Why Players Blame Skill-Based Matchmaking for Losing in Call of Duty

Two months ago, esports pro Seth "Scump" Abner logged into the Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War multiplayer alpha and found himself struggling. Not because of any major gameplay changes developer Treyarch had made, Cold War plays like any other Call of Duty from the past decade, but rather because of the players Abner was being put up against: They were all good.  

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/jgq5w8/why-players-blame-skill-based-matchmaking-for-losing-in-call-of-duty

Most of this anger is over pros wanting to pubstomp for the sake of viewership, though I do miss having some control over the intensity of the game depending on server choice. Occasionally going up against someone dramatically better than me was often more conducive to my self-improvement than constantly going against people right around my skill level to hit that 40-60% win rate.

The latter would sometimes cement my bad play habits, because what’s effective in your skill bracket might not be good enough against better players.


“I’m not trying to play Scuf wielding game fuel chugging demons with szn in their psn on Miami TDM.”

An esports pro saying this unironically about other players is just… mwah. And do the viewers realize that what benefits him probably doesn’t help them?

I do think an unranked v. ranked mode is good for everything. I really enjoyed being able to play Turf War in Splatoon without a number going up or down and then also having the option to “engage” in a ranked match. Smash is similar with ranked but also “arenas” where you can play without a number.

The anti-SBMM crowd is like 10% streamers who want to spit out 50+ killstreak clips, 60% scrubs who want something external to blame for their bad win rates, and then 30% people who just want shorter queue times. The latter 30% are the only ones with anything resembling a valid point.

But mostly I just wish we had dedicated servers back.


This just reminds me of people who defended the idea of smurfing as being good for the people they were stomping in CSGO. Which could be a valid point if it was something you could learn from instead of the other individual just having better reflexes and ability to control their shooting better.


Multiplayer gamers: “Sometimes I don’t want a challenge”

Single Player Games: “…”

Multiplayer gamers: “Not like that”

This isn’t the main point of discussion here but —

This all sounds reasonable, were it not for the fact that skill-based matchmaking has been in every major multiplayer shooter since Halo 2.

I’m kinda curious about how the writer chose to define “major multiplayer shooter” here — because Team Fortress 2 did not have skill-based matchmaking until 9 years after its release. It has it now, due to a big update, but the framing there feels a little disingenuous. From 2007-2016, TF2 was all dedicated servers that you could move into or out of at will, or a quickplay queue that put you into open spots in whatever map you wanted. The game would balance uneven teams in each match, so occasionally a player would randomly swap teams if they became unbalanced numbers-wise. But there was no skill-based balancing… and it was fine? Good? Great, even?

Like, I haven’t played it since it switched to skill-based matchmaking in both its casual/competitive modes, mainly because losing the ability to join/leave servers at will turned it from the casual, relaxing experience I’d gravitated towards for 400-odd hours to something that felt a lot more intense. It basically felt just like Overwatch did (good comparison because it was released at almost the exact same time), with a constant level of intensity needed to maintain some invisible spot in a ladder on even the most casual mode.

I get that that’s not the point here, and I’m not sympathetic towards gamers that just wanna pubstomp all day because being on the other end of a pubstomp isn’t fun… but idk, I do think the presence or absence of SBMM does dramatically change the feel of a game, primarily because if people know they’re on a ladder, their attitude towards winning and losing is going to change. And as someone who really misses how casual and goofy and chilled out pre-MYM TF2 was, as well as the freedom it gave you to just leave and go somewhere else if the experience wasn’t what you wanted, I just kinda wish there were something like it out there somewhere. And the prevalence of SBMM is a real reason why there isn’t.


Chris Franklin did a video about this way back when Overwatch came out, and it’s unfortunately prescient to where we are now, with every multiplayer game using centralized matchmaking that enforces a specific—often highly competitive with no room for goofing off—vision for the intended experience.

It remains to be seen if a game with a servers-as-social-hubs format could thrive today (since in Valve’s view, I guess TF2 doesn’t make enough money to justify giving a dedicated full-time development team), but it’s worth going back to and trying, at least.


This is true, but I think it’s way less of an issue than the difference between dedicated servers and matchmaking. I think any matchmade system, even if it supposedly doesn’t have SBMM, is always going to feel worse and more “intense” than picking something out of a server browser. The weirdest, most emergently-fun moments of stuff like QWTF/TF2 were those times when you had like two players per team on an 8v8 map or whatever, which literally does not happen any more because matchmaking systems would prefer you stare at an estimated wait timer that’s literally always wrong than start a round with anything less than a full team.