Being Stuck In ELO Hell Is The Worst

Image: Blizzard

Tegan and I have been mainlining competitive Overwatch once more, and it's been a blast. One small problem: we're stuck in ELO hell right now, and it's the absolute worst.

"ELO Hell" doesn't have a proper definition, but the general understanding is that it's a situation where the matchmaking algorithm places you in matches with teammates that are either below your level, or continually playing so poorly that it results you in losing games.

Before I go much further, it has to be acknowledged that for the most part, ELO hell is really a form of self-deception. It's the kind of thing that people often quote because they think they should be ranked much higher than they are, an excuse people use to deflect blame from themselves.

And when you combine the fact that people naturally tend to concentrate on the negative, instead of the positive, it's an easy out.

That said, Overwatch has made some structural changes over the seasons that don't help. When the fifth competitive Overwatch season kicked off, Blizzard's Scott Mercer confirmed to Cecilia that SR ratings were artificially lowered to help create a better experience:

"We do that to give you a sense that you are improving over time," Mercer explained. I asked him whether that's not unlike gambling - the feeling of minimising losses instead of maximising gains, all with the desperate hope for winnings. He replied, "Certainly we're not trying to get [players] to gamble on more games. We want to create a positive experience as they play."

Mercer understands that it can feel bad to see a low ranking after grinding out placement matches. He says it was a compromise: "A lot of game designers make trade-offs between varying goals that sometimes work at opposites. This is one where we made the decision to lower you initially so, as you play, you have a more positive experience."

When the fifth season kicked off, a 200 drop off in SR was a fairly common number, something that was reflected in my own figures.

But then - and this is where things get a little hairy - I stopped playing Overwatch on PC. Tegan was more comfortable with the controller, and so we spent the next couple of seasons hitting up the competitive mode on PS4. Our ratings there were around the 1800-1900 mark. That's fine, but it was well below the 2800 mark I'd hit on PC.

Team Zarya all the way.

But take a break (on PC, anyway) for a few seasons, however, and the impact is gargantuan:


Over 1300 points? That's savage. The last time my rating got hammered that badly was in CS:GO, although that's understandable given I hadn't played a ranked game in two years.

As you can see above, I've mainlined a lot more competitive mode this season, helped by the fact that Tegan's account is eligible. She's a couple of hundred SR below me, which drops our group rating a tad, to the point where we've been thrown in games where our team's overall SR is below 1000.

And let me tell you, some crazy shit happens in sub-1000 SR Overwatch.

Another factor amongst all this is that I can see that I've improved a little, at least going off my averages on time on the objective, eliminations, final blows, hero damage, solo kills, and even healing.

Some of it is partially explained by a switch of heroes: I'm playing more Soldier 76 and Moira, the latter of which is so good that it's not difficult to have the most damage, eliminations and healing every game. But for the most part, it's just practice. The more you play, the better you get.

Unless you're in competitive mode.

Fuck this bloke.

While there's been games where I've quite clearly failed to hit a shot, died too much or simply been countered too effectively, there's also just been some truly infuriating shit:

  • I don't care if you're a group, don't pocket heal Widowmaker 24/7.
  • Tanks that tend to favour surviving above all other objectives, including shielding and/or protecting their supports from enemy fire.
  • Ever lost your shit at a Mei who walls enemies off just before you kill them and spends more time flanking than defending/pushing the payload? You should see what happens in the bottomless well of Bronze league.
  • I understand how everyone has their favourite heroes and styles that favour them, but Overwatch is not Call of Duty.
  • Do you like overtimes? We had one match on Junkertown that went into seven overtimes - around half an hour of playtime - because two people on the opposite team continued to throw whenever they were defending. The end result was a cakewalk whenever we had to escort the payload, and an absolute spanking courtesy of a Mercy/Pharah pair whenever we tried to defend. The match eventually came to a halt because two players on our team lost heart and didn't want to play for another half hour, although it was nice to see the round scores hit double digits.
  • Stand. On. The. Payload.

That said, ELO hell is as much of a delusion as it is reality. Everyone has a part to play in a team's loss, and the biggest influence in your personal ranking is always you. But having been rated so much higher, only to be cast into the pit of selfishness and bizarre team play that is bronze league, it's hard not to shake your fist at the invisible hand of the Overwatch algorithm.

