Skill based matchmaking and separate ranked modes have already been suggested plenty of times but I'm not here to talk more about why they are needed. Actually, I would like to discuss how one or the other, or even both in conjunction, would not be the right solution.
How did we get here?
Back in the day, Battle-Royale had a small range of skill. Building was used sparingly, maybe just for simple cover or for going up a hill. The game was mostly just an indie battle-royale game with basic bloom mechanics. Over the course of the seasons this has changed drastically in all aspects. Building and editing has quite literally gone to new heights. Players are skilled with all ranges of new and improved items. The introduction of Playground and Creative boosted this even further by allowing players to master these skills in unprecedented fashion. However, not everyone is interested in pushing themselves and training like this. Whether because they don't have much time to play or just simply don't want to dedicate themselves to it, they would rather play the game casually and naturally become better over time. Some players improve quickly, others not so much.
Because Battle-Royale uses a simple connection based matchmaking system it has always had the potential to create matches of extremely wide skill levels. The way I see it, as the range of skill increased, it eventually got to the point that lower skilled players were then discouraged from playing in the base Solo, Duo, and Squad modes. Then the skill ceiling kept becoming higher and another section of lower skilled players were discouraged from playing in the base modes. This feedback loop has compounded on itself over and over as lower skilled players stop playing, allowing for more higher skilled players, then discouraging more low skilled players, etc. Today it has recently gotten to the point that matches have a majority of high skilled players and now moderate players are being discouraged from playing. Even high skilled players have not been happy with how competitive base mode matches have become.
Skill Based Matchmaking
By implementing skill based matchmaking into the base modes, matches would consist of players of similar skill levels. Although this would technically create fairer matches, much of the community feels this goes against their philosophy of Battle-Royale; that it should be survival of the fittest. In other words, Battle-Royale matches are meant to have some range of skill and be an opportunity to improve and test your skills. If you are placed in matches with players similar to your skill level, not only can you still not exactly play casually, but there also isn't much opportunity to challenge yourself should you want to. Sure, you will gradually improve as you play against players close to your skill level, but you'll never run into the John Wick final boss that truly challenges you; something both sides of the skill spectrum will miss if matchmaking becomes too mundane.
There have actually been rumors that that Epic secretly started SBMM in the base modes as early as January. Many high skilled players and content creators have been outspoken about how this must be the case because they've found base mode matches are full of higher skilled players similar to them. I would like to again bring up my feedback loop theory: I don't think there is a hidden SBMM system putting you against other high skilled players, but that there are simply less players who are lower skilled than you queuing the base modes anymore. This is further supported by the fact even low skilled players are experiencing the issue of rampant high skilled players when, if there really is a hidden SBMM system, they should be placed with players close to their skill level.
My point being, with SBMM matches could be just as sweaty for these high skilled players as they are now and also wouldn't provide the opportunity for a casual battle-royale experience players yearn for while still occasionally challenging them.
Adding ranked modes would supposedly solve the issue by giving high skilled players separate playlists to play in, thus allowing the casual playerbase to flourish in the base modes again. This makes sense at face value, but I don't think this will entirely solve the problem for casual players because:
- I'd wager most players interested in ranked would not want to jump into the ranked modes immediately every play session since they could risk having a bad first game and losing precious skill points, so they would want to warm up in the casual modes first.
- There are players who just like getting high kill games and pwning noobs for the fun of it, so they would still play the casual modes.
- Not all high skilled players will feel like dedicating themselves to ranked modes if they have less time to play than they used to, and so will simply want a quick match in casual.
- Ranked would also use SBMM, and being as strict as a ranked mode should be, ranked matches would be even sweatier for higher skilled players than the base modes currently are now, so not all high skilled players would enjoy ranked if they already don't enjoy the base modes as they are now.
Basically, although adding ranked modes would remove a portion of sweaty players from casual modes, there would still be enough in rotation to put a damper on lower skilled or casual players. However, I do still think it is important to have ranked modes. Competitive players probably would like to have strict matchmaking and to be put in lobbies with players close to their skill level.
