Algorithmic Handicapping (MMR) is Wrong for Overwatch

Your entire post can basically be dismissed as speculation, since you purport to know more than you possibly could and you have no means to verify or confirm what you’re saying. Yet you and so many others want to make truth claims, when you don’t (and can’t) know the objectives and goals of the matchmaker, what it’s optimized for, how the algorithm works, how or if Blizzard values fairness or competitive integrity over, say, profit/engagement statistics, whether or not key premises on which your argument is based are factual, whether previous developer statements still apply, etc. etc.

It seems no one is comfortable acknowledging that they know very little about a closed proprietary system in favor of rampant dabbling in the availability bias fallacy: which gives undue attention and importance to information that is immediately available (piecemeal conclusions, first hand observations, unquestioned assumptions, anecdotal tidbits from others, ad hoc/post hoc theory-crafting, etc) while minimizing or ignoring the importance of key evidence that clearly exists but is not easily accessed – in this case, the actual runtime code for Overwatch itself.


You’re free to dismiss it. I don’t mind at all. Your post’s content is akin to taking the stance of solipsism in philosophy, though- which is to say that you seem to think that we can’t meaningfully discuss that which is unknowable. The complaint you throw against my post could be applied to both sides of the row for matchmaking issues. It is a fair criticism, no doubt, but it doesn’t really further the conversation.

I said it long ago, and I’m happy to reiterate it for you, I think we have absolutely no way of knowing what is actually running under the hood. They could be gaming the sweet bejeebus out of human psychology in a ridiculously cruel manner to achieve arbitrary engagement metrics and we wouldn’t have the data needed to prove that’s what was happening. Conversely, it could be an entirely unbiased system that just has some flaws baked into it that are all completely unintentional from a design perspective.

That disclaimer aside: I simply don’t think it’s productive to operate under the assumption that disregarding the information provided to us by the developers is the right call. The moment you accept that the developer posts we’ve been provided with over the years are either irrelevant due to a change we weren’t informed of or dev posts were written in a way that was intentionally misleading, every hypothesis presented becomes nothing more than speculation and conjecture.

Many of my posts can be summarized as follows: “I assume what we’ve been told is true and still applies to the current game despite a long window with no additional information being provided. If true, then X would happen in scenario with variables A, B, and C.” The moment you reject the initial presupposition, then, of course, everything that follows is wasted breath.

I hope that clears it up at least a bit. I’m not claiming to know truth or to have insider information. I have no issues or discomfort associated with saying that not only do we not know how it all works, but that without additional information that we currently do not have access to, we cannot know how the matchmaking system works in its totality.


I’m interested in recent comments about solipsism and known unknowns. This is why I am so focused on the developer statement by Scott Mercer from 2016, where he talks about MMR, forced 50% match odds, and discriminating between players based on their performance statistics. Because it is the only real statement of substance that we have about Match Making Rating from a primary source, the Lead Designer of Overwatch. It has been scrubbed from the internet with the rest of the old Battlenet forums…the quotation resides in this thread alone.

Though I have always felt that such a telling statement should be enough, I had to look closer at Activision/Blizzard’s patents related to matchmaking, when I started to receive tips from contributors to this thread. I understand that line of inquiry has led me into what some would consider conjecture…but I prefer to think of it probabilistically, in much the same way that Blizzard profiles their players with MMR.

What are the odds that Overwatch’s matchmaker is completely different from and uninformed by Activision/Blizzard’s 2015 Matchmaker patent? I would suggest the number is somewhere between 0% and 1%, based on the information that is currently available to us which is:

  • A corroborating statement from Overwatch’s Lead Developer.

  • Patent filings from the release year of Overwatch, containing descriptions of invention that align with developer statements about Overwatch’s Matchmaker, and the SR/MMR system.

  • Activision/Blizzard’s history of inventions related to matchmaking, each of whose reference lists are a mile long, referring to patents like Microsoft’s 2006 “Bayesian Skill Scoring Framework” invention, which is strongly analogous to Activision/Blizzard’s matchmaker if not an actual predecessor.

  • The long corporate history of unethical and ruthlessly addictive game design by Activision/Blizzard, as seen in titles like World of Warcraft.

  • The class action lawsuit for workplace misconduct and mismanagement, and the recent suicide of that poor woman who was abused in Activision/Blizzard’s offices. General signs of institutional depravity and disregard for ethics.

I could go on, and I will in future edits…but these are the things that come to mind right now. At a certain point, I think we have to respect our own state of knowledge and stop doubting the facts because of Activision/Blizzard’s mystifying silence. Their failure to reply to a thread that has run for 4+ years, receiving almost a hundred thousand player comments and views, is just that: a failure, and not a contradiction to my argument.


It likely isn’t completely different, but just having a patent and putting every aspect of said patent to use aren’t one in the same. For example, they had a patent that cosmetics would be used for matchmaking purposes, but went on record to state they didn’t use that in practice, IIRC.

That aside, there is still going to be disagreements around matchmaking at a fundamental level between folks like you and I. I actively prefer the idea of trying to balance matches with the available data (even if only SR ends up being used), and you seem not to want that. Or have I got you all wrong on that part?


