Why Handicapping (MMR) is Wrong for Competitive Play

Competitive Discussion
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Author's note:
Players, please like or dislike this post if you agree or disagree that MMR should be removed from Competitive Play. In two polls, we have voted overwhelmingly in favor (at 403 to 50, and 320 to 42).

This is a continuation of two threads which have reached their limit for comments:
https://us.battle.net/forums/en/overwatch/topic/20759237722
https://us.battle.net/forums/en/overwatch/topic/20759162492

Blizzard, please respond!


Objective
I argue to remove Match Making Rating (MMR) from Competitive matchmaking.

In Competitive matchmaking, MMR ensures the type of match that Blizzard wants players to have: hotly contested and as long as possible, with a 50% chance for either team to win. But true competitive players want no such guarantee.

And because the matchmaking system ensures those 50% odds by arranging teams based on hidden skill-metrics (MMR), it:
  • Covertly *handicaps* Competitive matches,
  • Favors new players over experienced players,
  • Fails to prove the skill difference between players,
  • Requires prohibitively long wait times for groups, and
  • Lowers the quality of gameplay across all competitive tiers.

How is such a travesty possible? It is possible because most players do not *realize* their matches are being handicapped. And those of us who know of handicapping fail to see its implications. Overwatch's own designers seem to have missed the point.

Overview
Overwatch's designers say they "balance" matches with MMR. The system sorts the twelve players from each match into teams, based on the merit each player has shown in matches past. Matchmaking uses merit-tracking algorithms (MMR) to keep matches from being 'uneven.' Principal Overwatch Designer Scott Mercer explains:

"When the matchmaker creates a match, it determines the % chance for each team to win based on the match it made. The VAST majority of matches are usually near to 50% (especially if you're a player closer to median skill rating and you're not in a group). When we do put you in a match that we know isn't a 50/50, we adjust your SR gain or loss based on your calculated change of winning.

"We model the synergistic effects of players being together in a group. Based upon the data we see in groups, we predict the win % for each team. We try to match similar sized groups together.

"The amount of MMR (and SR) you go up or down isn't simply a matter of whether you won or lost, and what was your predicted chance of winning. There's a couple of other things at work. One is the matchmaker's confidence in what your MMR should be. Play a lot of games, it gets more certain. Don't play Overwatch for a while, it gets less certain. You go on a large win or loss streak, it gets less certain. The more certain the matchmaker is about your MMR, the less your MMR will change in either direction based on a win or loss.

"We also do evaluate how well you played the heroes you used in a match. The comparison is based on historical data of people playing a specific hero (not medals, not pure damage done), and we've done a lot of work to this system based on the community's feedback.

"While it's a minor factor compared to wins/losses (The best way to increase your SR is still to play together and win as a team!), doing so does help us determine your skill more accurately and faster."

-- https://us.battle.net/forums/en/overwatch/topic/20749737390#post-3

However
In Quick Play, we do not count wins and losses as we do in Competitive Play. We do not stake our rank and reputation on a number, like we do with SR. And MMR skews everyone's SR. Because if you are a *relatively* skilled player for your SR, handicapping/MMR makes your teams worse than they would be on average, by random chance.

Semantics – "Balance" vs. Handicap
This discussion has a fulcrum, a single word it turns around. A word that Blizzard has chosen incorrectly, misappropriated from the design parlances of casual, non-competitive games. The word is “balance,” which is actually handicapping in the context of a competitive game.

Dictionary.com defines a handicapped contest as one in which “certain disadvantages or advantages are placed upon competitors to equalize their chances of winning.” For example in old Quebec (French Canada), parishioners had a tradition of racing home from church in horse-drawn sleighs or wagons, which they would handicap by placing different numbers and sizes (weights) of passengers in either vehicle.

That’s an example of a *friendly competition* where handicapping is appropriate, because the important thing isn’t who wins the race; it’s the closeness of the race and the fun to be had along the way. The race itself is merely a pretense for a good time. Any scoring that took place between drivers would be in jest. That is what some of us expect from a game mode like Quick Play.

But players expect Competitive Play to be different. We have a "Skill Rating" (SR) that ticks up or down when we win or lose. That number is both our reputation and our right to compete with other players of our caliber. Handicapping makes light of that number and, in turn, it makes light of Competitive Overwatch players.

When you play Competitive Overwatch you may be a horse pulling your team along, or you may be a passenger just along for the ride. And the handicapping system might designate you as such correctly or incorrectly. But those designations happen to determine the nature of every match you play.

This is where the difference between individual and team competition comes in. Players participate in matches as teams, but they participate in the SR system as individuals.

Handicapping teams is not the same as treating individuals fairly in the SR system. Blizzard wrongly conflates those ideas, distorting players' very notion of what fair competition is, and what they are doing in Competitive Play.

Blizzard says that handicapping/balancing matches makes them fair for competitive players, and that is false.

“Forced 50% win rate”
When players talk about this, they are trying to talk about handicapping. An argument against handicapping has already taken place in the Overwatch community, based on vague terms and phrases that do not address the problem. Without *clear* terms to inform the discussion, players have turned away from it like a losing battle.

But ‘handicapping’ is a real gaming term that many players understand. It is a word with history, meaning, and a proper definition. I bring you the word 'handicapping' as a banner to rally under. I urge you players: use this word to understand what MMR truly is, to frame your own discussions, and petition Blizzard for Competitive Play that is *free* of handicapping.

I have a long argument to make, but my case is simple. Anyone with basic understanding of game theory – any Overwatch player – can grasp it.

Case in point
In every match, MMR tells matchmaking which players are relatively strong and which players are relatively weak. The MMR/handicapping system does not put all of the strongest or weakest players on either team (6 v 6) because it predicts that as a one-sided match.

Instead, matchmaking ensures that both teams have about 3 strong players and 3 weak players. If one or two players from either team are real standouts (for good or ill), the ratio of strong and weak players might be closer to 2:4 or even 1:5, on either team.