Curse you, Overwatch. I will escape this seventh circle of hell, if it's the last thing I do.


    Honestly, I don't think ELO hell is a myth. The idea that it is a myth is perpetuated by high level players who are so good that they can rocket up and down the rankings on a whim. But truthfully, if you are only a mediocre-to-above-average player, you simply may not be able to carry your whole team. You may be competant to win a game with a functional team, but lack the skill to compensate for your teammates inherent bleh-ness. This is especially true of support mains, and to a lesser extent defensive-tanks. The best support in the world will always be limited by their DPS.
    High level players will always dispel the ELO hell myth by playing DPS heavy characters, who have the impact to turn the game around severely. But just because you can't carry 5 rudderless muppets who refuse to get in team-speak to victory doesn't mean you're a bad player.

      I've partly started playing Soldier more for this reason. I figure if I'm ranked higher as far as the game's algorithm is concerned, I should try and have the biggest impact possible on the match - and either keeping everyone alive or taking others out of the game as much as possible makes sense. That doesn't discount the value of say, a good tank, but if you're continually making the game a 6v5 match up in your favour, odds are you should win.

      That's the plan, anyway, even if it doesn't always come off.

        There is no such thing as ELO hell. Once you accept this and try to improve as a player you'll climb. Then again I don't know how easy it is to 1v9 in Overwatch because its a terrible game. It's easy in Dota 2 though.

          There *is* such a thing as ELO Hell.

          As for improving as a player and you'll climb, that's a fallacy when you realise the fact that your SR isn't wholly and solely yours.

          It's not only dependent on your performance but those of your teammates as well (and, to a lesser extent, the performance of the opposing team).

          You can play the game of your life, but if your teammates don't pull their weight then you'll lose and drop in SR.

          Blizzard really should make it so that it compares your performance in a match against the average of other players around your SR playing the hero(es) you played. Then, irrespective of whether the match is a win or loss, if you performed better than the average your SR goes up (more if your team won), and if you performed worse than the average your SR goes down (more if your team lost).

            LOL. How was I able to gain 800MMR in Dota 2 and climb out of the 3k "trench" then?

            By sucking it up and realizing that guess what? I am the only common denominator in every game. Sure, some games are unwinnable. But if you aren't able to play 1v9 or if you have a 50% winrate then you are exactly where you deserve to be.

            "WAHHH ITS MY TEAM MATES FAULT". Also - Overwatch is a shit game.

              DOTA 2 and Overwatch are 2 completely different games.

              Also, your attitude is a shit attitude.

                He's kind of right though, dude.

                Let's say, 20% of your games are unwinnable. Your team are complete muppets, no teamwork at all, and you're playing against a well-oiled unit of professional pubstompers. No matter what you do, that game is in the bin. Conversely, 20% of games are unloseable. You have the smurfing Genji on your team that is single-handedly bottling up the enemy team in their spawn zone and you can just AFK on top of the payload and take the win. The remaining 60% - that's on you. You play well and elevate your team, and you can squeeze out the victory. If you dick around, you lose. And, if you're below where you should be in terms of ELO, you'll tend to win more of those games than you lose, and you'll climb the ladder.

                Another way of looking at it - There's potentially 6 muppets on the other team, but if you aren't a muppet there can only be a maximum of 5 muppets on yours. Over time, you'll win more than you lose.

        I remember the grind in Halo 3. I played so much and could only reach rank 35 in the Team Slayer game mode. Eventually, I stopped and just moved over to the social playlist and played Big Team Battle instead. Sure, it was just the social playlist. But, my mood improved, my play style improved, I was having fun and that's what mattered to me.

      You are spot on. ELO hell is real!! 3 season ago I decided to test the theory by only playing DPS (mainly Tracer and Soldier) and was able to climb out of my normal Mid Plat with ease. I hated every moment of it. You are flamed every time you lose so I now just play support/flex.

      Could not agree more. I've just come out the tail end of a huge "ELO hell" (didn't know this was a term, still don't know what it really means :P) stint in Splatoon, and every syllable of this matches my experience (and disillusionment with the matchmaking/ranking system) perfectly.

