How Fortnite Skill Based Matchmaking Works, Why It's Broken, And How To Fix It
Matchmaking systems are among the most controversial topics in all of gaming. Everyone wants to know how a game’s competitive multiplayer works. Is it completely random? Connection based? Or is it skill-based matchmaking (SBMM)?
The ladder is the root of all kinds of debate in the gaming community. Other battle royale games like Apex Legends and Call of Duty: Warzone have been bombarded with hate for their matchmaking systems. Despite this, the developers continue to hold their ground. They believe that SBMM has a positive effect on the game and that the critics are in the vocal minority.
So, what kind of matchmaking system does Fortnite have? How has Fortnite’s matchmaking been changed throughout its lifespan? We set out on a mission to answer those questions and more.
Fortnite Matchmaking on Release
When Fortnite first released, there was no special matchmaking system. Every match you played would consist of 100 random players. Sometimes it may be a lobby full of noobs, other times you’d be completely outmatched.
Initially, most players were on the same level. As time went on, the skill gap grew larger and larger. Nowadays, a new player dropping into a lobby of experienced players stands no chance.
This is in large part to Fortnite’s unique building mechanic. The building in Fortnite allows for unprecedented levels of outplaying. Building is the key to success in Fortnite, but it takes immense practice to perfect. A player that can build will beat a player that can’t 100 out of 100 times. This became more and more apparent as the game evolved.
Epic Games and the player base took notice. It was clear that low to average skilled players were having a much harder time winning games. If you weren't playing every day and keeping up with the newest trends in building, you would fall behind.
Epic Games’ first attempt at solving this issue was the addition of practice tournaments and eventually, a ranked mode called Arena. The goal was to siphon the better players out of the normal modes and into the Arena. Additionally, Epic Games added big team modes like 50 vs. 50 and Team Rumble. Casuals could thrive in these larger modes and usually avoid “sweats”.
This wasn’t enough for Epic Games. Whether it was a dip in the player base, the loss of revenue, or other factors, Epic decided to alter the entire matchmaking system.
Fortnite Adds Skill-Based Matchmaking and Bots
On September 23, 2019, Epic Games released a blog post. In it, they claim that “over the past two years ... the range of player skill has grown considerably.” They go on to state that their mission is to create “fairer matches”, despite Arena being created just for that.
In patch v10.40, Epic Games would implement a new matchmaking system into Fortnite, AKA, skill-based matchmaking. Epic states, “you will be more likely to match with players of similar skill, and as you get better, so should your opponents.”
It didn't stop there. AI bots would be added to Fortnite multiplayer. When describing the bots, Epic wrote, “they will behave similarly to normal players and will help provide a better path for players to grow in skill.”
This began a growing trend of turning Fortnite into a game catered to the most casual of players. As Epic stated themselves in another blog post;
The mission of Fortnite is to bring players of all skill levels together to have a fun experience where anyone can win.
The problem is, this new system does not solve the issue. Sure, the lowest skilled players will have an easier chance to win and see their gameplay improve. However, skill-based matchmaking ends up punishing the average player.
Epic Games set out to make games more even, and through their version of SBMM, actually made things less fair.
The new matchmaking system would pool players of similar skill together, regardless of platform. Before, console players and mobile players could turn off cross-platform matchmaking if they chose to do so. Now, all platforms and input methods would be forced to match together.
Epic Games defended this by claiming that regardless of platform or input method, players matched together would be of similar skill. The problem is, different platforms and input methods have distinct advantages and disadvantages. An average player on PC using a mouse is not equal to an average player on mobile using a touch screen.
This even extends to the same input on different platforms. Controller players on PC are capable of reaching 240+ FPS, while console players are capped at 60 FPS. PC players can alter their settings and turn things like shadows off for better visibility; console players cannot. When you have better frames, you can jump higher, react faster and your aim assist is stronger even. These are not small advantages, these are massive differences.
In an attempt to even the playing field, Epic Games just made things worse. No reasonable person would argue that it’s fair for a Nintendo Switch player to face off with a PC player using top-of-the-line hardware.
Why the New System Doesn't Work
The forced crossplay is just a small part of it. The game is simply not fun when every game feels like the World Cup. Epic Games appealed to one subset of their community, and in turn, angered another subset.
Rewarding bad players with free wins is just a band-aid fix. Epic said it themselves, as a player gets better, their opponents will get better.
So what is the point in getting good? How will you know you are improving if you just keep matching with better and better players? Shouldn’t players that invest time into the game be rewarded? These are just a few of the questions opponents of SBMM find themselves asking.
A ranked mode is great. Arena was created with the intent of providing players with an opportunity to face others of their skill level. Now, every game is essentially a ranked match. Normal modes and Arena use the same matchmaking system. Normal modes just don’t have the pretty icon and number visibly displaying your skill level.
Fans of SBMM like to say that SBMM opposers just want to crush noobs. This is far from reality. Yes, beating up on noobs can be fun. Long gone are the days of content creators dropping 20 bombs on a regular basis. However, there are genuine criticisms to SBMM and solutions that don't involve noobs getting slaughtered.
Every battle royale should have a casual mode. Even the big team modes had SBMM at one point (it has since been reverted). Just because a player is good doesn't mean they should be forced to try their hardest against others at their skill level. They should be allowed to reap the benefits of their skill.
How to Fix It
The SBMM debate could be remedied with just a few minor changes.
1. Give new players their own lobbies filled with bots and other fresh players
2. Promote ranked modes/Arena for new players. The whole purpose of a ranked mode is to match players evenly based on skill. Arena is where players of all skill levels can find fair matches. Leave the matchmaking in normal modes up to RNG.
These two points alone would work to satisfy both new and experienced players.
Regardless, something needs to be done. The game is losing its dedicated player base. In recent Fortnite news, countless pros and content creators have retired or quit. When that happens, many of their fans quit as well; it has a snowball effect.
Esports and the dedicated fan base are what keeps games alive — not the casuals. If Fortnite continues to alienate their devoted players, they may find themselves quickly falling from grace.
Images via Epic Games