Kaawumba still has threads on this forum that quote the old posts, FYI. Not as good as the original colored text, but unless you think he’s doctored the statements instead of posting them verbatim, it could be useful for you. I can find a thread with some of them if you’d like.

Edit 2:

Solipsism is one of those really cool things that someone occasionally latches on to way too hard for their own good. We can’t know for certain we aren’t a brain in a vat or inside the matrix (or whatever other creative example you want). For instance, I can’t know for sure you are a real person that isn’t just a figment of my imagination. However, it wouldn’t be productive for me to assume that because I cannot know whether or not you exist, that it follows I shouldn’t invest time/energy/thought into our engagements.

I believe the term the “hard solipsism” is thrown on the people that go completely nihilistic with the stance, for reference.


You’re right. Activision/Blizzard’s 2015 Matchmaker patent includes many troubling details of invention, including plans to discriminate against players based on gender, income, and residential location. But there is no telling which plans have been implemented, in any given Activision/Blizzard title, because the corporation is keeping players’ terms of use a secret.

However I am not taking issue with mere details of Activision/Blizzard’s Matchmaker invention; I take issue with the invention itself and its stated purpose. I think that discriminating against players and segregating them from each other based on their relative skill is unethical. At the very least, I think it is unethical to do so while purporting to rank players based on their skill. Players’ chance to advance in rank depends mainly on their ability to win games. Match Making Rating profoundly reduces skilled players’ odds of winning a given match.

I agree that only SR should be used for the purpose of matchmaking. However I do not think it should be used to balance/handicap matches, and in fact it is not SR but mainly MMR which serves this purpose. I think that Competitive Play should be solo-queue only, which would allow fast and fair matchmaking.

I believe it was Kaawumba who originally pointed me to Scott Mercer’s statement on the Battlenet forum, which is the basis for my argument. But he didn’t make anything of Mercer’s statement himself, rather suggesting that it proved the SR/MMR system to be innocuous. I think it proves exactly the opposite. I suppose people can see the same thing very differently.

1 Like

I believe this best summarizes our disagreement. Regardless of the metrics used, I would want matches to be balanced. I want this to be a thing in hopes that it would increase the quality of individual matches. You do not seem to hold that view.

People absolutely can interpret things differently. Glass half full vs half empty is the most digestible example I can provide.

Here is the thread I mentioned where Kaawumba saved some blue posts on the off-chance you might find it useful.:

As a final, unrelated note, I may be going off the grid for a long while again. I find myself playing Overwatch to “scratch an itch” rather than actually enjoying the game. I think I’ll be uninstalling it soon. From there, I’ll probably abandon forums, too.

If I disappear, I wish you all the best. Keep the open conversations going. It’s been honor to contribute to the back and forth, even though what I’ve provided is modest when compared to most of you. Take care, you beautiful people.


Yeah, that is the major point of difference between our positions. However, I would say that impartial/fair matchmaking is the best way to ensure match quality. MMR is designed to find out the difference in players’ skill, relative to others at their SR level. With that state of knowledge, the matchmaker balances/handicaps teams to have equal chances of winning. But that comes at the expense of the most skilled players in every match, reducing their chances of victory and advancement of rank. I don’t believe the ladder functions under these conditions.

I believe the dysfunction of the ranking system is caused by Match Making Rating, and that players can sense the wide disparity of skill between players in every rank. This results in cognitive dissonance, which causes toxic player behavior and gives everyone a general sense of unfairness that is unidentifiable, because of steps that Activision/Blizzard has taken to keep our terms of use secret from us.

I understand the need to do this. I stopped playing Overwatch completely (again) after producing my video. I attend the forums only to participate in discussion about Match Making Rating, as a matter of truth and justice. I hope you’ll subscribe to my YouTube channel which has new episodes coming out soon, moving on from videogames to other subjects.

I wish you all the best, and thank you for participating. You have elevated our discussion with your thoughtful and well-considered comments! Fond regards, Sheevah.

1 Like

I ended up reading almost this entire thread because I dislike the Overwatch mmr system as I appear to understand it. Despite that, you seem incredibly confident based on the feeling of thoroughness with which you have applied your resentment to this problem, but this entire thread is basically a game design cringe compilation and your underetanding of even the concept of how mmr works broadly or why seems totally incoherent at best and vastly confused due to a lack of familiarity with scholarly discussion on the topic of matchmaking algorithm design.

I suggest starting a similar thread on a game design forum so you’re actually talking to experts instead of confused and ignorant users that overstate their understanding of the math and design of video game systems. You’ll suddenly feel a lot less smug once a bunch of far smarter people tear you apart (unless you completely lack any competency and end up a dunning kruger in that debate which I think is likely).

I suspect your choice of audience was initially a smart move given the topic and your knowledge of how mmr works in this game and other games or systems. However, the utility of polling forum users like this is near zero to a game designer. If you actually want to talk about good design, go talk to experts if you think you can hang (you can’t, but you might learn). The sheer number of wrong statements I’ve read from you and others in this thread that are --infamous fallacies in game design-- that all design experts know to look out for makes the idea of wanting to exhaustively correct you or the others here seem untenable and unproductive.

