Initial Competitive Skill Rating, Decrypted

Too Long, Didn’t Read

  • Initial competitive skill rating (SR), for accounts that have never played competitive, is approximately 2350. This leads to new accounts being placed closer to high gold that is correct.

  • There is substantial luck based variation in initial placement.

  • Quick play has no influence on starting SR.

  • Initial placement is not dominated by statistical performance.

  • For the first eighteen games, including placements, SR change, for average players, is approximately described by SR change = -3.85 * game + 99.34.

  • Top players can gain more per game, and have exaggerated gains for up to twenty-five games or so. Bottom players likely gain less.


Blizzard has not revealed many details about how initial placements work. For this reason, there have been a number of contradictory theories that are accepted by large segments of the community. Therefore, I decided to create a new test account and take careful and thorough data, available at Initial Competitive Skill Rating, Decrypted - Google Sheets, in order to better understand the initial placement process.

Does Quick Play Matter?

One question is whether a player’s starting 25 levels has any influence on where a player is initially seeded in competitive.
Several forum posts indicate that new players start in high gold (or maybe low plat) at least for top players.

Overwatch Forums

Jeff Kaplan has also stated that competitive MMR is separate from quick play MMR, but he did not really address the question of initial competitive placement (Overwatch Forums).

I wished to verify that quick play does not affect placements, and verify it for low ability accounts. In this account, I played quick play (and only quick play) atrociously for 25 levels. Think simulated 6 year old child. I insta-locked Mercy when possible, didn’t heal, didn’t dps that well either, etc. I never spoke in voice or responded in chat. I’d still get medals fairly often through Mercy’s self healing (yes, the healing in the low tiers of quick play is that bad). My overall win rate was 24%. It is difficult to judge the SR of people down there because so few of them play competitive, but I did inspect all profiles and (towards the end) opponents were usually in bronze, and occasionally in silver. Most accounts had less than 100 levels played. I generally played during prime times (evenings and weekends) because I quickly noticed that if I played in the early morning on a weekday, I would be placed into games that were not appropriate.

I then played my first ever competitive placement matches at the beginning of season 9 (to assure more active competitive players), and played to win. In each game, I inspected the career profiles off all opponents, and recorded their most recent competitive SR. I also recorded player level and grouping, but didn’t see anything interesting there (player level doesn’t matter and was much higher than I was seeing in quick play; groups tend to be matched against groups of equal size). The data is at Initial Competitive Skill Rating, Decrypted - Google Sheets. In the first match, 9 of the twelve players had a rating in previous seasons, with an average rating of 2315. It is apparent that I started in high gold. So at this point, we can definitively say that quick play does not affect competitive, even in initial placements.

Are Placements Results Dominated by Statistical Performance?

I’ve seen people say this on the forums from time to time, but never with any support. My data certainly contradicts this hypothesis. Looking at the team averages in my placement games (which are admittedly a rough measure), the team averages went up on a win, and down on a loss, for every game except number 10. My understanding (and data) is that placements are like the rest of the season, but with wider swings. That is, win or loss is most important, with performance being a smaller modifier on top of that.

Detailed Analysis

After taking the data, I looked at the change in my SR per match (visible on the second sheet after the data tab, the analysis tab), for games 11-20, and noted that the relationship was linear until game 18 or so, when the games have typical established account movement (20-30 SR). This is exciting. It means that we can make a fit (with performance related outliers removed) and extrapolate backwards to determine how much SR is gained or loss each match, even during placements. From this, I find SR change = -3.85 * game + 99.34. I fill in the values in the table, under the column “Estimated or Actual SR” and find that my SR for the first game was 2366, which is in good agreement (considering the roughness of the calculations) with my estimate of the SR for the first game based on averaging all known SRs (2315).

Other player results

Lately there has been a rash of streamers leveling up smurfs. See Streamer Data - Google Sheets, PlatChat 11 (Kabaji), Rainbow 10 (Kabaji), and Dmum 11 (Custa). Generally, these confirm that initial SR in competitive is around 2350. However, the equation I derived does not produce very good agreement, likely because these streamers have much higher performance than me. However, winning or losing is still more important than performance alone (see how the ranks of the opponents change with each match). They also can have exaggerated SR gains and losses for up to 25 games. Note that none of these players had great placements records. This is because they made special challenges (such as having chat choose which hero is played) to keep things interesting, and there is a lot of randomness in late season placement matches.

M0rchPonkey below shows what happens when someone sweeps their placements, and has good statistical performance. He placed 3590, which is higher than I would have predicted from my data alone. He also repeated the test of throwing quick play, with the same result, that quick play does not affect competitive.

DongQuixote has done a whole rash of accounts (Best approach to place high on new account? - #26 by Buttǃ-1842), and has shown that initial placements can be all over the place for a given player: 3550 (10-0), 3267 (7-1-2), 3003 (6-4), 2780 (7-3), 2600 (6-4), 2300 (6-4). Which drives home that a player cannot be accurately placed in only ten games. It also repeats that sweeping placements can cause players to place in low masters.