The degree of difference in skill between players is different in every match. But MMR picks up on every discernible difference between players. According to those differences in player skill, matchmaking arranges the teams and effectively handicaps matches, with no regard for individual players' SR, outside of the 1,000 unit range.

So what's the problem?
These kinds of matches are *unproductive by design;* they consistently prove as little as possible about the relative skill of the players participating. When matchmaking uses MMR to mix strong players with weak players, it guarantees in every match that some strong players will move down in rank, and some weak players will move up.

Hypothetically speaking, the most *productive* match is one where all 6 of the strongest players are on one team and all 6 of the weakest players are on the other. Because in the win/lose result, the strongest players all gain SR and the weakest players all lose SR. Even an impartial matchmaking system would not produce this type of match all of the time. But MMR/handicapping turns it into a unicorn.

MMR circumvents the natural selection process that is supposed to be taking place in Competitive Play. It makes the SR system inefficient, stagnant, and keeps the SR system from sorting players according to their merit.

Evidence of handicapping
Here are three simple things you can observe for yourself, which show how matchmaking and MMR handicap your matches:

1) Group and queue for matches with other players who you know are good at Overwatch. You will see that your wait times for matches scale up in direct proportion to how good you are, and how many of you are in the group. While there are other groups available to play at your collective *SR level,* matchmaking takes time to seek a group with an equal *MMR profile.*

2) Win matches as a group, and you will see your wait times increase from match to match. Matchmaking delays your games in order to handicap them, based on your group's record. Again, there are other groups available to play at your collective *SR level,* but matchmaking takes time to seek a group with an equal *MMR profile.*

3) Note the spread of player experience (portrait color, stars) across teams, when you join matches in small groups or solo queue. You will see the teams in each game have roughly the same number of experienced and inexperienced players. The matchmaking system arranges teams this way to handicap matches.

It's relative
Whether or not you sense the skewing of your matches depends on how good you are, as a team player, and where you find your SR rank to be. But if you are a relatively skilled player for your SR, then handicapping/MMR is designed to make every match difficult for you, specifically. It sounds like a persecution fantasy, but it's patently real.

Fighting your own shadow
Under MMR's influence, every player has to 'fight at their weight' in every match, regardless of SR standing. Handicapping/MMR ensures that every standout player finds a doppelganger or a *set* of players on the enemy team who are able to counteract them. This might sound fair-handed, but let me explain why it's not.

Suppose your SR is low for your skill level, and you are the best one of twelve players in a match. In that case, handicapping/MMR singles you out by placing the second, third, and even fourth-best players in the match on the enemy team. Hence you, like a baited bear, must counteract their joint efforts.

That becomes a self-perpetuating cycle. The harder you try — the more you kill, heal, and play the objective — the more skilled opponents you will be *faced with* in your next match...the more skilled teammates you will be *separated from.* The challenge of the game is literally guaranteed to ramp up, whether or not you win your present match; whether you climb or fall in the SR system; as long as you try your hardest.

It is not enough to be good, to climb in SR. MMR follows you from match to match, figuring out how good you are. Then it informs matchmaking, which forces you to be better than *yourself* if you want to advance.

In this way, you can experience the same difficulty playing at most competitive ranks, regardless of how good you are. From a game design perspective, this seems like a magic formula, a dream. But from a player's perspective, it is a nightmare.

Handicap favors inexperienced players
If you are an experienced player (with one or more stars of experience), you have a strong interest in MMR's removal from matchmaking. MMR ensures that players of similar experience will be distributed evenly across teams. Again, this might sound fair-handed but let me explain why it's not.

If you are the most experienced player in a match, handicapping/MMR teams you with the most inexperienced player in the match while placing the second, third, and even fourth-most experienced players to oppose you on the enemy team. It is inexperienced players who benefit from that arrangement, and experienced players who suffer.

You may deny the correlation of experience and skill. Why then, does matchmaking never place a slew of experienced players against a slew of inexperienced players? Is it interesting to see the outcome of such a match, or is it *no contest?* Why doesn't handicapping/MMR allow those matches to take place?

Devalued experience
Inexperienced/unskilled players think they are being tested by placement matches and regular competitive matches in the same way that more experienced/skilled players are being tested. So a player with less than one star of experience assumes that they are equal to all players at their SR level, regardless of experience.

It does not occur to inexperienced players that they have arrived at their SR standing through the assistance of a handicap. And who can blame them? The handicapping/MMR system is hidden, after all. But it is not fair to experienced players that they should be forced to contribute to the success of less experienced players.

New players may have a right to prove themselves in Competitive Play. But they do not have a right to be braced by veterans in every match, and escorted to victory.

Handicapping has caused millions (billions?) of pointless arguments between experienced players and newbies who will not accept their advice or command. New players deride experienced players for not being ranked higher, for all their hours of practice. And since newbies and vets alike are unaware of the handicapping system, the situation suggests to everyone that experience counts for nothing.

Classification without consent
It's not only about the number of stars under your portrait. If you are the best healer, tank, or DPS in a match then MMR brands you as such, and pits you against the next best player in your hero class. This might sound fair-handed, but...

If you step out of one role to fill another, your team is likely to crumble because no one on your team matches your proficiency with the hero/class you switched from. This effectively locks you into a role without your knowledge or consent. And it ensures that if you are proficient with many (or all) of Overwatch's hero classes and characters, you gain no advantage from it.

Handicapping/MMR discourages *groups* and *teamwork*
By punishing outstanding performances, handicapping/MMR catches the most effective Overwatch strategies in its snare. When a group chooses characters who complement one another, they create 'statistical anomalies’ that the MMR system ‘corrects for’ in its 'matchmaking problem.’

When a coherent group presents itself, the MMR system *painstakingly* matches them against equally coherent groups, despite the availability of less coherent groups of the same size, at the same SR level. Not only does that mean prohibitively long wait times for everyone involved, it costs such coherent groups the advantage they are supposed to have, by working out strategies and vetting their teammates.

