Apex Legends Skill Based Matchmaking - How Does It Work?

Apex Legends Skill Based Matchmaking - How Does It Work?

Written by 

Katie Memmott


23rd Apr 2020 19:00

Apex Legends' SBMM is ruining my life. You’re telling me out of 100 million worldwide players, Respawn Entertainment can’t find anyone for a Public Lobby of my same skill level and instead has to smush my squad in with a team of 20 kill badge ‘Apex Predators’? I don’t think so.

Players like me, who average a few kills per game, delight in moments of absolute beastliness, yet fall prey to panic easily, can’t be in the minority. So why do my squad and I constantly find ourselves in casual lobbies where we have seemingly a 1% chance of winning?

The problem doesn’t lie within the Apex player base. It lies with the makers of the inherently flawed skill-based matchmaking system that Apex employs – the devs of Respawn Entertainment.

Some may find it to be a fun challenge to face off against players deemed “better” than them. I am not one of those people. I groan when I see a TTV_Wraith announced as the Champion for my match with her 25k kills, and my confidence immediately wilts. This goes without saying, I’ve clapped many a predator in my time. But it’s taken far too much effort, and more than a bit of luck to do so. Why can’t I just get even gunfights, where everyone involved is ‘good’, but still a bit rubbish; just like me?

It has become more than frustration at this point. From adoring this game to the point of obsession, I now sigh when I hear the ping of the group chat and sink into my chair, ready for the merciless torture to begin. SBMM has basically eliminated casual play in Apex Legends.


That is the question on everyone’s lips. While many claim Apex Legends' SBMM is a broken system, and no one truly knows how it works, with a lot of blood, sweat, and tears (and extensive research); I believe I’ve cracked the code.

The overall skill of any one lobby of players you’re matched up within a ‘Play Apex’ playlist may depend on the following elements.

  • If you’re in a pre-made squad
  • And they are of a similar overall skill level to you (above average, for example)
  • Or they are of an overall higher skill level
  • Your K/D ratio
  • Your Account Level
  • Your Ranked Tier
  • Your performance in the last few games (kills, damage, placement [or win])

These elements determine the idea of an ‘overall’ skill level, and a combination of these should work together to place you in a match with similar stats for more even gameplay.

Obviously, a lot of elements feed off each other, i.e. you’re guaranteed to be a pretty high Account Level if you’re a Platinum Ranked player, and your K/D ratio will be above average if you consistently perform well in matches etc.

As for the pre-made squad element, taking from Apex Ranked where you join the highest players rank for matchmaking, I think that’s what’s going on in public Apex Legends SBMM.

In a now-deleted Reddit post by u/gonnagofarkidtr, the Apex player explained their research into SBMM, citing that once they reached Account Level 15 with a smurf (a throwaway account an experienced player makes in an effort to get placed in lower-ranked matches; we'll discuss smurfs in more detail later), they were placed into lobbies with Apex Predators, but as they started to ‘throw’ games (killing themselves immediately), they noticed that those Predators began to disappear from the lobbies.

They went on to discuss the fact that the account began to not only eliminate Apex Predators from lobbies but also Diamond players, after 15 deaths in a row. This backs up the element of SBMM that deals with performance in previous games.

From this test, we can glean that perhaps a win will almost guarantee you a tougher lobby next time you ready up.

SBMM should be a good thing, allowing lower-tier players a chance to improve, and higher-tier players a chance to hone their skills. In reality, every game starts to feel like a Ranked match and has some players turning to other games to get their fix of Battle Royale action.

In a now-viral Reddit post, u/dannypereira21 vented about their experience with SBMM in Apex Legends, saying most notably “I can’t just jump on and have a good time anymore. It’s not fun, I am continuously killed by premade squads who have a collective kills of 100,000.”


Without too much more ranting, a lot of fans are just as mad at SBMM as me, trust me.

