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Inevitably, the MW3 SBMM discourse has fully begun

Right on cue, the Call of Duty community is engaging in fiery discussion about Modern Warfare 3 SBMM and its perceived impacts on the multiplayer experience.

Call of Duty MW3 SBMM: a soldier wearing a mask and night vision goggles with green lighting

There are three certainties in life for every Call of Duty MW3 player: death, taxes, and skill-based matchmaking discourse. Discussions surrounding the balance of matchmaking systems have long-raged since before the Modern Warfare reboot era, and now barely two weeks after the full launch of this year’s game, MW3 SBMM is already being hotly debated.

In theory, SBMM should be deployed in all of the best FPS games around – at least in ranked playlists – to ensure games are fair and balanced as players within a certain skill bracket are matched with each other. You do see this to an extent in MW3 multiplayer, though the crux of the issue surrounds the looseness of its implementation, as well as Activision’s alleged use of engagement-optimized matchmaking (EOMM) to keep players playing at the expense of match quality.

Regardless of the system deployed, many are experiencing skewed lobbies (some have randomly come across Top 250 players), network issues believed to be related to it, and an overall unenjoyable time with the game. While we at The Loadout have certainly been on the receiving end of hit-reg issues and desync, we haven’t really seen the connection to SBMM, but it’s clear others are. With a Sledgehammer AMA set to take place on Reddit soon, many are hoping for answers.

So why are connection issues being attributed to SBMM? Well, in more casual matchmaking systems games are typically slapped together with players who have a strong network connection to one another. While you’ll definitely get lopsided lobbies in terms of skill, you should know for a fact that you lost a 1v1 because of a skill issue, not because your bullets straight up weren’t registered by the server.

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However, in an SBMM system that prioritizes skill, it’s commonly perceived that connection quality takes a back seat as the matchmaker hunts for players on your level. In a perfect world, this ensures that every game is equally challenging and enjoyable for players – no more pub-stomping noobies if you’re a certified aimer – though if SBMM is utilized in MW3 then this appears to have gone awry.

While hit reg issues and desync are often attributed to SBMM, there has never been formal confirmation of this, and it could simply be a result of issues elsewhere in the network chain.

Then you have EOMM, which effectively balances games to entice players to extend their play sessions for as long as possible. In practice, this would see lobby quality vary dramatically as players would body a lobby in one game before being matched with considerably better players in the next.

Again, there’s never been confirmation that CoD uses EOMM though Activision has previously patented tools that could make it a reality. Additionally, a 2017 paper by Chen et al., which involved EA, highlights the boons of an EOMM model, so it’s certainly something that has at least taken the interest of major AAA studios.

In addition to issues with matchmaking and server quality, the balance of the best MW3 weapons has also come into question. As assault rifles like the DG-58 and the best MCW loadout continue to dominate the MW3 meta, battle rifles and marksman rifles have proven ineffective in comparison. Even SMGs have been noted by some as comparatively weak to their mid-long-range brethren.

As the myriad of issues with the latest CoD have been highlighted by fans – we’ve certainly had our fair share of qualms with the game as a whole as you can see from our Call of Duty MW3 review – there’s still hope for the shooter. Within that same AMA thread, and indeed elsewhere, complaints are balanced out with praise for improvements made to movement and gunplay over last year’s game.

Ideally, when MW3 ranked arrives with Season 1 reloaded – more on that in our MW3 Season 1 release date guide – we’ll see heavier matchmaking systems shift to those queues, while traditional connection-based matchmaking will remain in casual modes. While we’re not convinced this will ever happen, it’s clear that something needs to shift for many of the series’ most fervent fans.