Yesterday, Bungie announced the return of skill-based matchmaking—or SBMM—to Destiny 2’s main PvP mode. In a This Week at Bungie blog post, the studio detailed upcoming changes to matchmaking, with the addition of “loose SBMM” to the Control playlist that will arrive at the launch of Season 18 on August 23. This is described as “the first iteration” of a larger matchmaking overhaul, due to continue through Season 19.
Presumably anticipating the inevitable backlash from PvP tryhards, the lengthy post goes into granular detail about why this change is needed. In it, Bungie highlights just how big the gulf is between the best and worst players under the current, connection-based matchmaking system. Here’s the eye-opening stat: “In Control, the skill disparities on a team can be stark—over 50% of matches have a skill disparity of 900 or more between best and worst player, which is so significant that the outcome is already known before a single shot is fired.”
The skill number being referred to here is an internal stat that Bungie tracks, which seemingly takes account of everything from kills, deaths and round wins, to loadouts (right down to the mods you might have equipped) and reaction times. It’s a 2,000-point scale, and Bungie says that “once you get to a difference of 600 there is basically zero chance for the lower-skilled player to ever win a 1v1 conflict”.
Previously, Control and other Destiny 2 PvP modes did have SBMM enabled. It proved controversial at the time—in part because Destiny 2 uses peer-to-peer connections over dedicated servers. Favouring skill over connection quality led to plenty of instances of lag, teleporting players, and missed shots. It also impacted players at the highest (and lowest) end of the skill spectrum with longer queue times. That said, I also got the sense that the backlash was, in part, stoked by influencers who make their living creating PvP compilations of killstreaks against lower-skilled players. Flashy pub stomps with new, seasonal weapons are much harder against players of equal skill.
Already, content creators have started weighing in—with opinions ranging from the reasonable to the borderline salty.
In June 2020, SBMM was removed from all but the Elimination and Survival playlists. In the years since, the community has been increasingly frustrated with the current form of matchmaking—unsurprising given the stats above.
Nevertheless, Bungie isn’t fully returning to the old system. The keyword here is “loose”, with Bungie saying they would rather sacrifice some match fairness in order to maintain connection quality and matchmaking speeds. “Our initial version of loose SBMM for the Control playlist is going to work a little differently. It starts with wider acceptable skill variance, and then expands very slowly on both acceptable skill and connection quality at the same time.”
“Over 50% of matches have a skill disparity of 900 or more between best and worst player, which is so significant that the outcome is already known before a single shot is fired.”
This Week at Bungie, July 28, 2022
Matchmaking times will likely go up—especially for those in a pre-existing fireteam, or on either extreme of the skill curve. “We are hoping the tradeoff for matches that aren’t super sweaty or lopsided blowouts will be worth it.”
Inevitably there will be some teething problems here—there always is for matchmaking. But as a regular PvP player, the current system does feel untenable. Anecdotally, the number of obvious blowouts feels higher than ever. There are plenty of possible reasons for this: new players in particular are at an obvious disadvantage in terms of loadout options and buildcraft knowledge. Bungie’s own data seems to line-up with my anecdotal experience—with 25% of matches ending in mercy on some maps, and over 50% of matches ending with the best player getting 20 more kills than the worst.
Destiny 2 will never be the most competitive PvP game, in part because of its randomised loot system meaning that it can be time consuming to guarantee the most advantageous perks for the best weapons. But it’s also worth stressing that most games use some form of skill-based matchmaking, even for more casual modes, because you don’t want newer players getting demolished by seasoned pros. It’s wild that it’s even a hot topic, even if the old system was far from perfect. Anything that can make PvP less of a soul-crushing chore will be a longterm win for the game.