Frustration, excitement, and sadness–that’s the mix of feelings I get when I play ranked modes in online games. But even though two of those words are negative, it’s like a drug, it always brings me back for that excitement and joy the game gives me for doing well. But as seasons go by, that joy I get from playing comes less often. I have to go through players constantly leaving mid-game and throwing the team in the trash, treating them like garbage.
In competitive or “Ranked” mode, players take the game more seriously and get ranked to show where their skill level is. This is different from casual or quick play because of the player’s mindset. Players don’t care how well they do in casual because there is nothing to lose, it’s just a fun game. Losing in ranked, on the other hand, will mean a loss of Elo (a players ranking score, also called SR), which leads to demoting. For any video game wanting to be taken seriously and turned into an esport, a competitive mode needs to be implemented. However, ranked in its current state is a hot mess.
An example of this is the matchmaking system. Ranked is supposed to be a game mode where players compete against others with around the same skill level. If a player is ranked “silver one” in Rainbow 6: Siege (R6), they should be in a game with others ranked “silver one” or “silver two,” and if you’re “platinum” in Overwatch you would be placed in games with other “plats” and “high golds.” But the matchmaking system doesn’t always work the way it is intended. The worst offender of this is R6. Other team games like Overwatch and League of Legends restrict teams to players of certain levels of skill. For example, a low-rank player can’t be in the same party as someone who is highly ranked. Siege, despite being a four-year-old game, still has not added this system to their rank mode. I have been in games against teams who have both a copper 4 and a platinum 3–two wildly different ranks. R6 also resets everyone’s MMR (hidden rating of players) each season, which just leads to players from different skill levels to be in the same placement matches.
Kryy, a competitive Overwatch player, told me matchmaking for “midranks” (golds and platinums) tends to put players with lower ranks. This defeats the purpose of the ranked mode and puts players at a disadvantage. “I hate this,” she said, “it’s so hard to climb because of this, I either steamroll or get steamrolled.”
The rank system can also have a huge effect on players’ attitudes, and not necessarily in a good way. Going from gold to platinum in R6 can really boost a player’s ego. In one story Kryy tells, a member of a decent group of players in gold queued for a game alone and rose from gold 3 to platinum 3. After rejoining the group, he began to boss them around. This boosted ego led to an increase in toxic behaviour, and he would even say things like, “F**k you, I’m plat and I’m better than you.” Even a small jump in rank can give players an outsized sense of self-importance and start putting blame on their team or on the game itself. These negative attitudes go beyond bullying. If a single round doesn’t go someone’s way in a ranked game, they could ruin the rest of the game by killing teammates or purposefully picking unhelpful characters.
The fundamental basis of ranking is too simplistic to support the importance it is given. All games with a ranking system have the same way to rank up: the player must win games to gain Elo. However, the number only indicates a player’s win-loss ratio. It doesn’t tell you anything about other important attributes that may make them a valuable teammate such as their game sense and map knowledge, or whether they are a team player. It is a very limited metric. Just because someone is diamond doesn’t mean they always communicate with the team or choose characters that benefit the team. They could just be a toxic “one trick” that always goes for kills, rather than playing for the objective. The R6 pro league or challenger league features players who aren’t rated diamond and yet they are outstanding professional players. Rank may give a basic indication of the player’s skill level, but it doesn’t give a truly reliable or comprehensive picture of how good a player is in the kind of complex team situations you find in games like R6.
Ranked can be great but it has serious problems. Often those problems are game-specific, such as in Overwatch, where higher rank teams are forced to play the meta to win games. But developers are taking notice of these concerns. R6, for example, is rolling back SR for players who gained or lost it in a game with a hacker, but that is about it for Rainbow Six, and Blizzard hasn’t really done anything to fix any problems in Overwatch’s ranked. Although developers are hearing the community, they are not communicating with that community very well. Overwatch hasn’t said anything about upcoming changes to rank and Rainbow Six only talked about what they are adding to rank, not things they are going to fix.
As of now, players are just forced to live with these flaws. But inevitably changes will come because even if it doesn’t seem like Ubisoft or Blizzard are unaware of them, they are listening. In year four season two of R6, they are finally adding a pick and ban system to ranked, a system players have been begging for ever since its been implemented in to pro league and custom matches. If players keep giving feedback to the developers, slowly changes will come.