Skill-based matchmaking, or SBMM for short, is an online matchmaking system that matches players of a similar level based on stats like kill/death-ratio (your kills divided by your deaths) or score per minute, for example. High-skilled players are matched up against other high-skilled and low-skilled players are matched up against low-skilled players. This creates a safety net for the low-skilled players and assures that they are not constantly been stomped to the ground by players with higher skill level.
Skill-based matchmaking is commonly found in games with a ranked system, such as Counter Strike: Global Offensive, where you play against players with a similar rank. These games also have a casual or public playlist, where rank doesn’t matter, and you’re matched up against a random pool of players of varying skill level. However, in battle royales and games without a separate ranked playlist, SBMM should not exist in my opinion, and I’m going to explain why.
I’m a long time Call of Duty player and I’d like to think I’m an above average player. Not great, but good. I remember being a 12-year-old and being introduced to Call of Duty 4 multiplayer at my friend’s house. I was doing absolutely horrible, but I still liked it and bought the game myself and began playing more.
I started improving by watching and imitating what players that killed me did: what guns they used, where they shot me from, how they used the drop shot technique where you quickly go prone when engaged in a gunfight in order to make it harder for your enemy to hit you. I learned through playing against better players, but at the same time I used the things I learned on average or below average players, like myself at that time. There was a balance. You got that feeling of accomplishment when you started doing better against random players than before. You also didn’t know what kind of players there were going to be in the next match. Every match was different.
Lately I’ve been playing a lot of Call of Duty: Warzone and I do enjoy it a lot. But most of the time the games feel very competitive to the point that casual play is not an option. It feels like if you want to play a game of Warzone, you better put on a sweatband because it’s going to get hot out there. The developers have not confirmed SBMM for the 2019 remake of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare or Warzone, but there have been speculations among players and even a small study has been conducted by youtuber XclusiveAce confirming that there in fact is SBMM in Warzone (Carr, 2020).
With SBMM, playing as a bad player in a lobby with nothing but bad players you don’t have anyone to look up to or imitate, that would spark that feeling of wanting to become better. Even worse, being an average player in a game with SBMM, the game rewards you for doing well in matches by matching you up against better players, so that you end up getting crushed and feel like you’ve never played the game before. On top of that you don’t even know that the game has moved you up to a higher skilled bracket, you just wonder why you started to suck every single game before you get moved back down. This has spawned a trend, reverse boosting, which means that you play bad on purpose in order to drop to a lower skilled bracket, that people do in order to get into low-skilled lobbies.
This is where we arrive to the sole purpose of video games. Fun. Whether your definition of fun is relaxing and chilling by playing casually or competing in a ranked bracket against others of the same level with the goal of achieving a better rank, you should always be able to decide if you want to play casually or competitively. Making a game competitive without rewards takes away a lot of the fun aspect from it. I haven’t even tried the majority of the guns in Warzone because there’s no point. There are a few guns that are much better than the rest of them. If you’re not using one of these “meta” guns, you’re already putting yourself at a disadvantage.
Games like Call of Duty or battle royales, for that matter, are not designed to be competitive. There are just too many variables in battle royales to really determine who is the most skilled player in the lobby: where you land, what loot and guns you find, are you able to sneak up on somebody or do you get shot in the back yourself. Random matchmaking would fit the already random nature of battle royales well. It would award the players that have put in the time to get good at the game, but would also give lower skilled players the examples of what they could be doing better in order to improve at the game.
Winning a game with SBMM doesn’t make you feel like you are a good player, it makes you feel like you just won because you were placed low enough in the skill bracket. Winning a game against random players of varying skill level makes you feel good about yourself, since you have no idea how good or bad the players in that game were. All you know is that you came out on top.
Featured image is screenshots of tweets taken by the author that were compiled into one image.
Carr, J. 2020. Data proves that there is skill-based matchmaking in Call of Duty: Warzone. Daily esports. 3.4.2020. Retrieved from https://www.dailyesports.gg/data-proves-that-there-is-skill-based-matchmaking-in-call-of-duty-warzone/ (2.11.2020)
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