Waiting for More: Queues and Matchmaking

I’m welcoming Poliator back to the blog with another take on sPvP.


This past December, the queues and matchmaking systems changed substantially. Solo Arena and Team Arena, both with their own leaderboard, got replaced by Unranked Arena and Ranked Arena. And only Ranked Arena kept a leaderboard.

This change caused a large discussion within the Guild Wars 2 Community because in addition to the removal of Solo Arena, a debate about the new matchmaking, to include the PUGs versus Premade issue, took front and center.

How it was: Solo and Team Arena

Before December, there were two separate queues. Solo Arena was a queue composed exclusively of teams formed by solo players. In Team Arena you could queue alone or with up to five people premade.

Both queues had separate leaderboards, based on each players’ matchmaking Rating (MMR). Aside from the queueing difference, Solo Arena also had a larger map pool than Team Arena, a thing most Solo Arena players didn’t like*.

*There are only so many people that enjoy playing Skyhammer or Spirit Watch.

Both queues were “competitive” because there was a leaderboard for each one. This meant that the competitive player base was split into two queues and two leaderboards. Doing that on the same general mode (Conquest) isn’t a good thing, so Solo Arena was removed with the December patch change.

How it is: Unranked and Ranked Arena

The December patch replaced Solo and Team Arena with Unranked and Ranked Arena. One way to look at it is Solo Arena got removed and Team Arena got split into two new queues.

The matchmaking system got changed* in order to address the removal of Solo Arena. Rather than two separate MMRs, matchmaking works around individual MMR and an adjusted MMR to account for premade parties.

We also got a new Map Selection system. A player can vote for his/her favourite map among three random maps and the map gets selected on weighted average (a map with only one vote will still have a low chance of being picked).

*It still needs more improvements, though.

Pitfall of the New System: Matchmaking

The nature of both queues requires an extremely good matchmaking system in order to provide quality matches between Premades and Solos. Ideally, solo people should never be put against Premades of any size, though maybe a 2 man party would be okay.

Therefore, matchmaking has to take into account several things, such as:

  • Individual MMR
  • Team Average MMR
  • Premade size

If matchmaking fails to provide good matches, the overall quality of queues decreases because it is not fun to play.

Curbstomping tendency

This tendency for the most part doesn’t show up for average MMR players during prime time when most players queue up, since there are enough people for matchmaking to provide a quality match.

The problem lies more with high MMR players. During prime time, they have a harder time getting quality matches. As teams are put against each other depending on the Team Average MMR, high MMR players end up being put with lower skilled players.

*And during off-prime, this can happen to players who are above average.

This leads to curbstomping: a team dominates the enemy totally because of bad matchmaking. No one enjoys this. If matchmaking is poor, matches are horrible as a result.

Limitations of the Queue System

Population

sPvP doesn’t have a huge player base, especially when compared to other massively played games like League of Legends and DOTA 2.

Population is the driving factor for matchmaking, because the more who play the game, the more players (of varied MMR ranges) are queueing up at the same time. This leads to fewer curbstomp matches.

To take an example, look at League of Legends. At much higher MMR, there are long queue wait times (I’ve seen 40 minutes wait time watching a stream) in order to provide a quality match and avoid pairing with lower skill players. The matchmaking makes sure to have the right people queued up to make a match ready.

This isn’t the case in Guild Wars 2, which favors a faster match-up time over a quality match.

[Ed. Note: This is pretty much required due to the shorter match time of a Conquest match (around 10 minutes) compared to the average length of a non-curbstomp MOBA match (30-40 minutes). Waiting 30 minutes in queue for a 10 minute match will never sit well. Doing the same for a match of equal or longer length is more palatable.]

Voice Communication Advantage

Another problem, this time for any matchmaking, is external voice chat. It is a huge advantage to be constantly transmitting information to other players via voice instead of typing.

No matchmaking is able to detect if a premade team is using voice communication or not, as it is external to the game. This is a large advantage for those that use voice chat, ending up making otherwise even games into total blow-outs.

This is the core problem with premade teams vs. solo players. Voice communication is the only major thing that makes a premade team of any size superior to solo players. The constant flow of information tips the scale heavily in favor of the premade team.

A Difficult Problem to Solve

The matchmaking system won’t get a lot better until the sPvP playerbase grows. With today’s population, developers had to choose between either really long queues or poor quality matches. I’ll get to that in a bit, but what if there was a huge increase in population?

The Population Growth Problem

While population needs to grow in order to provide the best matchmaking possible at all hours, any major growth will bring about a short term problem intrinsic to every MMR algorithm: the initial MMR adjustment.

A big growth in the sPvP player base means that lots of new players, that don’t know how sPvP functions that well, are starting to play. The MMR algorithm gives new players an average MMR rating that will likely be higher than their actual MMR.

Matches played during times of high player income will decrease match quality, as the matchmaking places new players against other, experienced players of supposedly the same skill level.

We can see this issue to some extent during the event buff Call of the Mists: lots of people decide to try out sPvP, profiting off the bonuses this buff gives them.

This issue could be mitigated by lowering the initial MMR everyone is given the first time they enter a match (either Unranked or Ranked). They would be matched with lower-skilled players and have more enjoyable matches from the start.

In the end, it’s just a short term problem because some people will keep playing matches causing their MMR to adjust to their real level and others will leave. Moreover, as the population gets bigger, this issue will be less relevant since the larger playerbase will cause better matchmaking.

Competitive Fairness: The Leaderboard

With the currently limited matchmaking, it is almost impossible that every competitive match will be fair and balanced. Thus the new leaderboard was born: one based on points instead of MMR.

ArenaNet likely knew that matchmaking wouldn’t be perfect due to the limited sPvP population. While they might improve on the matchmaking algorithm and cause the game mode to grow, they didn’t want the existing problem to affect the competitive, ranked matches.

How the leaderboard works is explained by Justin O’Dell in this official blog post. In a nutshell, the points you get from a win or loss are determined by your winning odds (which is calculated according to both teams’ average MMR) and the amount of points your team scored by match end.

This means that even if you don’t get a fair and balanced match, you will still be rewarded for the effort you put into the game and the actual outcome of it. Even if you lose a match that you are highly unlikely to win, you will still be able to get points.

However, as long as the leaderboard rewards playing your best, regardless of outcome, it is not competitive at all. Instead, it becomes a grind as the more matches you play, the more points you will have. Under such a system, high placement in the leaderboards does not equate to high player skill.

Conclusion

The new queues brought with them some tweaks to the matchmaking system in order to provide good matches. But, for now, the system is not good enough to give consistent, fair and balanced matches due to specific problems and limitations, sPvP population being the foremost.

Even though the leaderboard ostensibly works in favour of everyone (if you are losing, you won’t get punished that hard if you played well enough), this doesn’t solve the real problem: people prefer fun, challenging matches.

Moreover, this leaderboard shows neither player skill nor a real evolution of the player. It’s as flawed as the old one was and it needs a lot of improvements to work as a good leaderboard should.

Time will tell if the population of sPvP will grow to support a strong, fair matchmaking system, and only then will it work as well as it could.

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