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.