Since new accounts start in high gold for their first match, this leads to accounts being placed closer to high gold than they should be. Poor players tend to be placed silver / low gold and fall down. Better players tend to place plat / diamond and grind up. Gold players (such as myself) are likely placed okay. However, good or bad luck can throw initial placement off, as 10 games isn’t really enough to place people accurately. The extreme range is roughly high bronze to low master, but most players will place closer to high gold than this, regardless of where they belong. Note that even top 500 players can have trouble winning all placements and hitting masters immediately.

I suspect that new accounts actually start at the median SR for the community, which according to Jeff Kaplan is somewhere in gold (Competitive Mode Tier Distribution). This makes sense in a strictly mathematical sense. An unknown player is equally likely to be above as below median. However, I generally expect a new player would be below median, because they have no experience. But a smurf would generally be above median. So what really matters is where the median new player eventually ends up which depends on how many smurfs vs new players we have. What I suspect is that it is much more likely for new players to sink down into silver/bronze than to shoot up to diamond+. However, without access to Blizzard’s data, it is hard to be sure.

Also realize that it is a very poor new player experience to place low gold / high silver and then sink down into bronze where he belongs. For this reason, I think it is best to start new accounts lower, perhaps 1500, and work them up quickly if performance metrics imply that they belong much higher.

There is also the question, why is the 25 levels of quick play data thrown away? On one hand, it is more pure to have zero influence of quick play on competitive. On the other hand, it makes the competitive experience worse for everybody. When you see a player with less than 20 competitive games (lifetime) on your team, you have no idea what ability player he actually is, but there is a very good chance that he is incorrectly placed. For the person on the new account, he will often have a poor new player experience as he grinds up or falls down to where he belongs.

There is the problem that new accounts can level up entirely in arcade or custom games, so I propose that new accounts be required to grind 100 (or however many is required to get good data) quick play matches before entering competitive. This quick play data should be used to seed the competitive data (but not too aggressively, so people don’t try-hard in quick play to a level much higher than they belong).

Caveats and Warnings

These results are not valid before season 6. Before season 6, players’ starting SR was artificially lowered below their MMR to give them an artificial experience of climbing for the first 50 games or so.

Streak bonuses (at least for established accounts) were removed at the beginning of season 5. It is virtually certain that streak bonuses existed during placements prior to season 5.


I think qp mmr def matters. When my friends and I grinded to lvl 25 we were getting gm/t500 qp games and then we placed in high masters on fresh accounts


When was this? Did you write down any information (like what your placement records were or what you placed at)?

Smurfs wouldn’t exist if there was no incentive to skip the hell of Plat.

In my current Qp games any active competitive players are around 3200-3500 on this account and I fully expect to place somewhere in Diamond when out.


It’s pretty hard for me to remember, since i did this one in s3, but multiple friends of mine have placed in high masters, i’d have to assume with good records. don’t really have any stats to give you

My first season I played terribly. Quickplayed to lvl 25 and immediately started competitive. 9 Losses, 1 win. Placed at 700 SR.

Ok. My results are not valid before season 6, as important changes have happened since then.

At the end of last season a friend of mine got banned. He bought a new account and leveled it up in quick play.

He had no prior record of comp.

We started to do placements together this season and within a game or two we were too far apart to queue together anymore (we got the error message). I dont remember exact numbers of where our final placements landed but it was more than 1k apart.

This would indicate that at least some data is used from quick play for initial placements.

thinking about it now though i suppose its possible that he went in with 0 and after 1 game we were then deemed too far apart to play again.

Thanks for sharing OP. Definitely an interesting read.

FWIW, I have an alt account that just got last season, went 7-2-1 and placed 3042 (Decayed to 3k). Went 5-4-1 this season and placed 3024 (letting it decay). Those are the only games on the account. I didn’t think about tracking all the extra details that you have, but it seems to fit within the realm of possibility for what you’re presenting.

1 Like

The problem is your sample size of one makes even a very a detailed break down not really mean all that much. Plus at the start of every single seasons, every one, people rush in to say how they did fine but got a rather low SR. Bunch of posts how a person played with a friend, played in a full stack, everyone else got say gold and they person posting chunked out a high silver.

and honestly given the nature of the game and the current SR spread it really would not mater if people started at low gold anyways. Gold is JV level, intermediate, C league or whatever else one might use to tag a person/team as 100% meh like average.
The four door grey car of SR ranges.

so even if the 25 levels of QP was only used to force a player to get use to the game, then placement was always some where between low and mid gold, that would be 100% fine IMO.

that said I still think QP does come into play being placements are still all over the place for players. Way more than what would happen if everyone was just +/- off say 2300SR as a baseline default.

My results are not valid before season 6. I suspect you hit the loss streak penalty, which was still in place then.

Yes, if you are on an old silver account, and he is on a new account, he will get much more SR per win than you, which can quickly drive him out of the 1000 SR range requirement.


A sample size of one is much more valuable than a sample size of zero, which is what many people base their opinions on. But sure. Give me more data. I will add it to my analysis.

All on a new account? More likely not, in which case the SR they place at is dominated by their MMR from previous seasons (unless the account has been inactive for a long time).

