What is SBMM in gaming and why is it so controversial?


Skill-based matchmaking (SBMM) continues to be a major topic in gaming communities, with fans of Call of Duty, Apex Legends and Fortnite regularly discussing the mechanic. 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 match in any video game, it uses a 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 you’re matched with. Location and connection are usually the most important factors in order to reduce lag and improve connectivity.

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Skill-based matchmaking 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). As a result, you’ll generally end up in matches with players who score similarly in these areas.

This means that, in the majority of cases, lower-skilled players are matched with other lower-skilled players, and higher-skill players are matched with other high-skill players.

What games use skill-based matchmaking? 

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 and rarely address them publicly.

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Regardless, a host of the world’s most popular games definitely employ some level of skill-based matchmaking. These include Fortnite, Apex Legends, Call of Duty and its battle royale, Warzone.

Apex Legends characters standing in unity.Respawn Entertainment
We know that Apex Legends uses some level of SBMM in its matches.

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 by putting them with other talented players. This prevents 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.

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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.

Epic Games
Fortnite has a designated Arena mode, but still has SBMM in its public matches.

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 reasons, but a couple are most obvious.

First off, it protects lesser-skilled players from being comprehensively beaten 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 or useful.

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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.

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