MMR costs coherent groups countless opportunities to apply strategy against opponents who do not. It negates the advantage a coherent group would naturally have, under an *impartial* matchmaking system. Conversely, handicapping/MMR coddles players who ignore the principles of good strategy, sheltering them from competition with coherent groups they should be facing in their SR level.

MMR makes Overwatch the *antithesis* of a team-based game – a running contradiction to the idea that group cohesion and synergy mean anything at all.

Handicapping/MMR promotes 'DPS instalock'
Healing and tanking are desperately ineffective when you have unskilled/inexperienced players filling the other roles. Solo players know this intuitively, and that is why we start every match pleading for sanity with 3-5 DPS instalocks. Despise these players if you will, but they are acting in their best interest under the handicapping/MMR system.

When a player climbs in SR by playing DPS well, they are essentially locked in to that role. That is because handicapping/MMR ensures that equally skilled DPS players in subsequent matches will be placed on the enemy team, so changing to tank or heal leaves the enemy DPS unchecked.

The leaderboards are absolutely dominated by DPS players (https://masteroverwatch.com/leaderboards/pc/us). Is it because DPS characters are intrinsically more effective than tanks and healers? Or is it because they have an advantage in the handicapping/MMR system?

E-Sports above all
Blizzard wants to use Competitive Play as a mere filtration system for people with *fast reflexes,* nothing else. It is a casting call for E-Sports celebrities, not a proving system for team players who understand the game; the players who are truly the best at the game of Overwatch.

Those experienced and skilled players are buried in the middle tiers, the dumping grounds into which they are swept by a never-ending stream of new Overwatch players. New players have no problem qualifying for gold and higher, because of the boost that handicapping/MMR gives them.

Meanwhile smurf account buyers scramble over us, like drowning swimmers, clawing their way up by pushing the rest of us down. They are gaming the MMR system that Blizzard has created by giving them more money. Is it any surprise that Blizzard is complacent in that behaviour?

What this means for players
It violates the faith we all have had in Competitive Play; that we can climb the ranks of the SR system by showing merit as team players. SR is our only form of rank and reputation but when we show true merit, an invisible hand guides us to challenges that are virtually assured to destroy our SR, our rank and reputation.

Performance-based SR...
...is Blizzard's feeble attempt to restore the meritocracy of Competitive Play; to offset the profound SR-skewing effects of handicapping/MMR. It is a tacit admission that the SR system fails its *supposed function* of ranking players according to their skill.

Performance-based SR means that Overwatch players do not share the goal of *victory* with their teammates. The most cynical and well-informed players give up on victory to *game the system.*

One-tricking...
...is a natural consequence of performance-based SR. When players see that they are being graded on their own stats rather than the win/lose result of the match, it demotivates them from being real team players. Instead of doing what is best for their team's chance of winning the match, they start doing what is best for their own chances of racking up big numbers in damage, healing, kills, etc.

Reverse karma
MMR works like reverse karma. It restricts our mobility in the SR system. If you're interested to watch your SR trend up and down, and figuring out the strategies involved in your losses and victories, then no governing system outside of SR and your own group selection can serve your interest.

Double standard
In SR/MMR, we have a set of systems that judge us on the performance of our team as a whole (SR), but divide us on our individual merit (MMR) at every instance. It is a galling and obvious double standard.

While SR decides the level we are allowed to compete at, the majority of us are stuck in a quagmire we cannot climb out from, because rising up makes you a target for handicapping/MMR to strike down.

Artificial equality
A handicapped match is much more likely to hang in the balance, making it more exciting for players. But by handicapping a match, MMR makes its outcome intrinsically unrelated to the skill of the individual players and groups participating. It is absurd to increase/decrease SR based on the wins/losses of handicapped matches.

No Competitive Overwatch player has a *fair chance* of winning a match according to their skill. Because of handicapping/MMR, unskilled/inexperienced players are more likely to win and skilled/experienced players are more likely to lose.

Stop worrying and love the MMR?
Once you realize what MMR is doing to your odds in Competitive Play, it is still possible to enjoy yourself. If you think you can rank up, you just have to recognize that you are guaranteed to be teamed up with a statistically unlikely number of inferior players in every match. But don’t ignore that fact, or you’ll go insane.

Handicapping/MMR defies pattern recognition
Pattern recognition is our birthright as human beings, who evolved to use the very stars for navigation. Our brains have grown to run advanced heuristics in wars, and heated battles against enemy tribes. Games like Overwatch are allegories for war, which we play to enjoy our faculty of pattern recognition.

But handicapping/MMR circumvents the *math* that we would all use to understand Overwatch and *game* an impartial matchmaking system. It contradicts the calculations that we all make, based on *reasonable assumptions* about how matchmaking works. We assume that matchmaking is impartial, but that is not true.

Invisible standards
Competitive Play systematically deceives players on a grand scale. When the *fact* of handicapping and the *metrics* of MMR are hidden from players, it takes away players' ability to rely on their own senses. When matches are handicapped without our understanding or even our awareness, it debases our perception of the game we're playing.

Worst game-design ethics since World of Warcraft
Blizzard is violating the right we have as players to see the factors affecting our matches. Handicapping/MMR is the *dominant factor* of Competitive Play, and it is completely hidden from view. That raises ethical issues about consent, because most players would not engage in "Competitive Play" if they understood handicapping/MMR.

Nothing in Overwatch's user-interface even mentions "Match Making Rating," nor does Blizzard define it elsewhere. Blizzard fails to warn players about handicapping, leaving them to labor under a delusion: that altruism is rewarded.

Cause of toxicity
Much toxicity in the Overwatch community stems from cognitive dissonance (a kind psychological distress) caused by handicapping/MMR. When a player succeeds in one match, they are challenged in their next match *by design.* Wondering "What changed?" they can attribute the sudden challenge to unrelated factors by mistake. They may blame their own character selection and actions, or those of their team.

