Overwatch's Placement Matches Are Just Telling Us What We Know

It's placement time in Overwatch and, as you're reading this, players are haunting the servers like cursed ghosts forever bound to relive their past lives. After 10 seasons of this, players have noticed an unnerving and demoralising truth: A lot of the time, players' competitive rankings turn out to be basically whatever they were last season.

Yesterday, Overwatch's latest competitive season started, giving players a chance to reset their ranking for competitive mode. These three hours of placement matches are like a HSC you have to take every season, except, you know, with video games.

After grabbing our two or three most competent friends, Overwatch players subject themselves to 10 high-stress, apparently high-stakes games before Overwatch sorts them into player categories: Bronze, silver, gold, platinum, diamond, master, grandmaster and top 500, roughly translated as bad, fine, good, pretty good, holy shit, holy fucking shit and god.

These categories are Overwatch's version of castes. To serious players, it's a determiner of respect, like how much money you make or what kind of car you drive. And the gateway to that kind of respect is Overwatch's much-derided placement system.

I've completed Overwatch's competitive placement matches eight times. I've gone 9-1, 1-9 and 5-5, in no particular order, and every time, as the ranking ticker's number climbs after my 10 adrenaline-pumping judgement matches - and as I nervously anticipate getting cast down into the hell tier - I place just about where I ended up in the last season. Whew.

But also, hold on: Why does Overwatch keep putting me through this?

Under an /r/Overwatch thread titled "Placement matches are just 10 matches that you play without being able to see your rank", dozens of players described their experiences receiving last season's rank after this season's gruelling placement matches.

"I did fuck all in my placement matches (rusty, not throwing) and lost 8/10. Places 50 sr [skill ranking] lower than my end SR from last season," wrote one.

"I went 0/10 in my placement matches last week in season 9. I got 2820 SR, which is +-10 points from my previous SR," said another. (Bronze is 1500 and below, silver is 1500-1999, gold is 2000-2499, platinum is 2500-2999, and so on.)

Frustrated by their low-impact placement matches, a lot of players have opted to purchase the game again and open up a fresh account so the now-unbiased Overwatch oracle can determine their truest, and ideally, highest rank. Players report higher placement rankings on alternate accounts.

How can Overwatch assess the same player's skill differently on two accounts? Skill rating - a player's rank - is reset every season. An invisible, similar stat called match-making (MMR) rating is not.

MMR is Blizzard's internal calculation of who it is fair to match you against while skill rating (SR) rises and falls as you win games and do well in them. MMR is therefore a firmer judgement of skill - although increasing your MMR relies on the success of players you're teamed up with, too.

So even when it feels as though players enter a fresh season with a blank slate, that just isn't the case. MMR is why someone can win 100 per cent of her placement matches but still languish in the lowest tier. Yet, all this doesn't account for why players' newly-calculated skill rating (SR) can be so damn similar to their last season's.

While publisher Blizzard did not provide comment for this article, Overwatch game director Jeff Kaplan said something last August that could help answer this persistent question. In the upper echelons of ranks, players' SR slowly declines if it isn't kept up. Kaplan explained that, "at the high levels of play, skill rating decay is kind of required because it prevents a lot of undesired behaviours we see".

Kaplan's probably talking about a few things here: Players who hit some god-tier ranking and let it sit, untouched, in its glory, and players who get other people to play on their accounts to "boost" their rankings.

Blizzard needs to keep Overwatch's highest rankings feeling special; if players don't have to constantly earn them, they aren't worth playing hundreds of hours of Overwatch to achieve. It also needs to keep players honest. Placement matches, combined with skill decay, keep the top players working at it and, in theory, keep the cheaters in check.

On the flip side, prodigious players and cheaters likely form a minority of Overwatch's player base. Then there's the rest of us, mired to the game like Tantalus to Hell. Every season, we climb back in the competitive pool and reach for the fruit (platinum? diamond?) that always escapes our grasp.

Overwatch's placement matches, which mark each new season, aren't really a fresh opportunity to prove ourselves to the game and its community. They're a rite of passage, a deterrent for cheaters and lazy players, and a thankless, high-anxiety slog. One solution? Stop taking them so seriously.


Comments

    I don't take comp seriously so much that I have never played a single comp match. I am over level 460 and all I play is Quick Play and Arcade. I'm having the time of my life.

      How anyone can have fun in Quick Play is beyond me.

      It's meant to be the place to go to practice & learn new heroes, but so many have the "it's Quick Play bruh" attitude that the only thing you learn is how quickly you come to despise Quick Play.

      Despite the objective still being to win, so many don't even bother trying, choosing instead to troll & throw. It's pathetic.

        I've played hundreds of hours of Quick Play and can only recall about 10 instances of deliberate trolling/throwing. Three of which were centred around the eagle rides following the release of Blizzard World, which I'm inclined to forgive because it was so funny that both sides were participating.

          Do you play on PC or console?

          Because on console Quick Play is a toxic cesspool, even moreso than Competitive is.

            Oh, I play on PC. Maybe everyone on console is so mad because console doesn't really have suitable controls for Overwatch. Snipers must be an absolute nightmare to play without a mouse.

              Oh, trust me, there are people who play on console with keyboard & mouse.

