Explaining the latest matchmaking updates from the designers of Overwatch 2.
Overwatch 2 is a widely popular game that has been out for quite a while now. Since its release in early October last year, Blizzard's developers have been hard at work to refine its gameplay. Simultaneously, the showrunners release new and exciting content every season to make things feel fresh and unique.
Blizzard's flagship shooter RPG has been live for over half a year now, and plenty of fans have noticed that a huge component to the Overwatch 2 experience still hasn't been optimized: the matchmaking system.
Senior Software Engineer Morgan Maddren and Lead Meta Designer Scott Mercer explore the Matchmaking changes implemented in Season 3, what we’ve learned, and our approach to further improve the system.
— Overwatch (@PlayOverwatch) April 20, 2023
If you've ever felt like your games felt lopsided or you were matched unfairly with lower/higher-tiered players, then you've had troubles with Overwatch 2's matchmaking. To give you more context, let's define some of the terms you'll need to know before discussing the problem at hand.
The Matchmaking Rank (MMR) is an internal number that determines a player's overall skill level. Your MMR is entirely different from your Seasonal Rank (SR), which places you at your appropriate competitive skill tier. Unlike your Seasonal Rank, MMR can see a gradual decline if a player hasn't been active in-game for a long time. Furthermore, your rating also shifts depending on how good/bad you are compared to the rest of the playerbase. Knowing that, it's also important to note that population can greatly vary, since plenty of people go back to playing the Overwatch 2 at the start of a new season.
The developers refer to the differences in data between changes as a “delta”. This term is used multiple times in Overwatch 2's developer blogs and matchmaking updates.
In the unfortunate case when the matchmaker messes up, a game will often see another team on the losing end. This is called a “stomp”, and it is when another team experiences a lopsided battle due to a felt skill imbalance between the teams.
Back in December 2022, changes were rolled out to help new and returning players reach and maintain a 50% winrate by tracking their moving average win rate. Long story short, fresh players were placed in a lower MMR tier (similar to Bronze 5) to help them win more matches. When the system saw their win rate go higher than 50%, it would increase their MMR to match them with better opponents. This in turn would control gameplay experience in a way where the match-ups never felt skewed.
As effective as it was on paper, the feeling of every game being a coin toss still dissatisfied the playerbase, so the developers thought to try something new. At the start of Season 3, a huge matchmaking update was introduced to Overwatch 2. Focusing less on the overall team MMR, the next big change to the matchmaker focused on pairing opposing roles by their skill rating. This meant that the Tanks had to be near each other's MMR, and the same went with Damage and Support heroes.
As expected, this large-scale experiment on the algorithm lessened the gap/delta between opposing players in the same role. According to their data, skill-tier disparity is on the downward trend for Tanks. On top of that, the Season 3 changes also improved queue times for the Damage role.
To provide more context to the graph, the term “95 percentile” refers to players whose skill level is better than 95% of all other players. That being said, Top 500 players would experience more waiting time in queues because of their smaller population, even longer if they grouped up in a party.
More Factors to Consider
In their last matchmaker update, the developers communicated some of their future goals to improve the Overwatch 2 experience. These specific improvements will take time, which means Overwatch 2's matchmaking definitely won't feel “fixed” anytime soon. The good news is that future updates will be gradually introduced to avoid disrupting the gaming space too abruptly.
First of these objectives is to narrow the MMR range in formed parties. This makes it so skill levels are even closer to better the odds of a fair fight. Secondly, Senior Software Engineer Morgan Maddren as well as Lead Meta Designer Scott Mercer will lead the effort to focus on faster MMR calibration for new/returning players. The makes the matchmaker more confident where to place them, which should result in more satisfying games. Lastly, the Overwatch 2 team will work on finding factors to accurately predict stomps in otherwise well-calibrated match-ups. “Those measures are really important for long-term improvements because it gives us much more precise signals to look at when assessing new changes,” the engineer remarked.
With more and more reports of match imbalance, the Overwatch 2 team are evaluating past changes and experimenting with new factors to continually improve the game. Looking at the data, it's obvious that fixing the queues will lead to more players staying in game. This would lessen the number of returning players every season start, which would largely impact overall MMR. One must hold reservations about Blizzard's strategy and how many more details they're adding to the mix however. Other than that, the level of communication and progress reports can be seen as a good thing. Setting new challenges for the developers will hopefully lead to better match quality, while also lessening waiting times across the board.