Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3 skilled-based matchmaking
Image via Activision

Call of Duty server issues broke skill-based matchmaking for a day, and players loved it

Skilled-based matchmaking went down, and the fanbase's fun went up.

Skilled-based matchmaking has been an ongoing topic of conversation in the Call of Duty community for a while.

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For obvious reasons, it’s a necessity that prevents lower-skilled players from quitting or just having an awful experience. However, it also makes playing any style of Call of Duty, other than “sweaty,” downright impossible for more skilled players. The game’s servers recently had some serious issues for a day, and part of those problems stopped skilled-based matchmaking (SBMM) from working properly.

When the servers were down, so was skilled-based matchmaking

On February 23, millions of players logged into their Modern Warfare 3 accounts and found a few surprises. Their player level was reset to 1, the Zombies mode wouldn’t work, and loadouts were disabled. It was a mess that seemingly happened overnight. Thankfully, the developers worked tirelessly to get everything back in order throughout the day. Part of the process involved disabling ranked play, as progressing through the ranks wasn’t working either.

However, one result of the server issues that received positive feedback on social media was skilled-based matchmaking going offline. Many popular streamers and other players took to Twitter to voice their joy about the lack of SBMM. It seemed like high-level players could get into lobbies with inexperienced Call of Duty players who didn’t know what they were doing. Clips like this one took off, displaying just how easy it was for the streamer to toy with another player in Warzone.

But why would everyone love a lack of SBMM? It’s the system that keeps players playing against opponents of a similar skill level. You’d think it would be beneficial for everyone, right?

Unranked Call of Duty is better without skilled-based matchmaking

The argument against removing SBMM is usually that streamers and other skilled players just want to dominate. While that plays a part, that is a very low percentage of the player base. The above-average casual player suffers, getting thrown into lobbies against the best of the best when they’re probably not.

Being better than really bad players puts you in the same bracket as people playing the game for a living. There aren’t enough streamers with a 4.0+ kill/death ratio to fill a lobby every time they search, so instead, they’re playing above-average players with a 0.9+ K/D, who have no chance.

Additionally, Call of Duty games are much different than the average online shooter. While games like Counter-Strike 2, Valorant, or Rainbow Six Siege were built for competition, Call of Duty was not. Part of the reason a vast majority of players will play the franchise’s new entries is the fun you can have while using less-than-ideal weapons or completing challenges.

Thanks to skilled-based matchmaking, an above-average player cannot go into a match to complete challenges with a specific weapon to get the weekly challenge finished. They cannot complete the difficult challenges required to get all the camos on their pistols, launchers, or any non-meta weapon, really.

As someone who has played every game since Call of Duty 2, I’m often thrust into high-skill player lobbies. In these scenarios, I have two choices:

  1. Use the ‘meta’ weapons and try my hardest to win and get as many kills as possible.
  2. Try to complete challenges, or have fun with shotguns and rocket launchers, and die 75 times.

In other words, Call of Duty, the game where you can jump, slide, dive, and 360 around corners and get a kill for fun, loses its luster. The only reason to play the game in high-tier SBMM lobbies is to play competitively. While competing can be fun, Call of Duty, at its core, is a casual first-person shooter. Sometimes all I want to do is use an RPG and throwing knives, but with skilled-based matchmaking online, I’m playing against Atlanta FaZe every match.

Why have a ranked mode if SBMM exists in other modes?

Thankfully, the most recent Call of Duty games have all added ranked modes. This is a welcome change, as players who wish to play competitively can do so, and have something to show for it. The problem is with the other unranked game modes. Since SBMM is still active in every game mode, you’re basically playing ranked all the time. You’d go up against the same players, who are of the same skill level as you in ranked or unranked. Only in unranked, you get nothing after fighting for your life and sweating in your chair.

Removing SBMM doesn’t mean you’ll go against players far worse than you every match. It means searching for a lobby should prioritize connection first, above all else. Throw us all in with low ping, regardless of skill level. In some matches, sure, you’ll dominate and come out feeling great. Others, you’ll be the one getting dominated. It’s all part of the experience. But at least if I get a few matches against inexperienced players, I’ll finally be able to unlock Interstellar camo.

Though it was only for a day, many members of the Call of Duty community will remember it as a day of fun, like times of old.


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Author
Tim Harding
Tim has been playing games for over 25 years and tries to play as many as possible to completion. From FPS games, survival horror, RPGs, and platformers to soulslikes, he likes to dabble in everything. He's also played every Call of Duty title since Call of Duty 2 came out in 2005. His favorite games of all time include Banjo-Kazooie, Gun Star Heroes, Bioshock, God of War Ragnarok, and far too many more to choose.