Give me actual data. Not “I heard somewhere on-line that…”.

No, a sample size of one is worse, far worse, being it make a person start to think they can draw hard conclusions from it. Where as at least over all trends have 100s of data points, even if some of them might be off by other factors. When the sample size is one, it’s near meaningless.

I do my placement and throw oranges at cars that drive past while screaming “TAKE this SR gods!!”. Then I claim that due to my mic being on blizzard heard my orange sacrifice. So clearly my NEW account was +400 higher due to oranges!! Proven!!
Look at my single point of data…

I don’t want to be belittle your efforts, being the data collection etc is to be commended. It’s trying to draw conclusions and painting them as facts that’s the problem.

I didn’t follow links to your data points. I did read your whole post.

I have only placed one alt account in the last few seasons… that being my one-trick account I think it was S5. That placed 2800s. I only did placements and that was the season with the negative modifiers in it. I’d have to look, but I remember winning a lot early on (games were really easy) I mighta gone 8-2 or 7-3

The next season I think I went 6-4 and placed 3050. So the ~200sr was about accurate. Played a couple more games peaked at 3130s then finished at around 3109

Sea 7 I went 5-5 placed 3111

Sea8 I went 6-4 and placed 3236

I haven’t placed that account in s9 yet. That account has been strictly solo queue. I use it to guage my “true” symm skill on.

This account I finished 2550 in sea 8. I duo’d with a decayed low masters (they placed 3300’s on the alt they used in all 10 games after finishing 3510s before decay) and we went 8-2 in placements and was playing against around 3000 teams. I placed 2651.

So, not exactly completely sure what is up with placements to be honest.

1 Like

Let’s say you are on an international trip, and you want to know what time it is. You forgot your mobile phone, or don’t trust that it updated to the new time zone. How many people do you ask before you think you know what time it is? Me, I just ask one (or look at one clock). Now, later, if I get contradictory information, I’ll start asking more people, or getting a more authoritative source.

Not everything requires massive statistics to get a sufficiently reliable answer. You have to use your life experience to whittle down which problems require rigorous science, casual scientific principles, or just casual queries.

You know, through life experience, that throwing oranges at cars won’t help your rating, so any data that says otherwise is highly suspicious and should probably be ignored.


I think your assumption about initial placement at ~2350 SR to be correct. That is exactly why Gold rank is so frustrating to be in. New players, smurf accounts training new heroes (bad performance) end up here, as if having the most player base here was not enough.

If it helps you, I previously posted in another thread but I got some info wrong in there.
Im not home with my pc, so I’ll list what I can remember off hand.

Season 3 to 5 - I was gold and plat. Hovering 2.2k to 2.5k
Season 6 - Peaked at 26XX, ended at 26XX (sorry I can’t recall the exact SR now)
Season 7 - did not complete placements
Season 8 - Placed at 2961, ended at 2888

Season 8 placements, I found myself in high diamond, low masters matches somewhere in match 5-7. Ended with a 4W-6L or 6W-4L (unlikely this as I was remember being quite tilted then lol) record for my placements and placed 2961 as above.

Season 8 placements - I hate it I can’t recall my record, but let’s just assume it was 6W-4L. Even with a 60% win rate, I gained a min. 262 SR from my last available SR in Season 6 (I assume it to be 2699 to be fair).
That’s a 43 SR gain per match won, with 0 SR loss for every defeat if I were to put it across in that manner.
Just for brevity sake, if it was a 40% win rate, which I am more inclined to think/ remember that it was, it would be a 65 SR gain per match won, with 0 SR loss per match lost.

Season 8 end - 6W 10L - 37.5% win rate. End at 2888. Gain in minimum 189 SR, from my last available SR in Season 6 (again I assume it is 2699 to be very fair). Go figure.
I feel like the old boosted mercy players right now lol.

Right now, I have half a mind to actually skip season 9 placements (5 matches played) and do my season 10 placements instead just to see where I land in season 10.

Yeah, if you don’t play much competitive, you rank goes up and down more. If you get lucky (which is more likely when you don’t play many games), you can end up very far from your true rank.

So I just moved from console to PC. On console I’m normally anywhere between 3900-4200 peaking in the top 500 in every season except for season 2.

As you can imagine my first 10-15 levels in quick play weren’t the best as I was trying to learn keyboard and mouse so my performance stats were pretty mediocre.

By the time I reached level 25 however I felt good and performed very well in my placements finishing with 8wins-2losses.

Playing dva for 7 of the 10 games I was putting out 37.57elims and 3deaths on average.

Across all 3 heroes I played (dva, Winston, soldier) I averaged 32.80 elims, 3.20 deaths (both top 1%) and 14662 damage done (top 4%).
Check out out my full stats:
Overbuff - Pars#21686

As you can see I put up some very solid stats but in the end I placed 3116 which I was pretty disappointed with in all honesty as if I had done the exact same pre-sr changes I have no doubt it would have got me masters or somewhere close as I’ve done it 3-4 times on console previously.
As to whether quick play affected my placements, I’m not sure but the original posters point of new accounts starting with a hidden mmr of around 2350 seems to be about right from my experiences.

1 Like