Recent debates about SBMM in games like Modern Warfare 2 have led many to believe that this internal mechanic is ruining their experience in live service games, and it’s caused no shortage of hot takes and heated exchanges on social media – but when looking at the bigger picture, it’s clear that these claims embody a warped view of the matter. SBMM, or skill-based matchmaking, is what makes a game’s playing field level for all those who participate, regardless of skill level. Although it may appear otherwise, this feature may be to thank for a lot of the enjoyment that players receive out of PvP games.
The main basis of the criticism is that SBMM makes unranked matches feel more “sweaty,” or fierce, as it refines competition quite considerably. There’s no denying the truth in that statement – and it is especially true for games such as the newly released Modern Warfare 2, which has many multiplayer modes but no ranked playlist – but while many people view this shift in a negative light, it actually increases the overall value players get out of these games. SBMM not only makes matches more fair, it also makes gameplay more gratifying and provides means for low-pressure skill progression.
For many years, SBMM has been a feature in PvP games of varying genres. These algorithms take into account all aspects of an individual’s performance and uses that information to calculate a hidden rank called MMR, or matchmaking rating. Though it’s separate from the visible rank that players can earn by playing competitive modes, it is almost always used to create lobbies in said modes, automatically placing players of the same skill together and providing them with appropriate rivals. Many games, such as Overwatch 2 with its influx of new players, also implement SBMM into unranked modes, though. This specifically is a major point of contention, as some believe that public matches are more suited for random, unregulated matchmaking. On paper, this may sound like a fun idea that is entirely fair in its unpredictability, but it’s not quite so exciting in execution.
A lack of SBMM in unranked lobbies only benefits those who sit near the top of the game’s food chain. As most of the player base will be beneath them skill-wise, this will almost always give these players an inherent advantage. The influence of RNG in battle royale games such as Apex Legends, though it lacks a solo queue, arguably makes this less prevalent of an issue. However, in more fixed competitive environments, a teammate who is significantly more skilled than the rest can be the sole factor carrying a team to their win.
While it might certainly be fun for higher-rated players to constantly play (and win) against lower-rated players, it’s a nightmarish experience the opposite way around. Since a large portion of any given game’s player base are casual players who may only get to play the game for a couple of hours each week, having matches like these can make them feel discouraged, or even deem the game as unworthy of their time. As Twitter user Adam states, replying to a tweet from streamer Dr. Disrespect (who has been voicing his concerns over Modern Warfare 2‘s issue with crossplay and more), “SBMM is literally the implementation of ‘go pick on someone your own size.’” Without it, many players – casual or otherwise – may find themselves frequently overmatched by significantly more skilled players, souring what could otherwise be a satisfying experience.
So when many argue that SBMM-based matches are “sweatier,” they are correct – but this is not necessarily unhealthy for the game. Because each participant harbors roughly the same skill, many will strive to perform to the best of their ability, hoping to provide their team with a minor, albeit impactful, edge. This can be stressful and even frustrating at times, but it is far more rewarding than its alternative. Having a teammate who is able to dominate opponents is fantastic, especially with Modern Warfare 2‘s various killstreaks, but it quickly turns miserable for those on the receiving end, who may find themselves unable to change the outcome of the match despite their efforts. Not many people enjoy feeling inadequate or powerless, and so a match like this may lead to players becoming angry or flat out giving up. SBMM prevents situations like this almost entirely. While matches may last a bit longer, and may result in more close calls, this system gives each player an opportunity to have a meaningful impact in their matches.
SBMM gives all players a chance to hone their skills without queuing for competitive matches, which are often hostile and high-stakes. Although everyone is bound to improve naturally over time, this matchmaking system can give them a push in the right direction. PvP titles have been growing increasingly complex – with League of Legends‘ newest champion K’Sante bringing the roster to 162 characters – and so feeling overwhelmed or hesitant is more than justifiable. When SBMM matches players with others of a similar skill level, though, they are able to practice their gameplay in a comparatively low-stress environment, while still being properly challenged.
Conversely, SBMM-less matches don’t guarantee such fruitful experiences. In many cases, players will be placed with or against others who are exponentially more skilled than them. Regardless of whether that higher-ranked player is friend or foe, this takes most (if not all) opportunity for improvement away, as they will either be effortlessly carried to victory or lose in a confusing manner. Even if a player is matched with those who are below their skill rating, it doesn’t provide them with the aforementioned challenge, and may result in stagnation.
Though SBMM seems to be angering some Modern Warfare 2 players at the moment, it’s a crucial element in any successful PvP title. The complaint that it makes lobbies more difficult is understandable, but to leave it at that without offering a broader perspective is disingenuous. Games are competitive in nature, and it’s impossible to avoid that aspect entirely. Knowing this, SBMM proves to be a wise choice – not only creating balanced matches, but making them feel rewarding in every sense of the word.
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