14 Oct 2021 10:44 AM +00:00 UTC

SBMM, or Skill-Based Matchmaking, in Call of Duty: Warzone, Vanguard, Black Ops Cold War, and Modern Warfare Explained

Credit: Activision

If you've been on Epicstream before, you may know we've published articles on why SBMM, or skill-based matchmaking, is in modern Call of Duty games when matchmaking worked differently in older games in the franchise as well as on why SBMM is such a controversial, confusing subject for Call of Duty fans.

Following those, today we're going to talk about how exactly SBMM works in modern Call of Duty, which includes Modern Warfare, Warzone, Black Ops Cold War, and Vanguard. This will also hold true for Modern Warfare II as well as Warzone Pacific, as no changes to the system are currently expected.

It's important to understand, though, that when we describe how SBMM works in Call of Duty, this hasn't been directly confirmed by Activision or any specific game developer. Rather, what we know about it is based on the personal experience of gamers and testing done by members of the community.

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Related: The Controversy of Skill-Based Matchmaking, or SBMM, in Call of Duty Explained

Ultimately, this means we have a very good idea of the general ways the system works but that we don't and can't know specifics. Remember this if your favorite content creator or streamer tells you something specific about SBMM: We don't know if that's actually true or something that maybe happened for just a few people.

SBMM in Call of Duty: Warzone Explained

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Credit: Activision

The first thing to realize is that SBMM is very different in Warzone, and in the same vein, SBMM is different in bigger-scale game modes like Modern Warfare's Ground War, Cold War's 12v12 modes, or Vanguard's Blitz combat pacing setting.

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In terms of SBMM, the system tries to match you up against players of a similar skill-level like it always does, but when you have tons of players in a match, naturally this system can't be too strict. If the average player of Call of Duty isn't very good, if there was a rigid matchmaking system that required all players to be of a certain skill-level in the lobby, then it would be constantly hard to find lobbies in your specific region at your specific time.

Related: Why Is SBMM, or Skill-Based Matchmaking, in Call of Duty?

So, in games like Warzone, SBMM is much more about filling a lobby with a decent amount of low-skill players; a bunch of average players; a portion of good players; and just a few, if any, super skilled players. This is what the algorithm has to settle for with giant modes like Warzone.

This means that when you look at a third-party site like SBMM Warzone that analyzes the stats of your lobbies, you'll find that the highest tier of lobbies only have an average KD ratio a few points lower than an average lobby. This is because most people in most games of Warzone aren't particularly skilled.

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Credit: Activision

Naturally, this can still mean you can get absolutely dominated by a much better player in Warzone, especially when extremely high-skilled players can kill twenty or even thirty players in a single game themselves. And this doesn't mean that Warzone's matchmaking is balanced, either. It's simply to say that the average game of Warzone won't be filled entirely with players at your skill-level, for better or for worse.

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Related: Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War Season 6 Review: Is It Any Good?

There are still many factors that influence matchmaking in Warzone, as they do in other Call of Duty games and modes, because it's the same system, but the major takeaway here is that the system is less strict the higher the player count.

SBMM in Call of Duty: Vanguard, Black Ops Cold War, and Modern Warfare Explained

Across all Call of Duty games, SBMM is disliked not just philosophically but because it doesn't seem to pair you with people of an equal skill-level and instead gives you the occasional good game that you are swiftly punished for with bad games. Essentially, that your performance in any game is decided behind the scenes by an algorithm you don't understand.

In part, a lot of this is due to the way the system has to determine a player's skill. People who claim the game is like Big Brother, watching your every move and scrutinizing what you do, are the same people who think Jeff Bezos bugs people's homes with Alexa.

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Credit: Activision

Related: Black Ops Cold War Season 5 Broke the Game, Will Season 6 Fix It?

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There is no evidence to suggest that slide-cancelling, moving quickly, or adopting any certain playstyle itself is not only not just analyzed by the matchmaking system but that it's recorded or monitored by Activision at all.

However, it's not a secret that every player in Call of Duty games is tied to a specific account with its own set of internal statistics. Tons of stuff is recorded in this respect. You can use either the game itself or third-party stat tracking sites to access this information.

You can see your score-per-minute, or SPM, your kill/death ratio, or KD, your win/loss ratio, your KDs with certain guns, your average score in a match, and much more. Plus, you can even break this down by game mode, too. And then Hardcore is separate from Core modes as well.

Related: Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War Year Two/2022 Content and Support Explained

All this information, alongside time spent in-game and level, is what Activision uses to assign you a skill-level. Which values are most important and how each stat is weighted against other stats has always been unclear, though.

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Credit: Activision

What's more is that many things influence matchmaking beyond whatever combination of stats Activision is looking at. When you party up with someone, you don't suddenly get access to lobbies the party leader would otherwise load into alone, the SBMM system matches you based on the collective stats of the party.

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This can benefit higher-skilled players who can play with most other players to get lobbies filled with people at least generally less-skilled than them, but this hurts average players who will be punished with more intense lobbies.

Related: Is Call of Duty: Vanguard Good?

Then, there's ping. Ping is still extremely important in Call of Duty matchmaking, especially when it comes to larger game modes. The more players there are, the more important it is for the game to find people you have a good connection to: If it comes down to it, the game will give the average player a better ping even if the players in the lobby are less skilled than they are.

The reverse isn't true, however, as many higher-skill players report longer queue times and worse ping on average than lower-skill players, so the game will try and make sure high-skill players can't manipulate the ping system to get easy lobbies.

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Credit: Activision

Ping ties into time of day. When you play is extremely important, assuming you're playing on your region's server. If you're playing on a server further out because the game can't connect you to a game on your nearest server, then the following will apply to the local time of the region you're connecting to the server of and not your time.

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Related: How Many Maps Are in Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, and Are They Good?

In the morning, there are fewer people online and even fewer high-skilled players online, so SBMM feels comparatively light in the morning. It won't be a night and day difference, usually, but you'll have your best shot at playing super chill games in the morning on a weekday.

Naturally, on weekday evenings and nights lobbies will be at their most intense because most people at most skill-levels are online. If you're just looking for a chill, casual game, partying up with friends without great stats at an off-peak time of day is generally your best bet.

Lastly, recent performance is a big deal when it comes to SBMM. If you play particularly well or particularly badly for a couple games, the next couple games will be the opposite. We once again don't know exactly what stats are tracked to determine what's a bad or good game, but it's well-established that your recent in-game performance is a big determining factor in what lobbies you load into next.

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Credit: Activision

Related: Is Call of Duty: Warzone Getting a FOV Slider on Console?

This phenomenon is why ‘reverse boosting' is a thing. Players will perform really badly for a couple games, walking around and dying over and over, so as to make sure the lobbies they load into after will be extremely easy to succeed in