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Apex Legends’ design director on the health and direction of ranked

The Loadout speaks to Apex Legends' design director, Evan Nikolich, about the current state of ranked following Season 13's Ranked Reloaded update

Apex Legends ranked mode: A selection of characters from Apex Legends stand in a line in a yellow grassy field

One of the biggest developments for Apex Legends Season 13 was Ranked Reloaded, a collection of changes and improvements to Apex’s competitive mode bundled up into one package. The main focus was not only to create a more satisfying and less frustrating ranked experience, but one where the quality of the gameplay would also change to better reflect the placement-focused action we see in the Apex Legends Global Series.

While Apex Legends’ ranked mode is constantly tweaked every season, this marked one of the biggest single updates to ranked since the game launched. So has it worked?

For some, ranked is the best it has ever been, but Ranked Reloaded is still far from being universally loved by all competitive-minded Apex players. With that in mind, we reached out to Respawn for its thoughts on the direction of ranked play, how Ranked Reloaded has been received, and what it’s looking to tinker with next.

To coincide with the Awakening Collection Event update, which also makes a few more tweaks to ranked, here’s what Apex’s design director, Evan Nikolich, feels about the state of ranked play. Nikolich reflects on the changes that were made in Ranked Reloaded, and whether Respawn might look at addressing some of the other things the community has flagged recently, such as RP costs and Gold Knockdown Shields.

Apex Legends ranked changes: Newcastle flies through the air preparing to slam down his shield

The Loadout: Ranked Reloaded brought about some significant changes to ranked play in Apex. We’ve had about six weeks of Season 13 now, so what have you made of the players’ reaction to the changes over that period? 

Evan Nikolich: We are heading in the right direction with the rank system, creating a better competitive environment and better quality play. Teams are surviving longer, play towards the end game is more intense, and wins are more coveted. That said, we have a lot of room to grow and improve, as there are several valid pain points around matchmaking and the grind. We take a hard look at community feedback and along with the back end data we have, the team is looking at those pain points to see what we can do next.

From what you’ve been seeing in the community, what has been players’ biggest complaint about Ranked Reloaded, and on the other end of the spectrum, what has been the change that has earned the most praise? 

While we have seen a lot of improvements with Ranked Reloaded, we always want to push to do more and to be better. A big area of opportunity for us to continue improving upon is our matchmaking system. Matchmaking is a constant challenge for every competitive game, and we’re no exception to that. That said, that won’t stop us from always pushing to make things better, so players can rest easy knowing the team is actively working on improving matchmaking.

Based on community feedback and the data we’re seeing, there’s been the most positive improvement around rank placement and better team play. In fact, I think we’re even seeing higher quality matches with more people playing to win. We think this is a step in the right direction and we want our players to know that we will continue to iterate on the ranked experience so keep that feedback coming.

The two main goals Respawn had for Ranked Reloaded were:

  • Players will focus on playing as a team, and playing for the win
  • RP will be a more accurate representation of your overall game skill.

On both of those goals, do you think the changes have been effective in achieving them?

On the first goal, playing as a team and for the win, we are executing on that better than prior seasons. Teams are surviving longer, and focusing on working together to get a win over individual performance in racking up kills. We still have room to improve for player placement. The goal is to always ensure players are most accurately ranked while also ensuring that the system isn’t unnecessarily punishing and does reward skill fairly. So the team and I are continuing to look for ways we can refine these changes.

In terms of RP being a more accurate representation of overall game skill, I think we are not there yet. We have improved over Season 12 where it was too easy to climb with degenerative strategies, but in Season 13 we have a number of high-skilled players sitting in lower ranks for too long. We need to get better at separating out the skill tiers faster, and the team is actively working on improving it. 

Apex Legends ranked Reloaded: Apex Legends' Ash looks to the side wearing blue, gold and white armor

Usually, we get some details on both ranked splits at the start of a new season, yet we still don’t know what’s happening with Season 13 Split 2 at the moment. Is there a reason behind this? Are you able to reveal when it’ll be or which map it will be played on?

We are usually debating and making changes up until the last moment. We do not want to commit to anything publicly until we feel confident that the changes are tested to completion and ready to go. That usually isn’t until a few days before we send the patch notes out. 

Has Respawn ever considered a move away from Ranked splits, or potentially thought about increasing the number of splits? Or is two splits per season the sweet spot?

We will always have a split on the seasonal boundary. Each season we introduce several changes and it is a good time to reset and get a new gauge on skill. How many splits we have in a season is something we are currently discussing, but no commitments on where we will go.  

With the emphasis on placements in Ranked Reloaded, some players have argued that gold Knockdown Shields should be removed as they are seen as a bit of a cheesy or overpowered strat for surviving the end-game. What are your thoughts on that – should Gold Knockdowns be nerfed or removed?

I will not commit to anything at this time, but we are evaluating and changes will be coming in the future. So keep that feedback coming!

A suggestion from former Apex pro Eric ‘Snip3down’ Wrona is that solo queue and duo queue players should get discounted RP entry costs, as three-stacks have more of an advantage in ranked. What are your thoughts on that suggestion?

It’s an interesting pitch, but I have to disagree here. I do not want to adjust RP costs on a team by team basis because that adds confusion and potentially an unfair advantage. Consider an analogy for when I go play basketball. When I play with a group of random people against a group of friends, my team does not start with a few point lead because that would be unfair. We all have to play on the same court and with the same rules. We believe Ranked Apex should abide by the same philosophy – wins should be based on overall team skill.

That being said, I definitely think there is room to improve the solo experience. We have heard player concerns here and we are actively looking for ways we can make things better for solo queue players. We can’t share any additional details at this time, but rest assured knowing we’re working on it.

Apex Legends Season 13 ranked: A Pathfinder stands with a long-barrelled sniper rifle in hand

Finally, a bit of a long and philosophical question: Over the seasons, we’ve seen the ethos of Ranked change a fair bit, with the pendulum swinging back and forth between prioritising kills, to prioritising placements, to somewhere in the middle. Is this just the nature of competitive ranked modes, and will that pendulum keep swinging to keep things fresh and change up metas? Or do you think you’ve landed on a formula now that will be the foundation of ranked for many seasons to come? 

I think it is the nature of the ranked modes and we forging into new territory with ranked play in a multi-team game. We’ve been learning a lot season over season and I do not think we’ve landed on a formula per se, but we have a solid direction of where we want to go. We want to encourage high skill team play, put emphasis on winning, and create a path to pro-play. We aspire that one day pro teams will be able to look for the next great player to join their team from the top Apex ranked players.

In addition to ensuring that higher ranked games are competitive and where the best rise to the top with a path to pro-play, we also want people who aren’t Diamond to enjoy ranked games as well. We want ranked to feel impactful for players who are building their skills and for those players to get a sense of growth as they master skills and move up the ranks. That said, we need to ensure that it feels good and fair to land at the rank you land at. 

I guess the takeaway here is that we are going to keep iterating and appreciate all the player feedback. I am grateful that we have such an engaged and passionate community, and it’s great to be working with them to build the best competitive experience possible.