I've been toxic in my own matches. I've chastised many of my own teams who didn't deserve it (especially new/inexperienced players). Because they weren't meant to play with me in the first place; they were destined for lower ranks just as I was destined for higher ones. But handicapping/MMR intervened to everyone's misfortune.

Handicapping/MMR renders the SR system meaningless, and leaves us without means to differentiate from each other. We are not in a proving ground, we are in a mill, churning inexorably with players who are not our equals.

I sound immodest, but I face this problem with tens of thousands of players like me. It is a massive and systemic problem. But it's a simple problem, and it's Blizzard's to fix if they have the mind.

"Soylent Green is made of people!"
The most insidious aspect of MMR is the way it uses people. It uses the appointment of your teammates and adversaries to create your handicap, suppressing your chance of being teamed up with players who are *as good* as you are. So your teammates are guaranteed to be your inferiors or superiors, on a per-match basis, while your enemies are guaranteed to be your equals. What a grand, dystopian future we live in.

The travesty
Dictionary.com defines a travesty as "a grotesque or debased likeness or imitation; an artistic burlesque of a serious work or subject, characterized by ludicrous incongruity of treatment, or subject matter."

Handicapping/MMR makes Competitive Overwatch a travesty because it forces us, in every match, to play against those who are *most* like ourselves and with those who are *least* like ourselves.

Want a teammate who is as good at Hero X as you are? MMR prevents you from ever meeting them. At every instance, in every match, MMR ensures you can only be that player's adversary; never their ally. And if you group with such a player, MMR prevents you from finding a fair match to play in.

Conflict of interest
If you would still defend the handicapping/MMR system as ‘fair-handed,’ reader, consider your principal interest as a Competitive player – victory.

Now consider these questions:
  • When you queue for a match, you deserve the same *chance* of victory as any other player in the match, do you not?
  • Would you accept a system that *explicitly* subtracts from your chance of victory, and adds to your chance of defeat?
  • If you are an experienced player, do you accept that you must babysit the inexperienced?
  • If you are an inexperienced player, do you want to be babysat?

This is about more than just "victory." It is about the poetry of group synergy, of lucky random encounters. The uncanny lack of that poetry is what players feel when they rail about incompetency and toxicity in their team mates. Blizzard redacted that poetry when they imputed the handicapping/MMR system to Competitive Play.

Competitive players have an interest in fair, impartial matchmaking; randomly assigned teams of players with similar SR. We want to win or lose *according to* our merit not *despite* our merit. If that makes for short matches, then so be it.

It's about money for Blizzard
Blizzard has an opposing *commercial* interest in making matches as drawn out as possible; they designed the handicapping/MMR system to ensure that every match is a struggle. And it comes directly at the cost of players' mobility in the SR system.

The handicapping/MMR system does not make Competitive Play fair or even fun for long-term players. It makes matches protracted and desparate. Because that is what gives the appearance, the illusion of fairness, regardless of the truth. And it leads to repeat sales from Smurf account buyers who try to eschew the system.

The impetus
When Blizzard took the decision to apply MMR in Competitive Overwatch, I think they were driven by fear. They feared that players would reject their game as unfair when they had one-sided matches, and especially when they had one-sided losses.

Thinking that MMR worked for Quick Play and apprehensive of the ‘negative customer experience,' that could result without MMR's careful stage-work, they put it in Competitive Play and we've been suffering for it ever since. Blizzard warped their own game to suit their business interests (or the business interests of other stakeholders) at the cost of user experience, ultimately failing Overwatch players.

Déjà vu
Let me share an eerily similar experience that I had, arguing for sanity on another game developer's forum:

Thread 1
https://forum.paradoxplaza.com/forum/index.php?threads/suggestion-make-revival-count-for-tdm-match-points.665745

Thread 2
https://forum.paradoxplaza.com/forum/index.php?threads/tdm-score-system-problem-points-for-knockdown-instead-of-death.765853

In those threads, I used common sense and spoke out against user-experience problems that profoundly concerned player reputation and the fairness of scoring. These are team-based online games with great production value, just like Overwatch.

I doubt that many Overwatch players know ‘War of the Vikings’ and ‘War of the Roses.’ But they feature the same control-point-objective-based gameplay structure that Overwatch does. They compare on many levels, though the developer and publisher are both less moneyed than Blizzard/Activision.

Just as with Overwatch’s MMR/handicapping problem, the problems affecting War of the Vikings and War of the Roses:
  • Were insidiously hidden from players by misleading user-interface
  • Defied users' assumptions of the game they were playing
  • Punished altruistic behavior, and rewarded selfish behavior in players
  • Confused players' intuitions, causing cognitive dissonance
  • Fractured the correlation of team-based strategy and victory

I proved the players' overwhelming consensus in those threads by gathering votes, just as I have done here. The game developer, and their publisher, decided not to fix the problems. Why do so many game designers and publishers fail to recognize the principles of fair competition, in the "competitive" games they give us players?

It is because the creation process inevitably falls prey to greed; to blind, slavering stakeholder interest, all forms of commercial interest. Marketability trumps integrity behind closed doors.

The cholicy baby
Overwatch players themselves are to blame when they tell Blizzard that one-sided matches are "unfair" or "boring." In handicapping/MMR, Blizzard is trying to give us what we want. But a good parent knows the difference between wants and needs. Players *want* engaging matches, but *need* to compete in an equitable system.

Realistic expectations
One-sided matches are a perfectly natural thing, and we would see a lot of them at the onset of an impartial matchmaking system. But at the end of a great sorting process of *natural selection,* we might have clearly established leagues and be able to expect some standards of play, outside of the bottom rank.

If you were playing in a baseball league, would you expect every game to be hotly contested? Would you expect teams to swap their strongest and weakest players to even the odds of every match?

