Why Handicapping (MMR) is Wrong for Competitive Play

If you want to go with your personal feelings over the layman’s interpretation of a Blue post, more power to you.

I prefer for my rationale not to require such reaches, personally.


That’s exactly right. This is what happens when you are accurately ranked.

Well not really based on “how well you play”, that’s only a small factor for people under 3000SR, but yes. When you win, you go up in rank, so the match maker puts you against better players.

You will be stuck at a new higher rank, because you just won games and moved up. Exactly where you will become stuck is wherever other players are as good as you.

You are presenting a paradox, where the system can judge your skill incredibly well, but doesn’t rank you accurately. Both your matches and your SR are based on your MMR. So it’s either both, or neither.

If the system accurately knows how well you play, that means your MMR is accurate, which means your SR is accurate (or will soon be if there was some disturbance, as bonus gains ensure SR always chases to MMR, even with a 50% win-rate).

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Seeing as you’ve been one of the most patient and respectful posters on this thread, regardless of the position you take in this discussion, I respect your opinions, but I also partially disagree with them on a fundamental level. Your position is that Blizzard has been 100% clear and transparant, never tells partial truths, isn’t ever inherently misleading toward customers, and has always been upfront about the competitive matchmaking process. I argue that this simply is false. While I don’t think they’ve outright lied about anything, I do think that they have not been transparent or given clear cut definitions of how the system works.

Jeff and others have given very simplified definitions of MMR, SR, and how they relate, but they have not at any point given an exact definition. Everything said by blizzard employees has been extremely generalized, to the point where it can be interpreted in multiple ways. The ways Cuthbert and others have interpreted is one valid way to understand it, while yours, FriendlyFire’s, and the like have another way of understanding it. Neither group knows for sure, and it’s a fallacy to wholeheartedly assume either POV is the correct one.

What I’m trying to say is that Cuthbert and co have valid reasoning, at least based on anectodal evidence and their inherent confirmation bias. The same goes for your side’s reasoning. Neither group can be outright told they’re wrong, although many who take the definition as you do think it justified. Fact is, Blizzard has not and probably will not ever fully explain the entire truth of the matter, barring a rogue current or ex employee leaking the info to us. That probably won’t happen anytime soon though.

I think it’s a fallacy to blindly go with one interpretation of the facts given without ever considering the others as being possibly true. There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence to show that the other side may be correct. Dismissing it off-hand as if Blizzard would be liars if you interpret it differently is naive. Just because some cannot accept that the quotes blizzard has given can be interpreted multiple ways does not mean they are correct.

My real question in all of this is why certain people cannot even fathom other interpretations from their own as being possible. There’s also absolutely no reason to assume Blizzard has given a complete picture of how the system works, because any layman can see that they have not. Anyone that understands that Blizzard is a company rather than a caretaker understands that Jeff and co are not permitted to explain many aspects of the game to us. When everything said by them has been vague and generalized to the point where it can be understood in many competing ways, it shows that we as a whole are not getting the absolute full picture truth on the matter.


That’s not completely true, if I’m being honest. I think that some things they tell us are pretty straight-forward, and could be taken at face value. I think others are pretty vague. There are some stances that I don’t believe require intimate knowledge of how the system works, though.

For instance, if someone says MMR and SR aren’t close. I will gladly acknowledge it’s possible in some instances (streaks, new accounts, decay), but I don’t think it is the norm for active accounts based upon the quote about them being closely linked. When someone says the system is rigged against them, I likewise could refer to the quote where Jeff comments that people should stop being paranoid.

I don’t refuse to acknowledge that those possibilities exist, so much as I feel it is unproductive to argue from those standpoints based upon what type of baggage comes with the stance that they are being deliberately misleading when talking, 'cause at the end of the day , yeah, it could be heavily stacked against players in some scenarios to keep them coming back if they have research that indicates failure motivates them to keep playing for whatever reason, and as crazy as that sounds in a utopian world, we know of way too many corporate scandals to say they ‘wouldn’t’ do that to their player base. Handicapping could totally be a thing, but I think it is slightly less reasonable to adopt that stance than it is to say the system is unbiased.