              They're also known as "cheaters".

        It's meant to be the place to go to practice & learn new heroes,

        Point to me where the overwatch devs or Blizzard themselve state that.

        Quick play is what it says. A quick way to play. You want to know what mode is for practicing and learning new heroes.

        TRAINING MODE AND VS AI.

        People telling you "Its quickplay Bruh" is your fellow teammates telling you to get over yourself and stop taking a game waayyy to seriously. Go play rated if you want that much serious gameplay. Form your own team. There are endless solutions out their to solve your problems instead of whining on kotaku with falsehoods.

          This attitude is why overwatch has so much cancer.

          Quickplay has an objective, if you aren't going for the objective go play arcade death match.

          If you aren't going to work with a team go play arcade deathmatch.

          If you are going to stick to just one hero and never switch go play arcade deathmatch.

          There is no justification for picking an objective team-based mode and playing selfishly.

          ELO hell and solo queue is cancer because this selfishness infects competitive as well - as evident from the 5 soldier mains all fighting over which one of them is throwing because only one of them can pick him.

          Last edited 04/05/18 4:02 am

          "Point to me where the overwatch devs or Blizzard themselve state that."

          When Blizzard add a new hero to the game but don't unlock her for Competitive so the only place to try her out/practice her is Quick Play.

          That states it right there.

          Training Mode shows you the basics of a hero's power/movement. Vs AI shows you the maps and gets you used to things like choke points etc.

          Neither of those modes provides anything close to the Competitive experience. The closest mode that does that is Quick Play, hence it being the place to go to practice/learn new heroes.

          And, again, the aim of Quick Play is still to win, so if you're not trying to win then you're disrupting the game experience for those that are.

            When Blizzard add a new hero to the game but don't unlock her for Competitive so the only place to try her out/practice her is Quick Play.

            That states it right there.

            No it doesnt.

            Clearly you cant read what i said.

            "Point to me where the overwatch devs or blizzard themsevles STATE that"

            State:

            to declare definitely or specifically:

            You are applying to your definition to it.

            You really need to get over yourself dude.

              Anyone know if there's a way to block people from responding to you on Kotaku? Or have an ignore list where you don't see their posts?

              I'd like to block/ignore this asshat if at all possible.

                Anyone know if there's a way to block people from responding to you on Kotaku?

                Dont post comments.

      I used to play quickplay only but at least in comp players attempt to play as a team and compose a balanced team and makes it more fun. You rarely see someone change character in quickplay for balance reasons for example, but it happens all the time in comp (except the person playing Genji or Hanzo - they will never change no matter how badly you need them to).

    I only do my placements and then go back to qp. Two seasons back I gained 580 SR just from my placements. When comparing my performance over the last few seasons, I performed worse in the season I gained 580sr.....go figure.

    I don’t know about that over four seasons I dropped from low diamond right down to bronze, even though all through that time I was playing heaps more and my accuracy went right up. Each time I was that person playing a healer or tank because no other loser would. In the end it was clear the system was flawed and rubbish and highly depending on (some) things beyond a players control. I stopped playing comp then. There seemed to be zero point to it.

    Best decision I ever made. Overwatch became much more fun and interesting.

    The last two seasons (I only started bothering with QP then) I started out at high gold or plat and then begin a slide into obscurity, usually finishing on Silver. Too much of the ranking is determined by if you win or loose. I spent one awful afternoon losing game after game and lost 400 points. There's no coming back from that lol.

    Yes you're part of a team but you can't do all the lifting yourself but if there's some under performing team mates's or the other team is just better and you did pretty damn well, you get heavily penalised for it.

    Thankful I don't place much self worth on my Overwatch ranking, but I had falling too far below gold because you get less team work, less people on comms and more stupid shit like attack Torbs etc.

    Last edited 03/05/18 6:57 pm

    I started playing Overwatch at launch and placed gold in season 2. I'm currently master.
    It's hard to describe how to climb but my opinion is that it doesn't come down to simply winning and losing (e.g. one season i ended in diamond, i did 4W-6L in next season placements and placed higher into master).
    I noticed when i flexed onto many characters and performed well (i.e. doing my part in that particular role, e.g. effective healing as a healer, consistent damage as dps, preventing deaths as tank) it ranked me along side other players in that class/character.
    I believe the ranking system promotes game sense/awareness and an overall understanding of the flow of the game rather than simply winning and losing. You don't see many one tricks in grand master because they're typically god tier unicorns or managed to maintain that tier since launch by being a one trick.

    I'm high plat, low diamond. The game is heaps fun. I love competitive because the people I play with usually try to co-operate and win. Quick play on the other hand is just too much messing around, which from time to time can be really fun. I like the way theyve set it all up.

    What I dislike though is the whole if you don't play you slide back down the ranks. I have a job, and the little time I get to play games I will play other games as well, not just overwatch. Overwatch is not the only game out that's fun. I do come back to it often, but I'm not going to play only overwatch for weeks.

    Thinking about it now the whole rank thing is pretty dumb. It's good to have quickplay and comp modes, but rank doesn't make much of a difference. Whatever rank you are you always run into people who are no very good at working with other people and vice versa really. So the rank of anything just demonstrates understanding of the mechanics of the game? Doesn't guarantee fun.

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