Once again
The MMR system is *handicapping system* that is hidden from players, rigging their every match and dampening their best efforts. Instead of experiencing natural winning/losing streaks, we get a carefully monitored slow-drip, with victory and defeat in as nearly equal measure as matchmaking can arrange. The effects of the system are confusion, incumbency, and a completely incoherent narrative for every player's career. It detaches a player's merit from their rank and reputation.

We Competitive players want to deepen our knowledge of Overwatch and keep discovering its nuances by playing with our peers. But we can't find our peers in a system that *decides the nature* of every match we play by pitting the best of us against each other.

My proposal
For the SR system to really work, it must be the only system. Teams should not be "balanced" based on anything besides their SR and their group size. Throw all the handicapping/MMR metrics out the window.

To Blizzard
We know you worked hard on the handicapping/MMR system, Blizzard, but you can't justify its existence in principle. You're effectively forcing your best players to babysit your worst players, which is questionable. But you are also deceiving players by hiding the handicapping system from them, and that makes your game like a dirty casino.

Only when matchmaking is *impartial* can the win/lose outcome of an individual player's matches be reflection their skill. Until then, Competitive Overwatch will be as a rigged slot machine, causing cognitive dissonance for all who play it. You need to consider the rights of your players, and decide what side of history you want to be on.

To the incumbents
Many Overwatch players (let’s say Platinum and above) have reason to be satisfied with handicapping/MMR. I haven't been Platinum for several seasons, but I know that the most *successful* Overwatch players are lone-wolf DPS types.

Many incumbents have reason to fear the change I am suggesting, because it would reveal they are not as good at Overwatch as they think they are, or as the SR system suggests them to be. Their leadership and teamwork would be proven weak by an impartial matchmaking system, which would expose them to real competition.

These are folks like Blizzard's precious cadre of "professional players," who have been allowed to earn their titles under a false competitive system. I see the conflict of interest for them as well. But I hope they'll prove their smarts by taking my side.

Let us see what Overwatch really is, together :)

Other forums
If you would like to discuss this topic on Reddit's Overwatch forum, go here:
https://www.reddit.com/r/Overwatch/comments/7ihrdh/why_handicapping_mmr_is_wrong_for_competitive_play

This discussion is not limited to Competitive Play. All experienced Overwatch players have an interest in removing MMR as a handicapping system. If you want to contribute to the Quick Play discussion go here:
https://us.battle.net/forums/en/overwatch/topic/20759211324

Appeal for action
The handicapping/MMR system prevents good team players from transcending the ranks of the bad. It uses experienced Overwatch players as training wheels for the inexperienced, rather than allowing us to separate as we would naturally.

Players, please speak up for yourselves. Complain to Blizzard and send them to this thread. Send other players here to comment and vote. Blizzard wronged us by designing Competitive Overwatch this way; let's prove we are aware of that and demand better from them.

Player consensus
Blizzard, look at the like-to-dislike ratio on this post.

Look at these posts from other players about the problem of handicapping/MMR in Competitive Overwatch:
https://us.battle.net/forums/en/overwatch/topic/20759260419
https://us.battle.net/forums/en/overwatch/topic/20761746846
https://us.battle.net/forums/en/overwatch/topic/20760986330
https://us.battle.net/forums/en/overwatch/topic/20759301615
https://us.battle.net/forums/en/overwatch/topic/20759340096
https://us.battle.net/forums/en/overwatch/topic/20759229380
https://us.battle.net/forums/en/overwatch/topic/20759209261
https://us.battle.net/forums/en/overwatch/topic/20759279876
https://us.battle.net/forums/en/overwatch/topic/20759379241
https://us.battle.net/forums/en/overwatch/topic/20759209922
https://us.battle.net/forums/en/overwatch/topic/20759159335
https://us.battle.net/forums/en/overwatch/topic/20759278600
https://us.battle.net/forums/en/overwatch/topic/20758216593
https://us.battle.net/forums/en/overwatch/topic/20759278427
https://us.battle.net/forums/en/overwatch/topic/20759278554
https://us.battle.net/forums/en/overwatch/topic/20757355972
https://us.battle.net/forums/en/overwatch/topic/20755546064
https://us.battle.net/forums/en/overwatch/topic/20759289719
https://us.battle.net/forums/en/overwatch/topic/20759298451
https://us.battle.net/forums/en/overwatch/topic/20759377774
https://us.battle.net/forums/en/overwatch/topic/20757305767
https://us.battle.net/forums/en/overwatch/topic/20759149294
https://us.battle.net/forums/en/overwatch/topic/20759239213
https://us.battle.net/forums/en/overwatch/topic/20753337220
https://us.battle.net/forums/en/overwatch/topic/20759279880
https://us.battle.net/forums/en/overwatch/topic/20759351269
https://us.battle.net/forums/en/overwatch/topic/20759359184#post-11
https://us.battle.net/forums/en/overwatch/topic/20759359184#post-11

Players, tell Blizzard that you want fair Competitive Overwatch. Make your own thread on the topic and I will index it here. Include "#faircompetitiveoverwatch" in your post so I can find it.
01/04/2018 10:19 AMPosted by Cuthbert
This is a continuation of two threads which have reached their limit for comments:
https://us.battle.net/forums/en/overwatch/topic/20759237722
https://us.battle.net/forums/en/overwatch/topic/20759162492

Players want to continue the discussion, and no Blizzard representative has addressed our complaint. In two polls, we have voted overwhelmingly in favor of removing MMR from Competitive Play (at 403 to 50, and 320 to 42). Players, please vote again!

The reason that the thread reached its post limit is because Cuthbert consistently posts false claims, and people feel the need to correct him. Bad threads almost always get more attention than good threads for this reason. Cuthbert also bumps his thread with low value comments every few days if no one else posts.