For the rest of what you’ve said, and this might come as a surprise, but I actually agree with you. I don’t think everything they’ve said gives us an accurate or complete picture of what is happening under the hood. I think it’s quite reasonable to assume there’s a lot more going on than what they’ve told us. I also think they used generalized language intentionally in many instances, which is problematic due to the ambiguity it can create.

That is to say that I do think Cuthbert and supporters have a leg to stand on. We (Cuthbert and I) actually had an excellent conversation at one point in the thread that simply ended with me noting that what he was saying made perfect sense, but that the presuppositions I was working with didn’t allow for his argument to exist (An “If A , then B”, where I could agree that B would follow, but that A didn’t exist in the first place).

Most of the time, I’m not posting in this thread to dismiss their opinions or argue that they’re wearing tinfoil hats without a basis, but to simply discuss the topics from my point of view. I don’t assume that I’m the one that has the answers (in most cases), but am attempting to engage in a dialogue on the topic of matchmaking, 'cause honestly, I think something about it is broke. I just find it difficult to pinpoint what mechanism in particular is broken, or if it’s a byproduct of the variables the system is attempting to work with.

I honestly enjoy the discussions in this thread a great deal. It’s probably my favorite thread on the forums. Cuthbert and a few others have been amazing to talk to, and not because we agree, but because I feel like this is a controversial topic where we have so many different worldviews that are actively engaging in an open-minded talk. If I didn’t feel that way, I would’ve left long ago, like I did the “Forced loss streaks” thread.


Not immediately, or gradually (which is what should happen), which is why you run into win- and loss streaks. This just happened to me. I’d been on quite the loss streak, and suddenly won 5 games in a row. But, aside from the players in them, they were all basically the same games; we start out on Defense, have a hard time defending, usually into overtime, or lose the round right before it, and when attacking, we somehow rush onto the objective and snowball across the map. Clearly, after having me lose 200 SR, the game felt I did not belong that low, and has since tried ranking me back up. Something’s afoot here.

Erm, no. This ‘stuck’ is only as far as the ‘medal’ (like Platinum) goes. But within that, you can be all over the place for reasons unknown to man. As I’ve stated before, I feel my ‘place’ on the ladder should be around 2850, why this number? It’s the average I get when I compare my season low and season high for the past 6 seasons or so. If 2850 is my ‘cap’, then why can’t I somewhat stably maintain that SR? Who do I get win streaks that sometime see me jump up into Diamond, or loss streaks that nearly drop me into Gold?

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(34) Overwatch Forums

In addition, because you are a Mercy main, these oscillations around your true rank are wider, because your win/loss results are more team dependent than most.

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I’m curious what you think is so strange here that something needs to be “afoot”?

I mean, aren’t you are describing a system that works as intended? It’s not a magic 8-ball that can read your “true skill” and put out one, constant number.

Uncertainty and fluidity are built into the system. You may drop low. It may not be your fault. But you will have easier opponents when you get there AND you may be in a better state of mind (if they are split among sessions).

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I’m not sure if anyone actually takes this suggestion seriously but I have suggested it before:

Someone who truly believes that the blue posts are being misinterpreted by Kaawumba AND has a cohesive, alternate theory supported by the same set of facts could easily write a guide similar to Kaawumba’s, using the same set of blue posts as references, and post that guide so that alternate theory could be compared. There are many real-world cases where two alternate theories describe the facts that we know. It wouldn’t surprising and it would be welcomed.

Until someone posts another interpretation of the facts, though, I don’t think that it’s fair to say that anyone is going “blindly” into one interpretation. The anecdotal evidence can be explained easily in the frame of one interpretation. We don’t discount their anecdotal evidence, it’s just that it doesn’t show anything that we wouldn’t expect from the system as we understand it.

