Overwatch, Matchmaking, and You

Published: June 27, 2016 11:30 AM /



Since Blizzard Entertainment released Overwatch a little over a month ago, the team behind them has been working diligently on new tweaks and features based on feedback provided by the community. Where a lot of developers stay silent while they are developing post-release content for their games, Jeff Kaplan and his team are anything but. He recently already went on record detailing the content that's currently in the pipeline, and now he has talked about the game's matchmaking systems in a response to a player on the official Overwatch forums. 

With the upcoming release of the competitive mode, knowing how the game sets up matches becomes all the more important. Here's how the matchmaking works: 

At a most basic level, the matchmaker is trying to put you with 11 other people. But it doesn’t just randomly select 11 people. It takes into account a number of factors (more than I am going to list and not necessarily prioritized).

The first one of these factors is time. The system tries to find you a match as fast as it can, while working within set parameters. The longer you have to wait, the more dissatisfied you will become because you want to play instead of waiting. 

So waiting a really long time to lose by a long shot is obviously not good. But waiting a really long time to barely lose is also a negative experience. And if we assume that your chances of winning are 50%, that means that even waiting a really long time for a “better” match means that you’re going to wait a really long time to probably lose half the time.

The second factor is your ping. The system prefers to match players on a server that is as close to you as possible. This ensures minimal latency and allows you to be as competitive as you can be. Earlier stress test favored skill and time as parameters for matching players, but that system got a major backlash from the community since the game's performance was less than optimal when not factoring in ping as much as they should have. By favoring ping they ensure that you always have the optimal connection speed needed to perform well in the game. 

Some players live in challenging parts of the world when it comes to high speed data connections (I’m looking at you, Andes mountain range…) so it’s not perfect for everyone. But largely, most people get a really decent connection to our game servers. Matching players with wildly disparate pings also results in a higher frequency of undesirable side effects such as “getting shot behind walls”. Of course if you live in Houston, Texas and group with your buddy in Geneva, Switzerland, you’re now introducing uncertainty to our system that’s harder for us to deal with… but we allow it.

Players grouping up are also taken into account when matching players together. Kaplan found that most of the matches are either played by solo players, or a small group of friends in a group with other solo players. The way the matchmaking deals with the resulting imbalance is by grouping groups of players with teams who have the same amount of grouped players in them. 

For most group matches a group of 6 is placed against another group of 6.

Grouping up with friends usually means that there's a difference in skill between you and your friends. Because of this, you may end up being grouped with a group of players who are better than you are, or at the very least are better than some of the people in your party. This is an imperfection that is very hard to patch out of the system, but Blizzard allows players to group up with whomever they please despite this because it's simply more fun to play with your friends than it is when you get matched with random people. 

Then there's the Match Making Rating, or MMR for short, which is a rating that attempts to score your progression so it can easily match you with other players who have an MMR that's the same or close to yours. This rating goes up or down depending on your performance in the game, and how much your rating goes up or down is dependent on several other factors.

 The system also takes into account the map you've played on, or whether you were on the attacking or the defending team. The system also takes into account your personal performance over the course of a match. They do this by comparing your performance with the heroes you've played as with their performance data on what the performance with those heroes should be.  

At no point in MMR calculations do we look at your win/loss ratio and win/loss ratio is never used to determine who to match you with or against. We are not trying to drive your win/loss percentage toward a certain number (although the fact that so many people are at 50% win rates makes us extremely happy). All the system does when it comes to matching on skill is attempt to match you with people of a similar number.

This system isn't perfect either, and some actions players undertake can make it harder for the matchmaking system to accurately match you against other players. Things like leaving the match add noise to the system. The fact that the system can't predict which heroes you play as before a match, grouped up players with varying levels of skill and ping, and problems of a more technical nature like your internet bugging out or your mouse being out of batteries also make it harder for the MMR system to match you against players on your skill level. 

Kaplan also talked about his personal point of view on Overwatch. He says that the team designed the game to be played as a team where ignoring objectives is not an option someone who likes to win should consider. Due to this, the system they devised does not look at your K/D ratio exclusively when determining skill level but looks more at the overall performance you've had during a match. The focus lies on winning or losing the matches, not on how many heroes you've managed to kill during any given match.

We are constantly improving the matchmaker. We learn more each day. We have one of our best engineers and best designers full time dedicated to the system. Many of those “silent” patches that go out during the week are adjustments to the system.

A named example is the removal of the 'Avoid This Player' feature that gave players the option of not being matched with specific people of their choosing. This was a result of one of the best Widowmaker players complaining that his queue times were way too long. Due to his fantastic performance with the sniper, hundreds of players have added him to the avoid list.

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. As a result, we’ve disabled the Avoid system (the UI will go away in an upcoming patch). The system was designed with the best intent. But the results were pretty disastrous.

Kaplan and his team are showing a willingness to listen to their community and act accordingly. With all the new stuff in development right now having the potential to shake up the meta, they have launched a Public Test Region where players can test out new features, such as competitive play, before they are deployed to the live servers. This server is open to anyone who wants to try it and can be found here. They are also nerfing Torbjörn’s turrets on consoles due to the auto-aim turret being way too efficient there. 

Since its release, Overwatch managed to attract over 10 million players to the hero shooter. 

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Chris Anderson
| Staff Writer

I've been playing games since I was just barely able to walk so I might as well write about them.