Creating a Matchmaking System Built for Battle-Royale
What the base modes need is a matchmaking system that allows for players to be put in fair ranges of skill levels while still being occasionally challenged, but to still be able to play casually without feeling constantly overburdened by higher or similarly skilled players. This is very contradictory. Obviously those conditions cannot be met in a single match. So, what I'm proposing is a variable matchmaking system that automatically rotates between these conditions.
How it would work is, based on how well you did in your last few matches, in your next match you could be the highest skilled player, the lowest skilled player, or anywhere in between. Died a few times in a row before top 70? Let's go a little easier on you this time. 15 kills and top 5? Get ready for a challenge! Did about as well this game as the last few? Found the sweet spot until you improve or have a bad set of matches. In a perfect sense it would be a matchmaking system catered to you.
Variable skill matchmaking along with ranked modes would allow for players of large skill ranges and play types to enjoy the game again. Although players of all skill levels will have the opportunity to play casually, if they are playing well, they will then be challenged by players somewhat higher skilled than them. If they keep playing well, matchmaking will keep putting them with slightly higher and higher skilled players. If they don't keep playing well, they'll stay where they are and be the ones who challenge the lower skilled players below them. This also means that if players are having bad games, they'll be given the opportunity to be the higher skilled players playing against players slightly below them.
The end result is a constant rotation of skill levels automatically queuing for matches of lower or higher skill criteria to challenge or be challenged by players of marginally better and worse skill; whether they are trying to improve themselves, or just play casually. This system would also more than likely have less trouble matchmaking than SBMM since it is meant to have a wider range of skill in each match instead of finding players within a strict skill level.
All of this wouldn't be possible if Fortnite had a smaller player base, but as it turns out it has a GINORMOUS player base. Epic was ready to pull the trigger on SBMM over a year ago when there were 45 million players, and that number has more than quadrupled since then to 200 million players. With a player base this large they have the opportunity to create a matchmaking system beyond SBMM; one that can be catered to providing the best battle-royale experience.
Determining a Good, Bad, or Neutral Match
In many other competitive games, there are clearly defined winners and losers such as on two teams. All that is needed is some formula to figure out the skill rating points gained and lost by comparing everyone's skill rating in the match.
Fortnite is an entirely different ballgame. Determining whether you had a good or bad game will be a tough thing to calculate because it would need to rely on actual gameplay. What number you placed, how long you survived, and how many eliminations you got are obvious examples. But what about the skill rating of the players you eliminated, the skill rating of the players they had eliminated, the skill rating of the player who finally eliminated you, how many players that player had eliminated before they eliminated you and what all their skill ratings were too? It could go all the way up the chain to the first players who were eliminated. Even mundane things like how much you looted, how much you harvested, how far you traveled, how much you built, or what variety of items or traps you used. All of these could be used to determine how many skill rating points you should go up or down after a match. Figuring out what will take part in the formula and balancing how much influence each aspect of it should have will take time, so it is a good thing this is an early access game, right?
Skill based matchmaking is not a good fit for the base modes because for many it defeats the purpose of Battle-Royale, that it's meant to have some range of skill and be an opportunity to improve and test your skills. If you are placed in matches with players similar to your skill level, not only can you still not exactly play casually, but there also isn't much opportunity to challenge yourself should you want to. For high skilled players it would also just make matches worse for them than they are now.
Ranked modes are not enough to remove high skilled players from the base modes because many high skilled players would not always be interested in playing ranked for a number of reasons, so there would still be enough high skilled players in rotation to put a damper on lower skilled or casual players. Ranked modes are still important however for high skilled or competitive players that want to have strict matchmaking and to be put in lobbies with players close to their skill level.
What the base modes need is a matchmaking system that allows for players to be put in fair ranges of skill levels while still being occasionally challenged, but to still be able to play casually without feeling constantly overburdened by higher or similarly skilled players. This could be accomplished by a variable matchmaking system that automatically places you in matches with a decent range of skill levels but, based on how well you did in your last few matches, sometimes you will be the highest skilled player, the lowest skilled player, or anywhere in between. The end result is a constant rotation of skill levels automatically queuing for lower or higher skill criteria to challenge or be challenged by players of better and worse skill, whether they are trying to improve themselves, or just play casually.
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