Last week, Overwatch's third competitive season kicked off. Approximately five nanoseconds later, forums flooded with everything from furtive questions to irate rants about placement.
The short version is, some people didn't feel like their initial ranks corresponded with their performance in placement matches or their ranking tier last season or, well... anything. Some high-tier players found themselves jumping from Diamond to Master, or Master to Grandmaster — hard to complain about that — but some Gold and Silver players plummeted to Bronze. Regardless, the central complaint was the same: people couldn't figure out why their rank was so different from last season, and they got worried about the implications (rank decides the skill level of people you come up against, after all).
Ever since the season began, this has been THE big discussion topic in many corners of the Overwatch community. It's all over the game's official forums, as well as YouTube and Twitter. Here's the thing, though: Blizzard actually explained what's going on a while back. They said what was gonna happen and why when they first announced season three back in October:
"Another area of Competitive Play we're trying to improve for Season 2 is how we distribute everybody into their Skill Tiers (Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum, etc.) based on their SR. When Season 2 started, we had WAY more players in Gold and Platinum than we initially intended, and way fewer in Bronze and Silver. This was the result of how we calculated your initial SR for Season 2. We tried to partially reset player SR at the start of Season 2, but the results were not as we expected. Instead, below-average players started Season 2 at a higher SR than they should have been given their performance in Season 1. This meant that as they played in Season 2, their SR would often drop to a lower value, which didn't feel great. It also meant that there was a much wider variation of skill in the Gold and Platinum tiers than we wanted. This is something we want to avoid in Season 3."
"As a result, we're testing a different way of determining your starting SR for Season 3 on the PTR. We're leaning more towards trying to keep things fair rather than giving everyone a fresh start. We're also going to initially tune your SR to be slightly lower to start. In turn, fewer players should start the season having their Skill Rating drastically drop despite having close to even wins and losses."
The end result, Blizzard said, is that some players won't start season three in their season two tier, but that Skill Rating gains will be greater. That's exactly what's happening right now.
Thing is, Blizzard made these changes in hopes of making Overwatch's competitive mode feel more fair. However, right now it seems to be having the opposite effect. But this is Blizzard's attempt at laying down a new bedrock for current and future seasons alike. Hopefully, this kind of initial shake-up will never need to happen again, now that people are more distributed throughout tiers. It's all jarring right now, but the underlying system will hopefully, in the long run, be more fair and less frustrating. Fingers crossed, anyway.