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    Dota 2 – Valve Introduces Seasonal MMR

    Among the many new incentives that the Battle Pass offers, recalibrating your MMR has been a feature long requested. You can now play in “The International Ranked Queue” against other Battle Pass owners, and at the end of the season, you can keep your Season MMR or your old, Ranked MMR. This new feature is a step in the right direction, addressing some of the concerns the community has had about Dota’s MMR system.

    Reliability of MMR

    There are a few issues with matchmaking ratings, which are common across all games with ELO based systems. First, your rating is a only an estimation of your true strength, so there is a measure of uncertainty, or standard deviation. You can be a player who can rise and dip over 1000 MMR, or one that hovers around the same bracket over the same time period.

    There have been some theories that the new, calibrated MMR uses your hidden, unranked MMR as a starting point. Some players with losing records, in their 10 calibration matches, have ended up with a higher MMR than their former ranked MMR. The other theory is that there could be a third, hidden MMR that calibrates off both your unranked and ranked matches. Either way, your new, calibrated MMR isn’t going to be from 0 to 100 (does winning 10 games get you 9000 MMR?), but from a starting point, based on your history, to create a reliable and accurate measurement.

    The second difficulty with MMR, which is unique to Dota and other team based games, is the deviation between teammates and opponents. This is why you may get more or less than the standard +25 for winning against different teams. There’s the deviation between the overall MMR between opposing teams. Then, there is the deviation between teammates. Even if both team’s MMR average is the same, there can be a high, MMR player that can shift the predictability of the game.

    It’s Over 9000

    Finally, your rating is less reliable if you haven’t played after some time. In Dota, the meta changes, your understanding can fall behind, and then it may take more time to recover your muscle memory. Dota players can get “out of shape” as much as any other sport. That 3k MMR rating you had was a measurement of how you played at that time. Three months later, that may no longer be an accurate measurement, especially with how quickly Dota’s landscape shifts over time.

    “If you’ve always been the same MMR, you’re actually getting worse.”

    This time factor is central to understanding Dota’s new MMR system. Without any sort of decay, MMR is rising over time. It’s not a zero sum system, in that for every +25 MMR gained there is also -25 MMR. It’s because there’s always people coming and going. MMR is being poured into the system. That’s what we talk about when we talk about inflation. People need salary raises to keep up with the cost of living. And in Dota, if you’ve always been the same MMR, you’re actually getting worse.

    It’s why climbing the ladder is referred to as a grind. It’s as much about being good as being relentless, playing game after game. Today’s 9k MMR was last year’s 8K MMR. How some games have approached this issue was to have seasons, where everyone starts off with a new slate after a period of time. In Hearthstone, the ladder is reset every month. Starcraft 2 roughly every three months. Now, Valve has entered into the same territory with their “The International Ranked Queue”. It’s a low risk experiment, allowing players to recalibrate their MMR, for a period of time, and opting to keep their new rating or their old one at the end of the season.

    The Permanence of MMR

    Aside from the complexities of how MMR systems work, what matters is how the community reacts and feels about it. Dota’s ranking system has been the same ever since its release. There are no seasonal resets or MMR decay. Your MMR is permanent. It’s hidden, but still a mark that indiscriminately measures your progress. This permanence amplifies the ladder anxiety we feel when we play another game, another hour long investment that ends in plus or minus 25 MMR.

    Anxiety can be a normal, stress reaction to everyday situations, but in Dota, each game becomes part of your MMR’s history, your match history, and it’s something you carry with you from game to game. It’s no surprise that feelings of dread, fear, and frustration can compound. The only recourse for feeling progress is to either get better, grind, or create a smurf (an issue that Valve has recently addressed with CS:GO’s “Prime Matchmaking”). The ranking you had years ago is the same one that you’ve always been working on. Hence, cue the frustrations of players who fail to make any progress, because they’ve been attached to the same MMR ever since they started playing Dota.

    The Seasonal MMR is also a soft-reset, as it hasn’t calibrated anyone over 5k MMR. That includes professionals, who will begin their climb again within the ranks of the plebeians. Valve continues to experiment with ranked matchmaking as a whole. First, with it’s temporary exclusion of All Picked, then the mode’s reintroduction with a ban phase. If their focus is on the ranked experience, then having seasons is a welcome addition.

    Seasonal, ranked play is important for a game that already is measured in seasons. Dota’s calendar is divided into four parts: three Majors and The International. Each phase is marked by a major patch change. It keeps the game fresh, while Dota’s MMR system has been stagnantly behind. Even if your next Season MMR settles into the same MMR you’ve always had, at least it was something new to work on. That would be a change.

    As seen on Dotabuff

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