Overwatch Mei fighting against Roadhog

While you're having fun in a massive shootout with eleven other people you probably won't even spare a single thought for the matchmaking system that made all of it possible, but its something that Blizzard has spent an absolutely insane amount of time with, and its still not perfect!

If you're wondering how complicated can it really be, and what are the pitfalls and challenges one needs to overcome before creating something that could be considered "good", I would recommend you check out the recently posted, and extremely detailed, explanation of the matchmaking system by Overwatch's Game Director Jeff Kaplan. I won't quote the entire thing since its absolutely massive, but I do want to bring attention to a couple of interesting quotes:

• A very common thing that happens is that a player will become dissatisfied with a match and say “I don’t care how long you make me wait. I’d rather wait 20 minutes and have a good match than get matchmade into a match like you just put me into.” What we’ve seen is that when the time crosses a certain threshold, players begin to complain about it taking too long to find a match. It sounds good… waiting for that perfect match. But when the reality of waiting too long comes down on most people, they end up vocalizing their discontent on the forums.

 If your expectation was that you were going to wait a really long time for an awesome match where you either 1) Won by a long shot or 2) Barely won… but still won nonetheless, your expectations for what the system can or should do are in the wrong place. We do not generate bots to take losses so you can win more than 50% of the time. Those are real people losing on the other end of every loss you take.

 In Overwatch, whether your MMR goes up or down is contingent on winning or losing. But there are a number of factors that determine how much that rating goes up or down. For example, what map you’re playing on and whether you were attacking or defending is factored in. We know the win rates on attack/defend on all of the maps and we normalize accordingly. Not all wins and losses are equal. We also look at your individual performance on each of the heroes you played during the match. Everyone has better and worse heroes and we have tons of data showing us what performance levels should be like on those heroes. We also look at your opponents and whether or not their matchmaking rating is higher or lower than yours.

• So while it is possible for a mismatch to result in a stomp, not every stomp is a mismatch. If every time a team dominates another team it is viewed as “the matchmaker is broken”, the problem we have is with perception and expectations. Look across all pro sports. Even matches happen every night. Stomps happen every night. It’s a reality of any competitive game. Does that make being on the receiving end sting any less – probably not.

 Many of those “silent” patches that go out during the week are adjustments to the system. For example, we recently realized that “Avoid this player” was wreaking havoc on matchmaking. One of the best Widowmaker players in the world complained to us about long queue times. We looked into it and found that hundreds of other players had avoided him (he’s a nice guy – they avoided him because they did not want to play against him, not because of misbehavior). The end result was that it took him an extremely long time to find a match. The worst part was, by the time he finally got a match, he had been waiting so long that the system had “opened up” to lower skill players. Now one of the best Widowmaker players was facing off against players at a lower skill level.

 We will always be working on our matchmaking system. We’re listening to feedback, we’re playing the game a ton ourselves and we’re looking at hard data to inform our decisions. The game is as much (if not more) art than it is science. We’ll keep working to make it better!

First of all, I have to say I'm absolutely baffled (and humbled) by the fact that Jeff Kaplan, the main guy behind Overwatch, took the time of his day to write down an entire essay on matchmaking entirely for the benefit of the community. While its a relatively small gesture in the grand scheme of things, it does bring me great hope that Overwatch will keep chugging along for many years to come, despite any issues or problems that might come along the tracks. As for the current matchmaking system, I can't say that its perfect given that it still seems to find a way for me to end up on teams where everyone sleeps next to a Hanzo poster at night, but its still good enough that I can't spend too long complaining about it.

What I will do, however, is highlight one of my favorite things with the current system  - the fact that it takes your performance into account when distributing rating. This has benefited me greatly in the past as I had managed to earn almost all of the medals during each of my "placement" rounds, yet still lose every single one. Under a standard system this would've doomed me to a week or two of absolutely horrendous matches as I slowly climbed my way out, but with Overwatch it was a surprisingly quick and extremely pleasant route towards what still feels like my "true" rating.

Here's to hoping the ranked matchmaking takes everything they've learned here and implements it in an even more precise fashion, because when it comes to competitive play nothing other than "perfection" will suffice.

Overwatch's Lucio and Reinhardt pushing a chokepoint