Upvotes are not an indication of correctness, only of popularity (among the quite limited population of Blizzard forum users, most of whom come here to complain). Truth is not determined by upvotes.
01/04/2018 10:19 AMPosted by Cuthbert
Principal designer Scott Mercer explains:
https://us.battle.net/forums/en/overwatch/topic/20749737390#post-3

It is amazing that after all this time, and all his posts, and all the various blue posts on the topic of MMR, Cuthbert still does not understand what MMR (match-making-rating) is. It is not handicapping. It is not rigging. It is a (hidden) number that goes up when you win, and down when you lose. How much it goes up and down is a complicated formula, based on many factors, but the essential truth of wins == good, losses == bad is certain.

That MMR is then used to match people with and against people of similar MMR, in an attempt to create a 50% match. Here is the key part:

If a player’s MMR is wrong and too low, then the odds to win will be greater than 50%, and the player will win more games than he loses, which will cause his MMR to rise over many games played. He will then be placed with stronger and stronger opponents (and stronger and stronger allies) until his MMR is correct, and his win percentage approaches 50% (with some random oscillation around 50%).

If a player improves, his win % will move away from 50% for a time, until his MMR catches up. Scott describes this process here: https://us.battle.net/forums/en/overwatch/topic/20753625906?page=1#post-13 .

Now I will discuss some more detailed points:
01/04/2018 10:19 AMPosted by Cuthbert
Whether or not you sense the skewing of your matches depends on how good you are, as a team player, and where you find your SR rank to be. But if you are a relatively skilled player for your SR, then handicapping/MMR is designed to make every match difficult for you, specifically. It sounds like a persecution fantasy, but it's patently real.


This is not how the system works. The system does not match by SR, and then by MMR. That would be obviously broken. It matches by MMR alone.

06/21/2016 08:20 AMPosted by Jeff Kaplan
All the system does when it comes to matching on skill is attempt to match you with people of a similar number.


Match based on ONE number. And in addition, for active accounts MMR and SR are about the same.

08/23/2017 10:53 AMPosted by Jeff Kaplan
SR closely chases your MMR up and down and is a more "digestible" number. With the exception of top players who have decayed, MMR and SR are closely linked.


So even if Cuthbert was correct that matchmaking is done on some sort of combination of SR and MMR, there is really no room for it to act like a handicap, because SR and MMR are nearly the same.

01/04/2018 10:19 AMPosted by Cuthbert
While SR decides the level we are allowed to compete at, the majority of us are stuck in a quagmire we cannot climb out from, because rising up makes you a target for handicapping/MMR to strike down.


Yet people can and do climb. https://us.battle.net/forums/en/overwatch/topic/20758756012?page=1 The secret to climbing is becoming a better player, not trying to figure out how the system is keeping you down. If a player is massively misplaced (as in a bronze to GM series) climbing is effortless. For someone like me, who is correctly placed, climbing is slow and difficult (600 in season 2, 2104 at the moment), but achievable.

01/04/2018 10:19 AMPosted by Cuthbert
Competitive players have an interest in fair, impartial matchmaking; randomly assigned teams of players with similar SR. We want to win or lose *according to* our merit not *despite* our merit. If that makes for short matches, then so be it.


This is how it already works, except that people are matched by MMR, not SR. Note that MMR is not a pure measure of statistical performance. It a has a minor performance contribution for plat and below ( https://us.battle.net/forums/en/overwatch/topic/20749737390#post-3 ), but most of its value comes from wins and losses.

01/04/2018 10:19 AMPosted by Cuthbert
It's about money for Blizzard
Blizzard has an opposing *commercial* interest in making matches as drawn out as possible; they designed the handicapping/MMR system to ensure that every match is a struggle. And it comes directly at the cost of players' mobility in the SR system.

The handicapping/MMR system does not make Competitive Play fair or even fun for long-term players. It makes matches protracted and desparate. Because that is what gives the appearance, the illusion of fairness, regardless of the truth. And it leads to repeat sales from Smurf account buyers who try to eschew the system.


If you think that Blizzard is lying to you, or abusing you, or rigging the system to make more money, just quit the game and quit the forums. Why waste your life in a relationship with someone who is abusing you? Get out.

01/04/2018 10:19 AMPosted by Cuthbert
Players want to continue the discussion, and no Blizzard representative has addressed our complaint.


It has been addressed, many times.

10/31/2017 09:29 AMPosted by Jeff Kaplan
10/31/2017 09:25 AMPosted by Hun
Can you address "rigged MMR SYSTEM" please. Too many people crying over the system is out to get them.
It's not. Stop being so paranoid.

Addressed.


Cuthbert changed the title to remove the word rigged, but the content still asserts it.

01/04/2018 10:19 AMPosted by Cuthbert
Until then, Competitive Overwatch will be as a rigged slot machine, causing cognitive dissonance for all who play it.


On the other hand, I wish the moderators would lock threads for being wrong. That would be an appropriate response to this hallucination.

Finally, I have written an explainer, that describes how things actually work:

https://us.battle.net/forums/en/overwatch/topic/20758885930

Share and enjoy.
By handicap he means uses MMR to make actually fair matches, if anything you should want them to remove SR and show MMR, but then peoples scores wont change enough and thats something people like.

The current system works pretty well, and MMR is how it happens.
yea, not

01/04/2018 10:46 AMPosted by TeamAmerica
By handicap he means uses MMR to make actually fair matches, if anything you should want them to remove SR and show MMR, but then peoples scores wont change enough and thats something people like.

The current system works pretty well, and MMR is how it happens.


Yea, so not sure what the complain is about. lol
These sort of post always look to blame everything on the match maker, MMR/SR/P-SR and so on. When the main issue is that the bulk of player are just terrible at this game. People are asking for these deep match making system changes when the bulk of the player base can't even group up.

You want to know why teeball doesn't have MLB Moneyball like stat break downs when they draft teams? Being it doesn't mater. The system in play for Overwatch is truly effecting only a handful of players at the very top levels of play, as in none of the rest of us scrubs well under say 4.4k
01/04/2018 10:46 AMPosted by TeamAmerica
By handicap he means uses MMR to make actually fair matches, if anything you should want them to remove SR and show MMR, but then peoples scores wont change enough and thats something people like.