Also, there are some paradoxes in the way Cuthbert and others describe the system, notably in that it HAS your “true skill” available to handicap you, but doesn’t use it but rather uses your MMR to make matches. So the system is both really good and really bad. That’s a paradox that isn’t really explained. There are others that I’ve brought up, but suffice to say that an idea needs to be internally consistent to be true.

To be fair, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Cuthbert doesn’t need his particular concept of how MMR works to make his point. There is a lot of discussion in this thread about MMR and balancing, but ultimately we all know that balancing happens, it’s just how often and how drastically. Whether we call it “handicapping” is not an important discussion to have as all it really does is change the frame from intent to effect. (The intent is balance but the effect is handicap.)

The real issue here is whether balanced teams are bad for competitive. I don’t see how that could possibly be true and the OP doesn’t really explain it but rather has repeatedly said that it’s “self-evident”.

It’s not at all clear why two balanced teams competing against each other would be bad, even the player differential on each team had an extreme range. ALL WE NEED is uncertainty regarding the outcome. The more uncertainty, the more productive the match.


Yeah that’s what I think too. None of us can say definitively how Match Making Rating works, because Blizzard hasn’t told us. Whether or not we’re comfortable being in the dark depends on how much we trust Blizzard. That trust is informed by our worldviews, political lives, and opinions.

My experience with online multiplayer games tells me that Overwatch’s matchmaking is more sophisticated than most other games’. We know that Blizzard is monitoring players, and manipulating their experience based on MMR, which is informed by performance-tracking algorithms. I think that for most open-minded people, that raises questions about the nature of the data being collected and how it’s being used.

The American government’s sluggish reaction to Facebook shows us that consumer data is a valuable asset, and that consumer data is prone to abuse. Corporations form data-management policies that fail the interests of the general public, often in pursuit of their own interests (i.e., revenue generation).

My worldview tells me that we should not trust Blizzard to handle Competitive Play responsibly. And I think that if they were doing what they do in plain sight, consumers would not accept their behavior. Something as simple as an in-game scoreboard would shatter the illusion that our matches are being made fairly, by an impartial matchmaking system.


I’m not sure how your OP relates to this worldview.

I’m also not sure what you actually want to do about it.

I, for one, quit Facebook (actually a long time ago) because the value/risk was way too low.

Google, otoh, I use religiously.

Blizz has my CC info, but so does a ton of other retailers. The only thing Blizz knows about me is that I like Overwatch and (due to the forum) that I’m a skeptic.

Video games are inherently addicting. They don’t need to manipulate the system to make them so. They will get more money from a fun, non-toxic game than one that relies on mismatching players and using throwers/leavers to enforce win rates.

I share your worldview on the lack of trust in corporations. What I don’t share, I guess, is your paranoia about this particular aspect of it.

I mean…if their goal with the current MM is to get more people to addictively play…it appears that goal has failed miserably. I don’t know anyone who thinks the MM system in comp is perfect.


So anything to say about f2p, pay 2 win games? Just like Candy Crush and similar that once had “impossible levels” saying so and letting people buy bonus even if the level cannot be finished? Buying loot boxes / hats / gun skins is a way to monetize games slightly better than Free 2 Play and Pay 2 Win games but still it is what has the focus of Bliz, the more you play, the more likely you are to buy stuff, keeping you playing is their main target. For you to have pleasure or getting your true rank faster is secondary.

I’m not saying there is a conspiracy, most problems in software are side-effects rarely made on purpose. Bad companies already created mess on their own to keep you playing and spending money though, so it can happen. But if we can’t check it, basically it is unfair by design and I’m against it and what Bliz has done for competitive.

Agreed. I personnally think they didn’t make this bad matchmaking with this idea in mind. I think that they just badly designed it. Believing you can guess future matches based on stats is skewed material. Wins and losses are the only thing that matters to build future matches and ranks, as it is done in real sport.

