Call Of Duty And Its Struggle With Skill Based Matchmaking

Call Of Duty And Its Struggle With Skill Based Matchmaking

Written by 

Jonno Nicholson


27th Sep 2020 17:00

Throughout the history of multiplayer games, the topic of skill-based matchmaking (SBMM) has always been one that has been the centre of debate from all areas of the various communities from a range of different games. The most recent game which has seen SBMM come under fire is Call of Duty, where Modern Warfare and Warzone have the matchmaking system in place despite no official word from publisher Activision and developer Infinity Ward.

Designed to provide an even playing field in multiplayer matches, the vast majority of the Call of Duty community have expressed their frustration at SBMM, suggesting that it takes away the fun for casual players while the better players looking for a casual experience have to try their hardest in order to contend for the victory.

Despite the widespread backlash, Infinity Ward and Activision has yet to comment on whether SBMM is present in Warzone and Modern Warfare. While players continue to pile on the pressure to get the matchmaking system removed entirely, it turns out that SBMM has been in Call of Duty for longer than some may think.

Since 2007

2007 marked a considerable change for the Call of Duty franchise. The release of the very first Modern Warfare game laid the foundations for what Call of Duty multiplayer looks like today. The game included a revolutionary multiplayer armed with a create a class system, perks, a diverse range of weaponry, and it also included SBMM.

Amid the outcry of frustration, one fan claimed that Call of Duty 4, Modern Warfare 2, Modern Warfare 3, and Black Ops 2 were all fun because of a lack of skill-based matchmaking. Contrary to their claim, Treyarch’s Director of Technology Martin Donlon has revealed that the aforementioned titles all had SBMM. 

Although these games did include SBMM, it’s no secret that they were far more enjoyable to play on a casual level in comparison to the 2019 reboot of Modern Warfare and free-to-play (FTP) battle royale game Warzone.

The Backlash

The outcry from fans, streamers, and professional players on social media has been deafening despite the lack of action from either Activision or Infinity Ward. Chicago Huntsmen talisman Seth “Scump” Abner shared his thoughts on the issue, stating that there should be a fully-fledged ranked playlist for players to “sweat” in.

In an attempt to counteract the system, the North American veteran attempted to reverse boost in order to be placed in a lobby containing players of lesser skill. 

Although this may seem unfair on his teammates within the game, players of a high skill level want to be able to jump into a casual match for a chance to play around with all of the weapons on offer, without the fast-paced, high-intensity gameplay which is so often needed in order to score a victory.

As the above clips show, it appears that the next instalment of the franchise, Black Ops Cold War, could well have the same problem as Modern Warfare, but as Martin Donlon stated, the strength of SBMM is one of the several parameters that can be tuned. While the players continue to campaign for the exclusion of SBMM in Call of Duty, it’s not just the first-person shooter (FPS) franchise that has experienced issues of this nature.

How Have Other Developers Dealt With SBMM?

Call Of Duty SBMM
Click to enlarge

Battle royale games Apex Legends and Fortnite have also seen their fair share of complaints surrounding SBMM in their respective games. In Apex Legends, Respawn Entertainment has attempted to rectify the issue by “increasing justice” to ensure players are placed into a fair match.

As we’ve seen in Warzone, creating a balanced battle royale lobby can prove to be extremely difficult. Fortnite developer Epic Games opted for a different approach. Rather than attempt to balance the matchmaking system that was already in place, it completely removed SBMM from the Squads playlist in order to create some form of balance for players of all skills.

The Solution

With so many players after a variety of experiences when loading into either Modern Warfare or Warzone, it is extremely difficult to please every single player. In regards to tackling the issue of SBMM in Call of Duty, there is one simple yet extremely effective solution that could bring smiles back to the faces of many players.

For Warzone, Infinity Ward should implement a fully-fledged ranked playlist for the battle royale in a similar way Respawn Entertainment has done for Apex Legends. Armed with a dedicated ranking ladder with a variety of tiers to categorise the skill of players, a ranked playlist for Warzone complete with SBMM to ensure each ranked match is as competitive as possible has the potential to strike some form of balance and separation from the casual game. In order to keep the casuals happy, turn off SBMM entirely for an experience that is likely to be infinitely more enjoyable than a match full of those trying to win a Warzone tournament. 

The very same system can be applied to Call of Duty multiplayer. A functioning ranked playlist has been somewhat of a mystery on Modern Warfare, after Infinity Ward revealed that the game was designed to cater for a casual audience. A lack of competitive playlist combined with the influence of strong SBMM makes even a game of all-out chaos on Shipment an unenjoyable experience for a casual player.

With Treyarch back at the helm for the release of Black Ops Cold War, the chance of a competitive playlist being included in the game are far higher than they have been in previous years. With a platform for those looking to try their best against players of a similar skill level, a ranked playlist is the perfect place for SBMM to be present, providing extremely competitive matches for those wanting something a bit more serious than a Team Deathmatch on Miami.

While there is still no word from Activision regarding SBMM, the battle between player, publisher, and developer looks to be far from over.

Images via Activision | Respawn Entertainment

Jonno is a freelance journalist at GGRecon, specialising in Call of Duty and its esports scene. His work can also be found on Esports Insider, Gfinity, Millenium, and a range of other esports publications.