Your takeaway here should be “stop acting like a poll of players is anything oven remotely similar to or as good as the consensus of designers that actually know what’s going on”. If you want to further this discussion substantively, you need to have math or system programming or discrete logic chops that you have yet to demostrate. Since you aren’t that kind of talent, the next best thing is to propose your theory to people that do have those talents. This forum is not where those people hang out.

(I make systems like this professionally and you show a near zero understanding of engineering or design, nevertheless what problems mmr is designed to solve or how it is supposed to do that. I would probably have an easier time teaching my mom how it works because she’s less overconfident than you are).


I’d like to hear what you think you know about the Match Making Rating system. Do you understand that it informs the handicapping of matches? Do you think it’s right for ranked, competitive play to be handicapped?

You claim to be an expert who knows better than me on this subject, but you haven’t even said anything of substance or relevance to this discussion. Your comments so far have been nothing but strident insults and self aggrandizement. Do you actually have a counter argument? I’m amazed that you would create a forum account to write a post that means basically nothing. I’ll thank you to stop wasting both of our time.

1 Like

What is the main motivation here?
Is there a special someone in a different rank that you can’t reach?

If the computer said ‘no’ then that is the answer.

1 Like

I can tell your asking this question sarcastically, but let’s consider it in good faith, because it highlights the fact that ranking is consequential. We are all segregated from each other, up and down the ladder. Rank is both our reputation and our right to compete with other players of our caliber. I think it’s a crime for Activision/Blizzard to handicap our matches when such consequences are on the line.

Rather than questioning my motivation, consider my argument. Do you think that ranked, competitive play should be algorithmically handicapped? Do you think the best players in every match have a responsibility to carry the worst players?


Scenario: Usain Bolt runs a 100M dash against highschool kids. To make it “fair,” they force Usain Bolt to start 30M back. The race starts and Usain Bolt barely crosses the finish line in front of everyone.

I can see why some would think this is a fair match because the race was close, but that’s deceiving. Actually the race was completely unfair to Usain Bolt, and technically he was punished for being faster than everyone else by forcing him to start 30 M back.

A 100M dash is to see who runs the 100M dash the fastest with all things being equal for each competitor except for their own skills. Overwatch handicaps players who are better in order to make a fake fair match.

The matchmaker should drop 12 people into a match that have the same SR (not MMR) at random and let the cards fall where they may. The ladder will work itself out.


Thank you for this.
And still there are many people trying to tell you that this has nothing to do with „rigging“.
I absolutely have no Idea what their definition of rigging is then.


I would like you guys to explain to me how the vast majority if not all players are in the ranks they belong to.

If I play on any account lower than Masters, I can easily rank them up to GM if I wanted.

1 Like

Yo, you wanna play on my account?

1 Like

Sure! I gotchu homie! ;]

1 Like

But that’s the thing. Nobody is saying you’re bad at the game when they say this. They are saying when you reach your peak, you start getting teammates who are not equal to you. Compounded in the lower ranks by PBSR. Most of us who say that this is a problem… are not in a rank where only wins matter. If i’m the best player on a team in silver, I shouldn’t be stacked with 2 bronze, while the others get two golds to make up for it, which it often feels like. Maybe I’m wrong. All we’re saying is drop the PBSR, or add it to all ranks. Fine. and only make the matchmaking pick silvers to play with me. MMR is for the birds, The algorithm that chooses it is bad, and most of us agree with it even if you don’t believe ‘rigged’ is the right word. The terms are what people dislike in this thread, despite most people believing that the MM is not great. I am fine being in silver, gold, and that’s all I need. I just want the games to actually feel fair. They do not now. Searching to balance the games we play via team average is bad. If you’re unplaced you only play with unplaced. If you’re bronze… you only play with bronze, etc. You shouldn’t see another rank until you get close to breaking into that rank.

I used to a low ranked player myself in the start (Low Gold), and there I only Climbed once I improved myself.

Since OW allows people to group up with Max 1000 SR, you will often get people from different ranks if they group up.


I understand how it works. I am arguing that it shouldn’t work like that. how you improved is not as important to me, as the games being fun. I should not ever play against someone a higher rank than me, with someone on my team who is lower rank, nor should I be the lowest rank on my team ruining it for everybody else. And vice versa, because I do have confirmation bias, I notice this when I lose, and less when I win, but it happens equally to everyone. I hope you get top 500. DO IT. I have no desire to grind my life into a game. I have a desire to have fun while playing… and since in the competitive arena, I can’t play with my friends, which I understand too (who placed higher than me despite us winning and losing the same amount of games, in the team game) Just place me against people in my rank then. No 1000 difference. SR alone.

Edit: When the game naturally does this, is when the games are the most fun win or lose.

1 Like

Forgive me, this mega thread has reached quantities of likes and interventions by supporters and detractors probably never reached by others.

Am I the only one who seems suspicious of blizzard’s silence about it, if only to deny it?

1 Like