Call of Duty finally defines the ‘skill’ in skill-based matchmaking

The use of ‘skill-based’ matchmaking in Call of Duty has always been kept under wraps, but now the CoD team is opening up about its PS5 and Xbox system.

Call of Duty MW3 matchmaking blog: a soldier in a skeleton mask with gold detailing

The discourse surrounding the perceived use of skill-based matchmaking in modern PS5 and Xbox shooters has intensified in recent times. The biggest poster child for this is the Call of Duty series, which has prompted huge swathes of complaints from players over the past few years. Making good on a promise made at the end of last year, the Call of Duty team has put out a lengthy primer on how its matchmaking system works, the limited role that ‘skill’ actually plays in it, and what it means for Call of Duty MW3.

While the CoD team acknowledges the use of skill and performance within the matchmaking system of one of the best FPS games right now, this isn’t quite the gotcha moment many thought (and hoped) it would be. After all, these are just a couple of metrics factored into a much broader process that includes more heavily weighted factors like connection – “ping is king,” the team says – and time to match.

On the measure of skill itself – something that’s been around since 2007’s Modern Warfare – the CoD team says it is factored in to ensure “that the disparity between the most skilled player in the lobby and the least skilled player in the lobby isn’t so vast that players feel their match is a waste of time.” According to the team’s data, the use of skill in its matchmaking system ensures that “all players are more likely to experience wins and losses more proportionately.”

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However, that’s not to say that matchmaking is by any means perfect – we and many others can attest to that. For some matchmaking feels too strict, placing players (typically top-level ones) into sweatfest after sweatfest. For others, there’s serious rubberbanding whereby for every game they go nuclear, they’re immediately shoved into a lobby seemingly built to humble them.

There’s a hint of acknowledgment here, as the team goes on to note that lower-skilled players who lose more often are more likely to quit – something it doesn’t want, as “a smaller player pool means wait times for matches increase and connections may not be as strong as they should be.” As such, there’s an element of determinism here, which has perhaps prompted some of the unfounded claims surrounding engagement-optimized matchmaking in MW3 – more on that in our MW3 SBMM post.

With that said the biggest shift between the original MW era and now is the introduction of disbanding lobbies, and this is where we think the biggest improvement could be made. Back in the day if you found a fun lobby you could stay in it, making for a more pleasant experience that you had a level of control over. Sledgehammer said in a Reddit AMA last year that it was planning to test non-disbanding lobbies, so we’re eager to see the results of that.

Though the discussion is clearly far from over, the CoD team states that it has registered feedback surrounding “the sweatiest of lobbies,” and will “continue to test and actively explore ways to mitigate this concern.” It hasn’t quite got the formula right yet, but that’s not to say it isn’t trying to make MW3 one of the best multiplayer games. Only time will tell if the team can strike gold before CoD 2024 rolls around.

For more of the latest CoD news, check out this canned entry that was supposed to take the spot of 2013’s Call of Duty Ghosts.