Overwatch 2's competitive mode is just a mess, and it has been since its launch. But what exactly is the problem, and how should a competitive mode in an FPS actually work? Not to worry, because we're here to explain what the problems are, how a mode like this should work, and most importantly, why Overwatch 2's competitive mode is still a mess.
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The Problem With Competitive in Overwatch 2
When you're playing competitively in Overwatch 2, you'll quickly realize a few things. If you're not in the top couple percent of players and are like most people in the game, well, you'll know how every lobby you get into feels like a roll of the dice. Sometimes, you'll be spawnkilling the enemy team the whole way, and sometimes, you won't even stand a chance yourself.
You can play the same role, use the same heroes, and rely on the same tactics, but a strategy that lets you absolutely dominate in one game may well get you rolled by the other team in the next game. However, if you load into open queue or CTF in competitive, you'll usually find the competition to be a lot less intense and find yourself winning more consistently.
So, what's going on? Well, the fact of the matter is that matchups in competitive in Overwatch 2 are just not balanced a fair amount of the time, and you'll routinely find yourself up against far better or far worse players than yourself, and that same variety can be found amidst your teammates, too.
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Naturally, there is inevitably going to be variance when it comes to matchmaking in a major game, but especially so in the competitive side of a huge AAA video game where there is, by design, supposed to be rather strict skill-based matchmaking, the kind of wild, regular variance in skill level you see in Overwatch 2 can be a major issue.
Although, if you're ranked Diamond or higher, the chances are that you'll notice (and experience) these kinds of issues less often, and when you do, the problems caused by them are likely to be less severe as compared to players in lower ELO brackets.
How Competitive Modes Should Work
The reality of the situation is that if you play, for example, 10 games in a competitive mode, 9/10 of those games should play out relatively similarly. That isn't to say you should win or lose most games, but rather, you should be able to put up a solid fight in most games and whether you do win or end up losing, there shouldn't be an enormous gap there.
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Of course, there are going to be games where one team just absolutely dominates the other for a variety of reasons. It happens. Sometimes your team just doesn't work well together, sometimes you have a bad game, and sometimes a matchmaking system can unintentionally load you into a lobby where the other team is meaningfully more skilled than you but still, technically, sits within the range of skill levels you can match with.
Nonetheless, the point of a competitive mode in a game is to measure your skill level and put you into games with people who are roughly at a similar skill level so everyone can have a viable shot at winning. Then, if you can manage to win more games than you lose competing with those people the game has decided are roughly at your skill level, your skill level will increase and you'll start that same process over at a higher rating.
What's described above is a strict SBMM (or skill-based matchmaking) system, and when you have games like Overwatch with reasonably long queue times and a huge playerbase, in general, you shouldn't have trouble matching up with people at your skill level.
However, this isn't always the case, but that begs the question of why isn't it.
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Why Overwatch 2's Competitive Mode Isn't Working
This is up for debate, of course, but we do know a couple things about how matchmaking in Overwatch 2 works. First up, the rank you actually see in Overwatch 2's competitive mode, i.e. Bronze, Silver, Gold, etc, has no bearing whatsoever on who you're matched up with.
How the system actually works is that there's a hidden MMR value that the game doesn't show you that goes up and down depending on your performance in game. Naturally, there's some connection between your shown skill rank and your internal MMR rating, but that connection isn't particularly clear, nor is it known how exactly one influences the other. What is clear, though, is that the actual skill representation you can see is purely cosmetic and has no real bearing on who you match up with.
Naturally, this confuses things significantly. You may well have a high MMR but the actual rating of your skill you can see may not be particularly high, and vice versa. You may place into, say, Gold, but your MMR may still match you up with largely Bronze players. This in of itself makes it really tough to evaluate the skill of not just yourself but other players, too.
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Then, there's how Blizzard structures the competitive system. In general, the system is designed around having players hover at right around a 50% win rate. In theory, this isn't necessarily a bad thing. If you're winning just about as many matches as you're losing, well, you're probably at the right place in terms of your internal MMR value, and that value will go up or down depending on how far away from 50% wins you edge towards.
However, this gets much more complicated in practice. Not only can you not see your skill-level, your actual MMR, since it's designed around win rates, you can find yourself excelling in a particular role as an individual but not see your actual win rate or internal MMR go up, because the internal MMR system isn't designed to take into account anything other than wins and losses.
Then, there are parties, which further widen the gap between players totally outside of MMR. Of course, there are restrictions on who can party up with who and how that works itself into matchmaking, but when you have people partying up at the edges of that skill range who're all communicating together and working as a unit, you're putting yourself into a much better position to win games and increase your MMR even if individually everyone on the other team is roughly at your same skill level.
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