To this point I even think they should just put role queues, and imposing 2 2 2 composition with hero switching only within the same category, removing the “defense hero” category that nobody thinks is relevant, allowing to hit deflecting genji with melee for all heroes with damage reduction, buffing rein in some way, showing ult charges of all players including enemies so awareness is promoted, removing PBSR, removing either SR or MMR, ban 1 hero at start of game, increase avoid teammate to 10… there is so much to do!

This game needs structure to be played the way it is meant to be played. Players won’t be able to get there without premades or major training for carrying other unaware players, so it is bad. I prefer loosing flexibility with imposing some kind of team composition and limiting switching than getting double snipers and triple dps every match.


Every game (and every company) has a business model. Some are free to start but cost to operate. Some start with a higher cost and have free content. OW starts with a moderate cost and is supported by cosmetics (maybe OWL, too).

In that particular quote “they” refers specifically to the OW developers. I understand that may not be entirely clear, my apologies. My main point remains, if getting you to play more is their main target (and I don’t dispute that, really) then a functional, sensible MM system would be their goal, not this convoluted system that the conspiracy theorists conceive.

Their stated goal is to find players that are as good as you. I can’t be bothered to look up the quote, but they mentioned that players SAY that a close win or a close loss is a good game, but their actual behavior shows that what they really want is a win of some sort.

I think this view is completely incorrect.

I think what most people want has nothing to do with a win or a loss, but rather to have teammates that they trust are doing their job and trying.

Their current system discourages group play and doesn’t do anything to show that their teammates actually care.

THAT’S what is broken and designed poorly, IMO. The effectiveness of the MM to find 12 people that are of equal AVERAGE skill, though, is really good. It’s just that people define “skill” differently so it’s hard to see how some people got to the same level as you did.


Gaming industries are always trying to maximize engagement. That’s why casinos rig their machines and keep clocks off the walls. Those industries don’t owe consumers any protections unless they’re signed into law.

I would suggest that there should be laws against practices like Match Making Rating, which handicap matches without the knowledge of the participating players. MMR divorces individual players’ rank from their true merit, and converts skill from an asset to a liability.

100% agree, feel like I have improved so much since I started playing the game 2 years ago, yet at the same rank I was then because it is basically win one game lose another, win one game lose another because everything has to be 50/50 instead of putting SR vs SR not MMR vs MMR

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yeah loooooooooool just make a law because a hardstuck silver thinks hes better than his teammates and that he’s stuck at his rank because of the bad system loooooooooooooooool MAKE A LAW DUDE LOOOOOOOOOOOL


no. if you keep winning you’ll get thrown into 50/50 matches of higher sr, which means you’re ultimately better than your previous sr, which means you’ve climbed. It doesn’t forcibly place you with lower-tier players, it matches you with equally good higher-tier players, that’s why you get the illlusion that games are equally hard, because your teammates are better than ones at previously lower sr and the games are equally hard, but in reality you’re just in a FAIR match at a higher sr, and there’s nothing wrong with that

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When lower ranked players speak about hero balance and game mechanics, they are usually ill-informed. However this thread is about the theory of competitive match making, something we don’t have a lot of information on.

Both sides of the argument have their valid points, I don’t really think you can discredit his stance and points by attacking his rank on this matter.


It’s always worth revisiting this thread every once in a while to see what ridiculous thing Cuthbert thinks is going on or is a good idea in a given week.

Make a law against MMR. lol. That’s funny even for the nonsense in this thread.



If skill is a liability in the system, then why do good players consistently reach there main accounts SR on smurfs fairly quickly?

Why is it that every time someone has tryed to “prove to me” that the matchmaker is holding them back by making a fresh account, that account has ended up stuck in the same place there main account is?

The fact is that while there are issues with the matchmaker, skill is the most important asset a player can have. Personal skill, not luck, is how you climb, and if your more skilled then the players at your rank, you will climb out of that rank every time.

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lots of players will buy additional accounts and often share how they fair better.