The current system works pretty well, and MMR is how it happens.


I don't disagree with you here, but I'd take better balanced teammates over ticking numbers any day.
Posted by Kaawumba:

It is amazing that after all the blue posts on the topic, Cuthbert still does not understand what MMR (match-making-rating) is.


Blizzard has made *no replies* to any of my posts, or the thousands of other players who have tried to confront them about handicapping/MMR. They seem afraid to participate in any forum discussion, these days. Not as safe as private messages with their pet e-sports celebs.

But Blizzard has revealed to players *nothing* of the skill metrics that feed the MMR/handicapping system to players. They have stated that the MMR/handicapping system exists, but they have not disclosed how it works and that is unethical.

Blizzard admits on the forums that the purpose of MMR is to give teams a 50% chance of winning, but they don't inform players of that fact in Overwatch's user-interface. They don't want us to think about it, and that is because if we did then we would realize that Competitive Play is a farce, because MMR is handicapping every match.

Posted by Kaawumba:

It is not handicapping.


Yes, MMR is handicapping. I've described why that is in the original post, with a reference to Principal Designer Scott Mercer's explanation of MMR, a matching dictionary definition of handicapping, and historical reference to the use of handicapping in sport. Maybe you'll read it someday and say "hey ol' Cuthbert was right all along." That's what keeps me talking to you, anyway, that remote possibility.

See you tomorrow!
01/04/2018 05:29 PMPosted by Cuthbert
It is amazing that after all the blue posts on the topic, Cuthbert still does not understand what MMR (match-making-rating) is.


Blizzard has made *no replies* to any of my posts.


I'm referring to the topic of MMR, not your post. I will edit it for clarity.

But Blizzard has stated that the MMR/handicapping system exists, and expressed that its purpose is to give teams a 50% chance of winning at the expense of the best players in every match.


Where has a Blizzard employee stated that the system works at the expense of the best players in every match?

01/04/2018 05:29 PMPosted by Cuthbert
Maybe you'll read it someday and say "hey ol' Cuthbert was right all along." That's what keeps me talking to you, anyway, that remote possibility.


For that to be the case, your theory would have to be compatible with the reality of people climbing. As your theory stands, it is not.

But Blizzard has stated that the MMR/handicapping system exists, and expressed that its purpose is to give teams a 50% chance of winning at the expense of the best players in every match.


Where has a Blizzard employee stated that the system works at the expense of the best players in every match?


Because taking that statement it is mathematically impossible not to interpret it that way.

If all other factors are equal, every player has exactly the same SR, but within the 12 players there are two players that have drastically higher MMR than the rest, the matchmaking system will put them against each other, not with each other.

How is that not making it biased towards those players for that game?

Not talking about climbing, never bring it into this discussion. As soon as you do you are admitting defeat. Same about left and right hands.

If your issue is that what we are saying above is arrogant (as it somehow makes you believe we are saying we are always the top player despite never saying that), then lets say the opposite:

If all other factors are equal, every player has exactly the same SR, but within the 12 players there are two players that have drastically lower MMR than the rest, the matchmaking system will put them against each other, not with each other.

Again, this is to the long term detriment of quality of games for all players involved.

If you can argue that this does not happen, please show how it is possible to make 50% balanced matches without doing this. Please stop posting responses until you can, as you obviously do not want to bump the thread.
01/04/2018 06:17 PMPosted by Jorlan
If all other factors are equal, every player has exactly the same SR, but within the 12 players there are two players that have drastically higher MMR than the rest, the matchmaking system will put them against each other, not with each other.


This isn't how matchmaking works. Give me a blue post where it says that this is how matchmaking works.

01/04/2018 06:17 PMPosted by Jorlan
If you can argue that this does not happen, please show how it is possible to make 50% balanced matches without doing this. Please stop posting responses until you can, as you obviously do not want to bump the thread.


It is trivial to design a system without rigging that approaches a 50% win rate. As a player wins matches he gains points. As he loses matches, he loses points. Match by points. Done.
01/04/2018 10:44 AMPosted by Kaawumba
On the other hand, I wish the moderators would lock threads for being wrong. That would be an appropriate response to this hallucination.

Wish in one hand and !@#$ in the other.

The company which will not be named closes threads for more dogmatic reasons.
Kaawumba, I've actually gone and read through your entire post that you linked, and I believe you are very correct about what you posted. I think it is a very well thought out post and you have understood a huge amount of what helps people climb and drop in SR. I know Cuthburt has climbing mentioned in the OP, and this is one of the areas he mentioned I don't agree with. So having read your post I want you to understand that my argument is that MMR balancing for SR games is what is creating the incredibly frustrating games so many players experience over a long period of time. It belongs as a game balancing system in qp, but in competitive it is detrimental.

01/04/2018 06:17 PMPosted by Jorlan
If all other factors are equal, every player has exactly the same SR, but within the 12 players there are two players that have drastically higher MMR than the rest, the matchmaking system will put them against each other, not with each other.


This isn't how matchmaking works. Give me a blue post where it says that this is how matchmaking works.


Multiple quotes bounce around saying they are trying to create balanced matches. You also used one in your SR thread post:

https://us.battle.net/forums/en/overwatch/topic/20753625906#post-13

That first paragraph means that if in my examples they put those 2 players who had drastically different MMR amounts on the same side then there could not be a 50% chance to win - it would be obviously skewed to one team.

01/04/2018 06:32 PMPosted by Kaawumba
01/04/2018 06:17 PMPosted by Jorlan
If you can argue that this does not happen, please show how it is possible to make 50% balanced matches without doing this. Please stop posting responses until you can, as you obviously do not want to bump the thread.


It is trivial to design a system without rigging that approaches a 50% win rate. As a player wins matches he gains points. As he loses matches, he loses points. Match by points. Done.