Apex Legends SBMM
Click to enlarge

Infamous dataminer TheGamingMerchant conducted a poll on the negative impact of SBMM on players, and the results spoke louder than words. Even though they are technically words…

Apex Legends SBMM
Click to enlarge

His video provides some much-needed insight into just how many players aren’t fans of SBMM: a whopping 73% of 3683 players polled. Interestingly, TheGamingRevolution's research also shows that the higher the Ranked level of the player, the more dissatisfaction with SBMM they felt. This must be because the only way SBMM appears to work is pitting you against noobs playing with their feet, or Predators playing on almost-toxic levels of G Fuel.


Do the devs even care? Do they look down on us from their ivory tower, sitting on their piles of Apex Coins like a fairy-tale dragon hoarding its gold?

In recent Apex Legends news, some devs have commented on the annoyance surrounding SBMM, and had this to say; “get good, scrub”. Well, not exactly, but Respawn developers who put their two cents in on the SBMM issue on Twitter, stood up for their system.

Respawn Entertainment’s Principal Coder Michael Kalas responded with the above tweet when asked by a fan if “random matchmaking” could return to the game. Well, that’s not good news for those of us hoping for fairer matches…

More Respawn devs have come out in support of their SBMM system but do admit it could do with some fine-tuning. Standing strong against the fans calling for change is Respawn Senior Systems Designer Eric ‘Ghost’ Hewitt, who stuck up for Apex Legends' SBMM on Twitter.


This isn’t to say everyone thinks the way I do about SBMM in Apex Legends. Not at all. Some players enjoy the challenge and make the case that it improves their gameplay.

There’s also the issue of the Apex Predators themselves needing to find matches. Only the top players in the world reach Apex Predator level on Apex Ranked, and at the end of the first Ranked series, the breakdown of player tiers was as follows.

  • 5.1% Bronze
  • 40.0% Silver
  • 35.7% Gold
  • 16.8% Platinum
  • 2.1% Diamond
  • 0.2% Apex Predator

Just from these stats, we can determine that if Apex Legends' SBMM was only putting Preds in lobbies with each other, they’d be waiting hours for a game. Not very fair. From this point of view, it’s easy to see why we are sometimes lumped in one game, with catastrophic consequences for the lower-ranked players. However, that’s Ranked. So why does SBMM take these stats, and still exist in Public lobbies?


Ranked mode was meant to be the haven for competitive players, but thanks to SBMM reigning over all the playlists, anyone joining the ‘Play Apex’ queue is going to have to get competitive to survive. Ranked surely exists for the percentage of players who want to fight hard – so why can’t random matchmaking be introduced for the casual playlist? This is a question being posed on Twitter by (other) irate Apex fans, who just want to chill and have fun on the ‘pex;

Apex Legends SBMM
Click to enlarge


Is there a way for SBMM to be ‘fixed’? I think, yes.

The first way is to target “smurf” accounts with an anti-cheat or proper reporting system. Smurf accounts are brand new EA accounts, made by players becoming frustrated at their difficult lobbies, who make a base-level player account so they can be placed into ‘easier’ lobbies. This comes with its own set of problems. The opponents who are in those lobbies because they really are beginners are going to have to face off against players much better than them and have no way to combat that. Smurf accounts are some peoples only way to combat the stress of their regular ‘casual’ lobbies, where they are pitted against the best of the best, for no good reason.

The second way to fix this issue is to add more tiers to Ranked. If we believe the Ranked system is feeding into the overall skill-based matchmaking system, then making it more difficult for players to progress is going to help somewhat. Adding more tiers to Platinum and Diamond levels, for instance, could make the world of difference.

In a way, I’m flattered by Respawn. They clearly think I’m good enough to pose a challenge to the sweatiest of all sweats for 10 matches in a row. So, for that, I thank them, humbly. But with that, I ask for mercy. Please. Fine-tune skill-based matchmaking for public Apex Legends lobbies. My heart can’t take it anymore.


Images via Respawn Entertainment 

Katie is the former Sub Editor and Freelancer Coordinator at GGRecon.

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