    ELO hell doesn't account for the times you got carried to boost your rank above where you belong

    oh crap... you dropped 1300 SR? damn.. I'm afraid to get back into competitive now. i took a break for 3 seasons. i left at 2600 SR

    Last edited 27/03/18 1:18 pm

      Stopped on one of my accounts in season 4 and resumed in season 8. (For reference I have 2 accounts and my second account has stayed steady around 4000). Left off season 4 at 3200ish and after placements I ended up at 3600 ish. So don’t fear. Placements mean nothing and your rank score is not indicative of your skill level at all. I have seen bronze players with more skill than some players in GM.

    ELO? After all that what does it stand for?

      i don't think its an acronym.. its just a coined word

        It's not a coined word. It's the name of the person who invented the chess rating system Arpad Elo.

        Only the first letter should be capitalised, and never written as ELO.

          Ah well. i got half of my statement right.. it’s not an acronym..

    Electric Light Orchestra. 70s-80s music at it's finest!

      Well see that's what I was thinking and wondering how could that be hell?

        They only play the Bieber remixes...

        After a while the string section accompanying everything you do might get annoying I guess?

      I scrolled through the comments just to see if someone beat me to the punch.

    Why are you using the word "mainline"? It's not a real word, and the actual urban meaning of it is injecting drugs... Seems inappropriate lol

    But yes, Overwatch makes annoying matches. I'm currently losing pretty consistently - but at the same time also getting ranked as the best member of the team consistently, so...either the game thinks I'm much better than I actually am, and is putting me with worse players to compensate, or it's just doing it randomly.

    Last edited 27/03/18 2:37 pm

    I don't think I'm ever going to try competitive. People take it so seriously, I'm having plenty of fun just playing casual and arcade modes.

      It's a different kind of fun, like making fun of those people that take it too seriously - or how they yell at anyone not conforming to 'their' ideal team build or play style.

      (Youtube's Dunkey has some good example of this in his OW vids)

    I've played a lot of competitive on PS4 and now PC.

    When you drop below certain levels it can seem way harder to get back up. How well you play and how well you understand teamwork translate less and less to wins the further down you drop. It becomes way less predictable. Much harder to get a consistent run or to get wins equivalent to your potential. So you can get stuck for a while. It's disheartening. Then the unpredictability turns back in your favour and you crawl back up to where you feel you belong.

    When I am at gold or plat I feel like I am at my level and want to push hard for diamond - which I never quite managed to get. And I feel like the moves back and forth are incremental. Every game is a knife edge. If I play very well and with teamwork, it goes up.

    When I get stuck at silver/bronze I feel like I can drop or gain rank like mad and it doesn't necessarily bear much relation to how I am playing. I can be a Rein with 4 gold medals sticking to the cart and my team is running around ignoring the objective and dying a lot and we lose.

    The system is inherently flawed because it's very hard to "place" you in the correct bracket the first time. There just isn't enough data.

    The problem thereafter being that the pool of players you play against determines your rating gains/losses.

    If you're approaching the higher echelons of your skill rating bracket and are a finding that you're the highest rated player in the game then you're not going to gain much SR if you win and risk losing a lot of SR if you lose.

    That's essentially ELO hell, you can very quickly be placed under your bracket and then have to play hundreds of games to climb out because you don't have the chance to make the large SR gains by playing with higher SR players.

    The problem is honestly that you're taking a forced gamble with your SR every time you play because your teammates/opponents are essentially randomised. And given that the teams are balanced based on skill rating the theoretical win rate is going to be 50%. So the question is now, how many coin flips is it gonna take to get where you want?

    I think it'd help if you could choose to compete in a higher bracket every now and then. For example let a 1900 SR player play in the 2000-2500 bracket for 3 games a day or something. Gives them a chance to climb away from their current bracket.

    I feel that Overwatch league is partly to blame.

    You get a two stack trying to convince your team to try this strat they saw in an OWL match and it never works. Cue toxic screeching. Maybe it doesn't work because we have had only 30 seconds to hear about this new strat and also we are not all in voice chat/care about this unknown strat to think we can pull it off effectively?

    Oh ok, we have 5 dps now and no healer.

      It doesn't work because we're not professional players.

      Too many people watching OWL and thinking they can exactly replicate how the pro's play.

    Part of the reason is in Overwatch it's so much easier for one person to lose you a game (deliberately or not) than it is for someone to carry the team and skill rating gain is predominantly based on whether you win or lose. The worst player on the winning team is always going to gain a lot more points than the best player on the losing team.

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