For the final installment, we’re going to examine why having a visible MMR does not lead to better competition
The Insignificance of Pub Stats, Part 1 — how popularized statistics change the nature of flaming in public matchmaking
The Insignificance of Pub Stats, Part 2 — why KDA is a bad stat and what we could replace it with
Statistical Significance: The Value of Pub Stats — the article this is in response to
Ever since online matchmaking became ‘a thing,’ gaming communities have become obsessed with treating the matchmaking rating system as a panacea for all skill evaluation. After all, that’s what the system is for. It determines your skill level, gives it a number, and matches you with people like similar numbers. So if I had a list of those numbers I’d have a straightforward hierarchy of the best players in the game down to the worst, and in order to improve my own skill all I have to do is find things that make the number bigger, right? Unfortunately, no. MMR is a useful tool, but it’s not the limitless font of knowledge we make it out to be. And just like KDA we can limit our own development when we focus entirely on raising our MMR.
For an example of the ridiculous powers ascribed to MMR let’s go directly to the article:
Consider also that the sheer existence of publicly available statistics helps to ward off ignorance in the rest of the community. Blizzard, like Valve, has adopted a guarded approach to statistics. In StarCraft II, users are sorted into leagues, but nowhere does the game explain the league system clearly enough for a player to know which percentile their league corresponds with. The only statistic shown is a player’s total wins, not their win ratio or losses. In a blog series on TeamLiquid, a higher level StarCraft II player conducted an experiment where he began smurfing in the lowest league (Bronze) using an extremely weak and fragile strategy, the worker rush. However he found astonishing success with the strategy. Even when he explained to his opponents exactly what he was going to do, and how to beat it, he still won matches. The author ultimately hypothesized that the issue with the Bronze players was that they simply didn’t realize how much help they needed because they had never figured out where they truly laid on the skill spectrum. He wrote, “Blizzard has engineered a system that in no way acknowledges failure. So when someone smashes them … they don’t understand why.” (Emphasis mine)
I spent much of today reading the Worker Rush blog series linked here, and the quote included in the article is indeed accurate. However, the author of that series also says this a few entries earlier:
Players in the bronze league have convinced themselves that they are only in bronze because of some cosmic injustice. They are good players, they couldn’t be bronze, right? It’s just because of all the cheesers that they lose. If they could play macro games they’d be diamond for sure. It’s just that a bronze player has to prepare for even more all-ins than grand masters, because the players in bronze are less predictable. Well, that’s at least what they tell themselves. I thought the “forever bronze” meme was just a joke, but apparently it has a basis in reality: these people think they are stuck, the hopeless victims of some affliction that is anybody’s fault but their own.
He actually goes to some lengths to point out that many of the players he beats in bronze do in fact know what being bronze ranked entails, and still go to great lengths to convince themselves that they don’t really belong there. Temporarily embarrassed diamond leaguers if you would. There’s no reason that making their ranking even more obvious than it already is would somehow convince them otherwise. League of Legends alone proves that people can rationalize away a number just as easily as they can a more vague placement system. (Also of note, LoL’s ranked system appears to be moving to a more Starcraft 2 design in the upcoming season)
And on the other end of the spectrum there are many people in the dregs of matchmaking who are completely aware of the fact that they just don’t know how to play the game. The idea that we’re somehow helping them by rubbing a number in their face designed to quantify just how terrible they are quite frankly just comes off as vindictive, as if they’re somehow shaming the community with their ignorance.
I mean think about it. You show a person their rating and tell them it means they’re one of the worst players in the entire game. Ok, now what? You tell them they need to get their rating higher. Ok, how? Win more often. Ok, how? Raise your KDA. Ok, how?
At no point have you given them any actual information on how to get better at the game. All you’ve done is thrown some metrics around with absolutely no context whatsoever. You’re not really accomplishing anything, and you certainly aren’t “ward[ing] off ignorance in the rest of the community.” If there’s one thing you should take from the Worker Rush series is that teaching people how to play a complicated game can be insanely difficult. The number of factors involved are immense, and adding a visible MMR is nowhere near enough to even make a dent in the problem.
So let’s say you concede that a visible rating isn’t going to spur competition at the bottom end of the matchmaking spectrum. But what about the top end? Surely a visible rating will give players a greater incentive to strive to move up the rankings and lead to people taking matchmaking games more seriously. Possibly. But you should take a moment to step back and ask yourself if this would really be a good thing.
All Pick is, by far, the most popular matchmaking mode in Dota 2 right now. And competitively, All Pick is a joke. It’s certainly a convenient mode. That is, after all, why it’s so popular. But when it comes to character selection, it’s a mode that rewards players for mashing down the most overpowered heroes before the other team can grab them and otherwise playing counterpick chicken with the initial creep wave. Quite frankly, All Random would be a better competitive environment.
And let’s also face the facts that if you want to win reliably in Dota 2 matchmaking, the most reliable way is to form a good pre-made stack. I don’t blame Valve for this. Allowing group queues is at worst a necessary evil because some people simply cannot enjoy the game when teamed with complete strangers. But trying to make the current system more competitive would only hypercharge this drive to form the most unbeatable stack you can using the people you know, and this would completely leave solo queue players out in the cold.
The reality is that yes, Dota 2 still needs more outlets for playing in a competitive environment, but some kind of visible rating isn’t the answer. When people ask for a ladder or league setup what they’re really looking for is a formalized form of progression, like a sports league. The rules for advancement are clear and you know what’s on the line when you enter the game. Dota’s MMR on the other hand cheats. It gives people massive accelerations when they create the account because it isn’t interested in a formalized progression. Instead, it wants to get you as quickly as possible to a ranking where you won’t mindlessly stomp your opponents. This is an unqualified ‘good thing,’ but it’s anathema to a ladder.
Instead of making some new solo queue visible ranking hardcore matchmaking extravaganza, Valve would be better off putting its efforts towards creating a ranking system for 5v5 teams and establishing support for player run leagues and in-house ladders. That way, if you want serious play, you get your 5 together and you queue as a team in a draft environment. As for player run team and in-house leagues, I feel they’re a better outlet than one mammoth ranked solo queue. Each league can evolve to try to meet the unique desires of its player base, and it helps establish a sense of local community that is increasingly lost in modern online games.
The problem with making a ranked solo queue matchmaking is it’s too easy. Why go through the trouble of forming a 5v5 team or joining a league when you can just mash the play button and see a number go up or down? Well, plenty of reasons actually. But the problem is that they’re good long term reasons and in the short term you want to just get your fix with minimal hassle. By not implementing a ranked solo queue, Valve would be directing the competitive player base to other, more fruitful outlets that might otherwise struggle to maintain the population they need to survive.
Of course, Valve might still implement some kind of ranked matchmaking analogue, but I sincerely hope they don’t. Matchmaking has been a boon for online gaming, and I certainly wish we had had it a decade ago. But at the same time there’s something socially hollow to a game that’s nothing more than a series of random encounters. This is a chance to create a better kind of gaming community. It won’t be easy, but nothing worth doing ever is.