Skill-based matchmaking (SBMM) has been a major topic in the gaming community of late, but what is it, what games use it, and why do so many players have issues with it?
What is skill-based matchmaking (SBMM)?
Skill-based matchmaking refers to how a game decides which players to put into your lobby. When you search for a lobby in any video game, it uses a very complex algorithm to find other players and fill up your lobby - this is called matchmaking.
However, different factors can be used to decide which players get put in your lobby. Location and connection are usually the most important factors, meaning that players geographically closer to you are more likely be put in your match, to reduce lag and heighten connectivity.
Skill-based matchmaking, however, does not necessarily discard factors like connection, but also puts emphasis on finding players similar to you in terms of skill level.
For example, in Call of Duty, the matchmaking algorithm is believed to take into account your stats, like time played, score per minute, and Kill/Death Ratio (KDR), and put you in a match with players who are similar in these areas. This generally results in lower-skilled players being matched with other lower-skilled players, and higher-skill players being matched with other high-skill players.
What games use skill-based matchmaking?
In short, we don't know every game that uses skill-based matchmaking. A lot of developers like to keep their matchmaking systems under wraps for various reasons.
Regardless, a host of the world's most popular games have been confirmed as using some level of skill-based matchmaking. These include Fortnite, Apex Legends, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and Warzone.
Why is skill-based matchmaking controversial and unpopular?
There are a number of reasons why SBMM is disliked by players. Many argue it punishes higher-skilled players. If a player is higher-skilled, they are put into lobbies with other talented players, preventing them from showcasing their skills and dominating weaker players.
Some also contest that it stops games from being casual. If a higher-skilled player is put with other high skill players, they cannot play the game casually, and are required to invest more focus and effort. This is particularly relevant in games that have both public and ranked modes.
A lot of players think Ranked modes should have SBMM, but public matches should be more casual. Fortnite, which has both a ranked mode and public matches, has SBMM in both. This has proved massively unpopular with a number of its most prominent players, including many streamers, like CouRageJD.
Why do developers/publishers use SBMM?
If it's unpopular with a lot of players, then why is SBMM used by developers? There are a number of potential reasons, but a couple bubble to the surface. First off, it protects lesser-skilled players from being annihilated in every game they play, and eventually quitting. If a player is still learning the mechanics of a game, putting them into a lobby with exceptionally talented players wouldn't be very fun for them.
Also, it keeps matches more challenging and competitive. If each team has similarly skilled players, the game will be closer and, in theory, more enjoyable. Contrast this to a game in which one team is being dominated, it will be far more difficult for a member of that team to enjoy the game.
This is ultimately where the clash comes. Higher skilled players want to be able to dominate lesser skilled ones, at least occasionally, whereas game studios try to protect worse players to encourage them to keep playing. Despite its controversy, more and more games appear to be moving towards SBMM as a primary part of matchmaking.