sports accessible and enjoyable for everyone. “We want to have a fun way for anyone to build a bot and see how their strategy and their logic competes with someone,” he says.

Now, Vontell is focused on attracting game studios as partners and customers, noting that his company’s bots can be used for tasks such as game testing or to supply dummy players for multiplayer games.

Some big hurdles lie ahead, including determining pricing, but Vontell is excited to keep growing and learning. He thinks others interested in entrepreneurship should take the leap. “It’s definitely worth it. It’s awesome being able to build a product you’re really excited about,” he says. “Even the nonengineering stuff is really fun—the first time hiring someone, setting up health insurance and a 401K—that’s been a fun learning experience. I wouldn’t trade it.”

Photo illustration at top by Gretchen Neff Lambert; images courtesy of Aaron Vontell.