No, you can’t outsmart Call Of Duty’s skill-based matchmaking by restarting it, Activision reveal

I’ve always been convinced there’s a way to speed up a multiplayer matchmaking system that’s appeared to stall. Back in the Xbox 360 era, my friends and I held the X button one time and miraculously found a game in Gears Of War, having waited for ages. We grew superstitious. Later in our Call Of Duty sessions we’d hit matchmaking with reverse psychological techniques, saying stuff like “I bet we WON’T find a match”, to in fact, find a match. Well, thanks to an official COD blog post, my heady beliefs have been hit with the equivalent of a precision air strike. Matchmaking cannot be gamed. It is all-seeing and all, sadly, science.

In Call Of Duty’s latest blog post, the devs lay out how queueing for a multiplayer game (matchmaking) works in surprisingly candid detail. Two paragraphs dissolved my longheld beliefs in seconds, as they tackled how players “recycle the process” of matchmaking by cancelling out of it, then “restarting it, or even quitting”. Apparently, it doesn’t quicken the process and can “even be detrimental”.

A screenshot from Call Of Duty Modern Warfare 2's Shipment map trailer showing a soldier pointing two revolvers while an explosion goes off behind them
Image credit: Activision

“In the popular Modern Warfare III “Rustment” playlist (consisting of Rust and Shipment in rotation) – players often leave lobbies and/or matches early on, hoping to requeue into Shipment instead”, the blog post says. “This creates a vacant spot on a team during an early stage of the match. As the matchmaking process may prioritise backfilling that spot, this could result in players perceiving that Rust is disproportionately selected over Shipment. TL;DR – trying to cherry-pick maps may have an unexpected result.”

I appreciate the honesty, but I’ve always had a certain fondness for “recycling” the matchmaking queue, as the COD devs put it. I swear, though, that sometimes the queue genuinely can get stuck! I’ve been in games, COD or otherwise, where matchmaking does bork itself and finds nothing. A quick reset can often fix things, so what I’d like to know is how a matchmaking system can get itself tangled up. Maybe it’s too complicated for lay people like me, but since the question is going unanswered, it does provide a lifeline for my false beliefs to cling to.

Elsewhere, the devs move onto a defence of their skill-based matchmaking. “Our data on player outcomes clearly indicates that the inclusion of skill in Call of Duty’s Multiplayer matchmaking process (as it currently stands) increases the variety of outcomes experienced by players of all skill levels. In other words, all players (regardless of skill level) are more likely to experience wins and losses more proportionately.”

The devs go onto say that when lower skill players are “consistently on the losing end, they are likely to quite matches in progress or stop playing altogether”. What this means then, is muddying of the pool, making everyone’s wait times compound and creating a “spiral effect”. When only high-skilled players exist because “lower skilled players have quit out of frustration, the result is an ecosystem that is worse for everyone”.

Aiming at an enemy on Rust during MW3's beta.
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Activision

There’s been a lot of discourse over the years on social media or otherwise about skill-based matchmaking. Often it stems from high skill players who whine about how it’s annoying they get placed in “sweaty” lobbies. They want variety! They want to mince lower skilled players for fun! I get it, in the sense that good players may seek sessions where they kick back and rinse people. They will say that ranked matchmaking is the place for sweaty lobbies, and casual for everything else.

But I think the skill-based matchmaking haters forget that others would like to have fun, too. As outlined by the blog post, skill-based matchmaking at least ensures an ecosystem where players of all abilities are given somewhat of a fair shake, even if it’s imperfect. A wild west saloon of a matchmaking algorithm would likely cause player retention to tumble.

And in a final set of Q&A-style points, the devs answer: “Have you ever tested removing skill as a consideration from matchmaking?”. The response? “To date, the data remains consistent with what we detailed above”, which is basically the devs’ way of saying, “Suck it up lads, the numbers don’t lie”.

As for other COD news, footage of a cancelled “futuristic” Call Of Duty by Guitar Hero devs was leaked the other day. I would bet a lot of money that it, too, had skill-based matchmaking.

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