This is exactly correct, and I agree with you that it should be trivial to build such a system. A system based on simply going up in SR with wins and down with loses would do exactly what you have described (which is what they are basically doing to Diamond and above?). But instead of making that exact trivial system Blizzard are using multiple layers of complicated code to put people where they think they belong, while at the same time using it to balance games. There are so many factors to winning that MMR will never see. I've even had a game where I played the worst Pharah I've ever played (and I am an awful Pharah to begin with), got about 3 kills for the entire match - I wanted to switch but was constantly told by the team that I was such a good distraction since the other team were failing to kill me while focusing half their team on me, so this tactic helped us win. My MMR for that match would have been abysmal, but the tactic worked. Just an example of where MMR doesn't magically have all the answers.

I did ask that you not mention climbing, because my issue is that the current MMR system much more often than not is creating frustrating games. If you take a single game by itself it should not have that MMR balancing happening at all - it should be relying on SR only. On the other hand, if they used the MMR system to match people together if they are outside whatever Blizzard decides is a standard deviation from the SR they have, then while there would be a series of games that are obviously one sided for a while, it would create better games in the long run. It would also help put trolls and throwers together as their MMR tanks, and GMs doing Bronze to GM climbs would end up together pushing them higher hopefully faster.

I am interested after a few more weeks to see how the Diamond SR and above players feel about the changes to their system, and if after that time they find that their games start becoming more balanced. If they do, then that would indicate my example is correct and leads to bad matchmaking. If their games overall get worse, then I am wrong and the MMR system is actually making the games better - which would be the most depressing thing ever to learn, that this matchmaker is the best it can ever get.
01/04/2018 06:32 PMPosted by Kaawumba
It is trivial to design a system without rigging that approaches a 50% win rate. As a player wins matches he gains points. As he loses matches, he loses points. Match by points. Done.


Yes, that system is called matching players based on SR.
The system has flaws for sure. And I was hooked on the argument for a while. But eventually it became clear that Cuthbert thinks he’s always the best player on his team, and it’s the system’s fault he can’t climb.

The mmr system is frustrating, without a doubt. But the op is basically using a strawman.
01/04/2018 08:00 PMPosted by Jorlan
Kaawumba, I've actually gone and read through your entire post that you linked, and I believe you are very correct about what you posted.


Thanks.

There is a semantic problem here, that is making it difficult to communicate. MMR is not short-hand for statistical-performance-measure. It is short for match-making-rating. It goes up when you win, and down when you lose. So you can't say

01/04/2018 08:00 PMPosted by Jorlan
My MMR for that match would have been abysmal, but the tactic worked.


and have it make any sense. MMR is not a score you get per match. It is an overall rating.

And note that MMR is explicitly not getting removed in diamond+. In fact, the MMR/SR differential is primarily only relevant for diamond+.

03/02/2017 05:45 PMPosted by Scott Mercer
We felt like 3000 Skill Rating was a good breakpoint for the decay rules, as it was around 10% of the competitive population (see above). If you do decay, it only affects your current displayed skill rating. This decay does not affect the internal matchmaking rating we use, so we can still place you in fair matches. When you do come back and actively play matches, you’ll also typically gain more SR from a win until your displayed skill rating and internal matchmaking rating have again reached “equilibrium”.


08/23/2017 11:03 AMPosted by Jeff Kaplan
So SR "chases" your MMR very closely, except in a rare case of severe SR decay at GM/Masters/Diamond level of play.


Decay is not going away. Performance modification of MMR/SR is going away.
* BUMP *
It doesn't matter what blue posts are alluding to, it doesn't matter what the discussion around how the system is *suppose* to work is. All that matters is that in practice the better you perform the more the system expects you to carry players below the average for your SR tier.

So far there has not been a season where I get matched with better and better players as I go up in SR and/or winrate. Instead the matches get more and more stacked, the people that use voice, play well, pick around the situation/team disappear. They are replaces by people who, at high plat/low diamond, still pick a 3rd DPS as Hanzo and refuse to swap, or a Mei on offense that dives/solo ults, or a Torb that has no mic, doesn't communicate, and refuses to switch when asked by the whole team.

I decided to play Moira whenever I could this season, so I could see how my SR would react to playing a new char and getting better over time with them. I know my play is getting better and better, but my SR doesn't at all reflect that. I had a 70%+ winrate about 7 games after placement, and my placement was 9w 1l with the loss being a crash, placed about 2850, got 2 games away from diamond (~2950), then I hit a loss streak that took me all the way down to 2600 while playing *better and better* with the character I'm using. The difference is the quality of players and the balance of matches I was getting. Several times during the loss streak I was getting matched against teams of 3 with level 600-1200 people with pubs on my team all sub level 500.

This system doesn't match you with better and better players to test you, it matches you with worse and worse examples of your tier to try to make you carry to "prove" you can escape your tier. It's not about learning the game with good players and learning more advanced strategies while playing your character better. It's about learning to herd cats and negate toxicity as best you can.
01/04/2018 08:00 PMPosted by Jorlan
my issue is that the current MMR system much more often than not is creating frustrating games


This is the essence of all complaints related to the match making.

And there is a simple reason for these complaints. The MMR, based on which the match making is done, is made of game statistics, raw numbers (kills, deaths, assists, healing etc..). I for one have no trust whatsoever that Overwatch can judge a player's rank based on these numbers. There are numerous examples on these forums of player behaviors that lead to winning a game, which there is no way for them to quantify and integrate in the MMR. The Pharah example above is one of them. My personal example is that of a Rein playing well, when we all know that the best Rein players are good at creating space for their team mates - there is no way to assign a number to that skill and integrate it in the MMR.

And yet Blizzard keeps pinning these numbers on players based on what they think of that player, by some numbers that the players all know are no indication of skill. And then the worst part is, that this "handicapping" match making system will attempt to always keep players at their assigned rank (MMR).

Just give it up and use SR only for ranking and match making.

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