Going over the link referrals during my absence, I noticed a pair of reddit posts complaining about Team Matchmaking. I’ve stated in the past that TMM ought to be the premier form of competitive matchmaking, but it’s also pretty clear to me that TMM as-is is not working, so let’s look at what’s going wrong and how these problems might be addressed.
The most obvious issue that comes up is that Dota’s Team Matchmaking doesn’t feel much like a ladder. Teams appear to receive an initial placement based on the combined rating of the individual players. As a result, the top of the ladder is full of teams that have barely played any games, and you encounter scenarios where the #8 ranked team on Dotabuff is 2-3 and the #514 ranked team is 180-29. And of course this is an entirely reasonable outcome for a ranking system, but on the player’s end it feels unfair and makes your ranking seem predetermined. How psyched can you get about a ladder where you can play 200 games at an 86% win rate and still be under hundreds of teams that are basically inactive?
My suspicion is that basic matchmaking “cheats” by attempting to predict a player’s placement in order to get them into appropriately ranked matches as soon as possible. This rarely becomes an issue because matchmaking is almost entirely opaque in that it never really reveals what it’s doing and why. TMM attempts to do something similar, but to do so it needs to do it in the open, and this undermines the ceremonial aspects to having a visible ladder in the first place. Essentially, team activity needs to play a more important role in raising a team’s rating, not because it makes the system more efficient (it probably does the opposite), but because it incentivizes activity itself, which is something TMM desperately needs right now.
With that being said, the much bigger problem with TMM is simply that not enough people play it, and just changing the ladder system won’t be enough to fix this. For this, my earnest suggestion is to start letting the battle points flow. I don’t claim to be an expert on the Dotaconomy, so I’m not going to make an estimate on how much extra BP the system can bare, but if the compendium can offer weeks of battle point boosts, then certainly the coffers can be opened a bit to encourage more team formation.
Specifically, what I’d like to see are a couple windows during the week that offer higher boosts and the first game played during these windows offers a large flat BP bonus on a weekly limit. It’s similar I suppose to World of Warcraft’s weekly dungeon quests, but for significantly different motivations.
First, by tying the biggest boost of the week by playing just a single game, you most effectively motivate the people least likely to play TMM on a regular basis. Casual groups that aren’t very organized might be motivated to TMM instead of just joining the regular queue just for the item boost, and individuals without a team can go to their preferred Dota chat during these windows knowing that teams missing a member might be looking for a 5th for that night.
Second, if the BP boost windows are on a regular basis, you greatly simplify the scheduling a group needs to do for TMM. Sure, it sucks for people who cannot make the scheduled windows, or for that matter the same windows as their teammates, but one of the biggest failure points for a group event is having weakly defined meeting times so that you never have the full team available. By limiting the options, you honestly make it easier for people to negotiate the option that works best for them, and you help them turn it into a regular event, which then becomes habit forming.
Third and finally, if all the teams are scheduling for the same group windows, the quality of matchmaking during these windows will be greatly improved. The big issue with TMM is that it’s never going to have as many players as regular matchmaking, and those players will be further divided by 5. This means that forming quality matches at any given point in the day will be much harder, and if a weaker team has trouble finding quality matches they’ll simply stop playing, which then makes it harder for the slightly less weaker teams to find quality matches. By encouraging teams to queue all at the same time, you sidestep these issues which will hopefully keep people playing this mode instead of going back to regular matchmaking.
In addition to BP boosts, what I’d also like to see is some relaxation on team size limits. In my experience in other leagues, the rule of thumb was that roster sizes needed to be double the required players in the game in order to minimize team no-shows. That might be excessive for TMM, since outright noshows aren’t an issue, but I’d still like to see team rosters expanded to 7 or 8 players. This will likely deteriorate the qualify of matchmaking some, but that deterioration should be offset by the benefit of having more active teams. Having some extra roster room would make team formation feel less set in stone. People could experiment more with who they invite to teams or which teams they join without feeling that a particular team will cease to exist if the same 5 people aren’t always around. In addition to this, teams could be given a stand-in slot, but that admittedly opens another can of worms that may end up being more trouble than it’s worth.
All of this is in addition to normal ladder things like regular resets and awards for the top x% of players, but I believe that these two changes would be good first steps in order to encourage more people to actually use TMM. It’s true that both will make it harder for the system to effectively matchmake teams, but let’s be honest, even a perfect matchmaker is going to create stomps, so the average player won’t be able to tell the difference. On top of that, there’s a clear tradeoff that exists between rules that optimize for matchmaking quality and rules that make the system appear more exciting or that simplify the social aspects of team formation. It’s entirely possible that a sub-optimal set of matchmaking rules for TMM might actually have the best matchmaking if they’re successful in driving more people to play TMM. After all, the best matchmaking in the world is useful if an acceptable matchup isn’t going to enter the queue in the next half hour. Any plan to improve TMM has to be focused around getting people to use the mode more, and it’s my opinion that targeted BP/item boosts and simplifying the social aspects are the two best tools available for accomplishing this.