Skill-Based Matchmaking; What is it?
Skill-based matchmaking (also called SBMM), is a matching system where players are placed into online matches with opponents who have a similar skill level. High-skilled players tend to be matched with other high-skilled players while low-skilled players tend to be matched with other low-skilled players. Players who are mid-skilled (not as good as high-skilled players but have more experience than low-skilled players), will get paired with similarly skilled players, too. For the most part.
What qualifies as high-skilled, mid-skilled, or low-skilled tends to be based on player stats. Player stats could include average kills per game, the total number of wins, the total number of matches played, and so on. A game will then generate matches for players with a similar skill-set. This way, you are always matched with other players whose skillset is roughly the same. This also means as you improve as a player, you will be put into matches with better opponents.
Skill-based matchmaking is designed to make multiplayer gaming more competitive. Developers don’t want players getting bored with the game, so they use skill-based matchmaking to keep it challenging. However, a lot of players are displeased with the matching system. Today, we’re looking at four major battle royale titles to see how they use skill-based matchmaking and how their players feel about it.
Skill-Based Matchmaking in Apex Legends
Apex Legends uses skill-based matchmaking in both their Ranked and Casual game modes. For those unfamiliar with Apex Legends, players can elect to play in a Ranked match or a Casual match upon booting up the game.
Ranked Leagues were initially introduced in 2019 upon the release of Season 2. According to developers, Ranked Leagues is “the place where competitive players…can go to prove their skills and gain recognition for their efforts.” Players navigate through tiers (Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum, Diamond, and Predator), each with four divisions (I, II, III, and IV). Players start off in Bronze IV and must earn Ranked Points (RP) to move up the ladder. RP is earned based on your performance in a match. However, as you move into higher tiers, matches begin costing RP. As a result, if you are not earning the spent RP back during a match, you are losing it.
As you play matches, the game uses skill-based matchmaking to “ensure competitive integrity.” Skill is determined by a player’s match placement and kills in the match. It should be noted, however, that players are not required to kill 15 opponents in a match. Developers say the scoring also rewards players that offer support or play with strategy.
Since Ranked Leagues launched, Apex developers have actively tweaked how the skill-based matchmaking works in their game. Players will see changes to matchmaking in new “series” of Ranked Leagues. “Series” is just the term used for the competitive periods that are scheduled during seasons of the game, but their schedule does not necessarily align with the seasons.
Impact of Skill-Based Match Making on Apex Legends
Ranked Leagues is only one example of skill-based matchmaking in Apex Legends. Players can see the matchmaking system in the game’s casual mode, as well. Although, many players seem to hate the system.
In the casual mode, players can join matches without the same level of competition associated with Ranked Leagues. There is little to gain other than leveling up and the rewards associated with leveling up and nothing to lose. Unlike in Ranked, casual mode allows players to enter matches without costing them any of the points they’ve earned from previous games.
However, many players express frustration with skill-based matchmaking in casual mode because these matches still match players similarly to how they are matched in Ranked. As a result, “casual” mode includes the same level of competition in Ranked without the potential for loss.
Critics of skill-based matchmaking say it should be removed from casual matches because it makes them too “sweaty.” This means the causal matches are too challenging because high-skilled players are being matched with high-skilled opponents. Instead, they would rather play casual matches where any skill level can be thrown into the mix.
Developers have argued, however, that skill-based matchmaking helps “80-90%” of a game’s community. For Apex players who are not considered “high-skilled,” the matching system can make the game feel a little fairer. Low-skilled players don’t have to worry about being thrown into a match with Predator-Tier players, thus making the game more enjoyable (but still challenging) for them. Playing with similarly skilled opponents allows low- and mid-skilled players the chance to improve.
Skill-Based Matchmaking in Fortnite
Fortnite, like Apex, also has a ranked and casual mode. The ranked mode, called “Arena,” starts players off in Division One. Players must earn Hype points to move up to higher divisions. According to Epic Games, the game used “Hype-based matchmaking” to match players in Arena mode.
When developers announced the v10.40 update, they introduced skill-based matchmaking. In this version’s announcement, Epic Games said they would apply this matchmaking system to “all regions across Battle Royale core modes” as they test its performance. The reception of skill-based matchmaking has been less than enthusiastic.
The addition of skill-based matchmaking in Fortnite lead to something called “Smurfing.” High-skilled players create a new account (with no skill history) to play against low-skilled players. In response, Epic Games decided to make smurfing a “bannable offense.” This is because smurfing is said to cause “negative behavior” and hurts “gameplay integrity.”
SypherPK, a Fortnite Twitch streamer, criticized skill-based matchmaking because of the “mentality and attitude” it generates. According to the streamer, the matchmaking system makes Fortnite’s casual mode too focused on the competition.
Along with SypherPK, other popular streamers have also expressed frustration with the matchmaking system in Fortnite. Ninja said he shouldn’t feel obligated to play every day just to be good enough to win in solo matches.
