Is Infinity Ward keeping something from their players?

16:45, 12 Aug 2020

Perhaps the most controversial topic in all of competitive video gaming right now is skill-based matchmaking. Skill-based matchmaking — or SBMM — is a system that works to gauge an individual player’s skill and match them with other players at the same skill level. Ranked game modes essentially double as a form of SBMM.

On the surface, SBMM sounds like a great idea. No one likes to be constantly destroyed and most players enjoy some level of competition. The problem nowadays is that game developers are adding SBMM to the unranked game modes. This creates an environment where every single match is “sweaty”. It is impossible to play casually. You will always face off against opponents at your skill level. This leads to a plethora of issues. Common complaints regarding SBMM include difficulty playing with friends of varying skill levels, no reward for improving (as you get better, you match with better and better players) and the tendency for abuse (boosting/smurfing).

SBMM is an extensive topic. It would be impossible to fully cover all facets in a single article. For now, let’s get into SBMM in Call of Duty: Warzone.

Infinity Ward Claims There Is No SBMM In Warzone

As with most competitive shooters nowadays, skill-based matchmaking has been a topic of discussion even prior to Warzone’s official release. Many CoD pros and content creators received the opportunity to try Warzone out early. When questioned on SBMM, Infinity Ward’s studio head, Pat Kelly, claimed, “there is no skill-based matchmaking in any large player count modes in Modern Warfare, and that will include Warzone.”

Modern Warfare is notorious for its strict SBMM system in normal multiplayer. This quote directly from Infinity Ward brought a huge sigh of relief to much of the community.

However, this quote has been a target for extensive criticism ever since. Dozens of big names in the CoD community have doubted the truth of this statement.

Talented pros and streamers found themselves facing formidable competition on a regular basis. In a game with over thirty million players, the pros and streamers kept matching up in each other's lobbies. Additionally, the top players constantly run into hackers. This happens rarely to low-skill players. The theory is that because hackers have great stats, they match with pros more often.

Does Warzone Have SBMM?

Renowned CoD statistician, TheXclusiveAce, took it upon himself to investigate. In a YouTube video posted on April 2, TheXclusiveAce relayed his findings.

In the video, TheXclusiveAce dives deep into his methodology, data, etc. In short, Warzone does, in fact, have SBMM.

Did Infinity Ward Lie?

This means one of two things. The first possibility is that Infinity Ward blatantly lied about SBMM. The second is, Infinity Ward originally planned for no SBMM but it was thrown in later by Activision, the publisher. A tweet from Michael Condrey, former studio head of Sledgehammer Games, seems to imply that it was the ladder.

In response to a tweet discussing SBMM, Condrey replied, “Ask ATVI. Never directed into COD from me.” This suggests that the developers have very little say in how SBMM is implemented in their games. Condrey goes on to write, “Analytics, SB matchmaking, monetization, dedicated server coverage, etc all driven from ATVI central tech and production teams. Frustratingly little influence on those corp decisions despite their impact on our games and the COD community.”

Condrey’s words show visible frustration. Condrey appears to be tired of him and other developers receiving the flack for decisions such as SBMM.

Community Reaction

The gaming community has been vocal on their disdain for SBMM. Pros and amateurs alike continue to speak out. We have even seen #RemoveSBMM trend on Twitter. The discovery of SBMM in Warzone is just another straw on the camel’s back.

Here are a few tweets from members of the community sharing their thoughts on SBMM in not only Warzone but gaming as a whole.

Skill-based matchmaking is clearly an unpopular system. Despite this, developers and publishers continue to implement it into their games. The main reason for this boils down to one thing — money. Publishers believe that if they can keep the noobs having fun, it increases the chance that they continue to play and spend money on things like microtransactions. While this may be true in some cases, it is robbing the majority of the player base of true enjoyment.

What is the joy in winning if it was only due to an algorithm matching you with bad players? What is the point of getting good if SBMM is just going to match you against better and better players? Shouldn't above average players be rewarded for the time they put in? With SBMM, questions like these remain unanswered.

The Solution

A ranked mode with SBMM and an unranked mode with no SBMM would do wonders in solving much of these issues. Unfortunately, Warzone has neither.

We will see in the coming years how the SBMM trend develops. Is it here to stay? Or will the community finally rise up and put a stop to it?


Let us know on Twitter @GGRecon_ your thoughts on skill-based matchmaking.

Credit: Infinity Ward/Activision

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