Overwatch 2 Competitive Matchmaking Is A Mess Right Now
A dedication to limiting toxic behavior has resulted in a messy and unrewarding competitive matchmaking system in Overwatch 2.
While the launch of Overwatch 2 was far from perfect, there's no denying the highly-anticipated follow-up successfully revitalized the multiplayer shooter for many players, myself included. With the release of Overwatch 2, Blizzard introduced a ton of changes to the competitive mode in an attempt to reduce toxicity in the community, and for the first season, it felt like the changes worked without causing too many problems. However, Season 2 of Overwatch 2 has shown cracks in the new systems, resulting in messy and lopsided matches.
The current state of Overwatch 2 competitive
The main issue with Overwatch 2 competitive matchmaking is that players are consistently getting matched with and against players far outside of their skill range. There are plenty of posts on the Overwatch 2 forums from people dealing with these issues, and I have personally had players with the "Master Challenger" title--which is awarded for finishing the game's previous season at the highest tier--appear in my Gold-tier lobbies (Overwatch 2 ranks go Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum, Diamond, Master, Grandmaster, and Top 500), both on my team and against me.
While I'm still getting close to Blizzard's intended 50% win rate in competitive matches, the majority of my matches in Season 2 have been blowouts, with many of the close matches only close because one player in the lobby is dragging their team down with significantly worse stats than the rest. It can be hard for players to identify when this happens, since Blizzard stopped displaying player ranks in match with Overwatch 2 and players' career profiles are set to private by default. When matchmaking works correctly, this is fine, but when players are matched against players out of their skill range, it results in more toxicity in chat with players frustrated during their matches.
A December 20 blog post from Blizzard exposed part of the problem with the system. The post detailed how MMR (matchmaking rating), an internal number that is used to put players into matches, operates independently of player ranks and isn't visible to players. When the new season started, instead of players having to do placement matches again, players were all dropped by a rank or two (I was low Platinum in all three roles and dropped into Silver at the start of Season 2).
Blizzard explained in the blog post that when this happened, players' MMRs did not change, meaning that even though players were dropped ranks, they were still getting matched against players the system deemed of equal skill. This means that, despite getting dropped into Silver, I'm still playing against the same players I was when I was Platinum the previous season. Blizzard explicitly stated, "We never use your outward facing skill tier or division to form matches," which begs the question, what's the point of having a visible rank that goes up and down based on wins and losses? One user on the Blizzard forum pointed out that if you don't play for the first few weeks of the season, your MMR will decay enough that you can abuse the system to ensure you're placed in easy matches.
The blog post also explained that in order to have teams of equal MMR, sometimes that means matching a high-skill player against a low-skill player in the same role, because it evens out the MMR. While the numbers might work in this situation, it's very difficult to win a match when there is a massive difference in skill between players in the same role, especially when it comes to Tanks, since there now is only one per team. Here's what Blizzard can do to help fix competitive matchmaking.
Transparency above all else
The first solution is to make MMR and visible rank the same number. It doesn't need to be tracked exactly the same--the game could still use the same ranking tiers--but that number should match the actual skill rating of the player. This removes the issue of players dealing with matches of the same difficulty in Silver as they did in Platinum, while still matching players of similar skill levels. This also makes moving ranks feel rewarding again, as struggling to climb back up to Platinum rank this season with harder matches than I dealt with the previous season has been frustrating, and no doubt other players are feeling similarly.
Blizzard should also make competitive ranks visible again in some fashion. The ranks could be hidden until the end of the match to help with toxicity, but as it currently stands, a portion of the community doesn't trust Overwatch 2 to actually match players of a similar skill level, so being able to see it would remove that issue and let players know that they are in a lobby of equivalent skill, even if they are losing badly. Right now, players start spamming chat, demanding to know what rank someone is if they aren't performing well. While the toxicity won't go away, it will remove the unnecessary secrecy.
Overwatch 2 also needs to get rid of the season-to-season rank decay and bring back placement matches for the start of each season. Getting placed slightly lower in rank than I ended the previous season would be less frustrating than just automatically dropping multiple ranks. While MMR and rank shouldn't be separate, in the current system, when your rank decays at the start of the season, you drop multiple tiers, but get placed in lobbies of similar difficulty since your MMR doesn't decay. This results in players struggling to rank up and make progress, since the now-Silver lobbies are just as difficult as the Platinum lobbies they played in the previous season, which can be frustrating, since moving up in rank is a rewarding part of the experience.
The final fix is one that Blizzard already said is coming. In the same blog post, Blizzard stated it's working on making it so each role (Tank, Support, Damage) are matched to players of equal skill. So even if Platinum-level Damage players get paired up with Silver-tier Tank players, it would be the same skill difference for both teams. Blizzard said it would be working on this over the next few months, but significant changes need to be made before Season 3 launches in February. As the community gets more frustrated with these issues, matches are becoming more toxic, which can drive away both old and new players.
While I understand Blizzard's attempts to lessen toxicity in the community by obscuring competitive ranks from players, the changes made to how competitive ranking and matchmaking works has negatively impacted my experience playing the game. As matches continue to be lopsided, with brand-new players forced to face off against former Diamond players, any toxicity that was extinguished by the new systems has returned in the form of frustrated players, who just want to face off against teams of similar skill.
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