Back in my Dota Matchmaking FAQ series, I said that in my opinion a lot of the perceived failings of Dota’s matchmaking are social issues rather than technical failings. Today I want to talk about one of those social issues that keeps popping up: the problem of highly rated stacks, stacks being a group of players who queue up together and play in a highly coordinated way.
Dota 2’s matchmaking allows players to play in a group. It needs to allow this. Some people cannot enjoy the solo queue game, and Valve is obligated to offer them a form of casual matchmaking so they can play with their friends. In order to expedite the process, matchmaking is willing to allow these pre-made groups to face solo players because it selects solo players with a higher overall skill level to compensate for the pre-made group’s greater level of coordination. It’s not a perfect system, matchmaking never is, but for the most part it gets the job done, and I expect it’s still undergoing constant refinement.
The problem this system runs into is that when a group of sufficiently highly rated players queue together, the matchmaking system doesn’t have a sufficient population of even higher skilled solo players to pick from. The matchmaker does what it can to make decently competitive games while not allowing queue times to skyrocket, but the results are not pretty. The picture here is a little clouded. We can only see who these players have played with in the past month, inactive players are not filtered out, and Dotabuff cannot show us players who have decided the remain anonymous. Nevertheless, if you click on most of the players on that list you will find many who regularly play in groups that achieve +70% win rates. It’s true that Dotabuff only shows us 50 people who have a greater than 70% win rate, but it is very likely that win rates are distributed in such a way that the 60-70% group has a much higher population than the +70% group.
What this means is that there must exist a group of players who are absorbing those 30-40% win rates on the other end. Solo queue players who are constantly matched into games that we know are not statistically competitive but that are created for expediency. What this does is create a burnout point, where the primary way these players interact with the game is so frustrating that they lose interest in the game as a whole. Some of these players will quietly quit, or at least scale back their playtime, and we will then just throw the next tier of players into the grinder so that the cycle can continue.
Some say that these players should be grateful that they have the opportunity to play against the pros and learn from the experience, but I find this argument rather unconvincing. If you were to create a game with 8 talented amateurs and a profession player on either team, that could easily be an educational experience for everyone involved. You’d have a source of direction and insight that you might not normally have while also being tested by a similarly directed team. Being stomped by a pro+friends stack in under 15 minutes? Yes, there are things that you can learn for it, but if it is the 5th time that night you’ve been stomped in such a manner then you’re probably at the point where you’re no longer learning much. And let’s remember that if you can recognize a pro player’s stack by the names, it’s pretty likely the other 4 people on your team can as well. Some of those players are going to give up internally before the creeps even spawn, and being essentially down 4v5 against a far more coordinated team is not an environment well-suited for learning anything.
A alternative solo queue would address this issue, but the danger is that the solo queue could become so popular that finding a casual team match would become difficult or impossible. As I mentioned earlier, casual team matching is a necessary feature of the system and is as important as addressing this burnout point. So, how can we create a solo queue that won’t completely cannibalize the more general queue? My answer starts with this:
It’s not a perfect sample by any means, but a 75% representation for All Pick jives with everything else that I’ve seen. The most straightforward solution is to make a solo queue that does not include All Pick. The most appropriate default mode for solo queue would be some variant of Random Draft, and if it’s proves popular enough it could eventually add something like All Random or Single Draft. Meanwhile, solo queue is treated as the opt-in mode and doesn’t include the most popular mode in Dota 2. These two facts should allow the general matchmaking queue to maintain at least a 30-40% All Pick representation, which should be more than enough for efficient group matchmaking. General Random Draft might suffer, but in exchange we would have a solo queue Random Draft with a significantly higher population than we have now, which should improve the match quality for dedicated RD players.
Most importantly, this would give highly rated solo players the means to avoid stack burnout. The question then remains, what does matchmaking do with the stacks who now have even less competition than before. My suggestion is to just let the matchmaker search for however long it needs to to find an actually even matchup, warn the stack that the queue might take a significant amount of time to process, point out that they would have a much shorter queue time in Team Matchmaking, and then automate team creation and switch them over to that queue. This would serve as a much needed boost the TMM population, and frankly, if your stack is at a +60% win rate in general, TMM is probably where you belong.
This is not to say that TMM doesn’t have issues right now, but the best way to address those issues is to get more players playing that mode and giving feedback on the problems they have with the mode and how they’d like to see it develop in the future.