Epic Games in the last two weeks:
-Nerfed Heavy Sniper
-Tweaked aim assist
-Removed SBMM from squads
-Began communicating better on Reddit
-Brought back tournament broadcasts
-Improved competitive roadmap
-Gave more transparency on decisions
Holy shit. Fortnite is turning around
— Jack “CouRage” Dunlop (@CouRageJD) May 6, 2020
In the past few days, some outlets reported that Fortnite removed skill-based matchmaking from four-player squads. Though this has remained unconfirmed by Epic Games, the alleged change has been celebrated by notable streamers and Youtubers. It remains to be seen if the removal will cross over to solo matches.
Does Warzone Use Skill-Based Matchmaking?
Unlike Apex and Fortnite, the matchmaking system in Warzone has been unconfirmed by developers. Regardless of the matchmaking system used by Warzone, the game has been hotly debated within its community.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare has been in the midst of controversy because it allegedly uses skill-based matchmaking. This is an issue for fans for similar reasons expressed by Apex and Fortnite players. With skill-based matchmaking, players are exposed to nothing but difficult matches. There is only one match style: intense, difficult, and sweaty. Because Call of Duty (as a franchise) has been around for so long, fans have created a unique culture within it. Part of what has made Call of Duty’s multiplayer modes so fun is the ability to destroy low-skilled players. Modern Warfare strays away from this culture, making it the target for criticism.
I’ll never understand why Call of Duty goes through all of the trouble to implement skill based matchmaking but won’t add a ranking system. If you’re going to match me up against better players, why can’t I have a rank to be proud of and work towards?
— 100T Nadeshot (@Nadeshot) March 25, 2020
Modern Warfare has also been criticized because, despite using skill-based matchmaking, they do not have a ranked mode. This means players are unable to prove their skills and be awarded for being highly-skilled. Nadeshot, a former Call of Duty professional player, spoke out about his opinion on the lack of a ranked mode.
How does this relate to Warzone? In the replies to Nadeshot’s tweet, the gamer states that he “wouldn’t believe” a developer if they told him Warzone doesn’t use skill-based matchmaking. He then says “There are over 30 million registered playing Warzone, and somehow I consistently face off against players I know that are at the top of the leaderboards.”
Again, in regards to matchmaking, Infinity Ward's studio head Pat Kelly told us that there is no skill based matchmaking in any large player count modes in Modern Warfare, and that will include Warzone. https://t.co/0pJyMvyNMA
— Call of Duty News (@charlieINTEL) March 10, 2020
Regardless of what players think, Pat Kelly, a development lead at Infinity Ward, said there is no skill-based matchmaking in Warzone. In fact, there is no skill-based matchmaking “in any large player count modes in Modern Warfare.”
Warzone’s Matchmaking System Frustrates Players
This, unfortunately, doesn’t really save Warzone from criticism. Another issue players have with skill-based matchmaking is that it tends to take longer for people to join matches. Players sometimes wait for several minutes before they begin a match. This is no different for Warzone.
In a Reddit post on r/CODWarzone, a user claimed they waited for 30 minutes for their lobby to fill. For the match to start, the lobby needed to fill all 150 spots. The system struggled to find players and the more impatient players would leave the lobby, making it difficult to fill. Whatever matchmaking system is used, Warzone struggles to create and maintain full lobbies.
Some people blame developers for creating a matchmaking system that takes so long to fill, others blame the impatient players who don’t want to wait in the match queue. Either way, developers have failed to please their Warzone player base.
Does PUBG Use Skill-Based Matchmaking?
Unlike the previous three games, the PUBG matchmaking system is not skill-based. At least, not in the same way. PUBG uses a matchmaking system called “ELO/MMR.” These matchmaking systems both use calculations to find a player’s relative skill level. ELO matchmaking analyzes a “player’s stats and overall performance.” Winning and losing will impact a player’s rating, but this doesn’t mean one loss will tank that rating.
In 2019, PUBG released a developer letter to its player base. The open letter was published to address matchmaking issues in the game, most notably the “excessive wait time to get into PUBG matches.” They admitted that they needed to revamp the matchmaking system in place to provide “fair play conditions” that will allow players to focus on enjoying the game.
The letter then goes on to explain the major changes made to the matchmaking system. These changes included limiting player ability to select the map of their choosing, allowing players to change regions if a match can’t be found within a certain time, and offering players a chance to play in a squad mode if solo or duo matches can’t be found within a certain time.
A later update tweaked these features as developers figured out what was and was not working.
PUBG is actively making changes to their game, including a recent update that added bots to the game. While there is discourse surrounding these changes, matchmaking doesn’t presently seem to be an issue on their player base’s mind.
What Do You Think?
Does skill-based matchmaking hurt battle royale games? Does it make them too competitive? Let us know what you think in the comments or on Twitter @thecognetwork. Be sure to check out “Apex Legends Season 5: What Fans Want” for more on Apex. You can also see our review of Fortnite Chapter 2: Season 2 here.