SBMM, or skill-based matchmaking, is a controversial topic in the world of Call of Duty. From longtime fans to huge content creators alike, many will tell you SBMM is the single biggest problem in Call of Duty right now, while many others will deny its existence entirely.
Ultimately, when you sort through the claims and complaints and interviews, there are consistencies, and while we don't know the specifics of SBMM, we do know a lot about how it actually works. In this article, we'll tell you why and how skill-based matchmaking, or SBMM, is a part of modern Call of Duty.
First off, it's important to understand what SBMM actually means. For this article, we'll consider SBMM any kind of matchmaking system that attempts to place players into games with other players of similar skill, as decided by the game's own internal data on performance in-game.
In Call of Duty games before Modern Warfare 2019, especially older games like Modern Warfare 2 or Black Ops, there was either very little SBMM or none at all. We know this both from the actual experiences of gamers as well as stuff that's been said on the record. It also makes sense from a practical perspective.
Though games like Modern Warfare 2 were extremely successful, every platform the game was on could only play with players on that platform. So, the amount of people you could matchmake with was much smaller than it is today. Plus, as new consoles came out and new Call of Duty games were released, these already small matchmaking pools would get exponentially smaller.
So, Call of Duty games would prioritize ping over anything else, trying to find you lobbies with decent connections. This was especially true before dedicated servers became common in Call of Duty. With peer-to-peer networking, making sure you had a decent connection to the other players in the game was much more important than it is today when you simply connect to the server in the region nearest your own.
This is also why older Call of Duty games had persistent lobbies: Once the game found you a lobby with good ping, it wouldn't try to rebuild the lobby with other players from the small matchmaking pool available on your specific platform and would instead let you play as many games with people you had a good connection to as you liked.
Before Modern Warfare 2019, Call of Duty was constantly experimenting with its monetization systems, too. This created controversy after controversy as Call of Duty flirted with loot boxes and all kinds of monetization practices reviled by its community. However, these systems weren't designed to appeal to the super casual gamer, they were designed to appeal to Call of Duty fans who wanted their loadout to be as good as it could possibly be.
As a result, engagement was a lot less important. A game like Black Ops 4 wasn't designed to appeal to lapsed Call of Duty players and casual gamers who only played the occasional game of Overwatch, it was created as a more tactical, competitive Call of Duty inspired somewhat by the hero shooters of the day that were so popular. In short, these games didn't need to design a matchmaking system around keeping people constantly engaged.
Modern Warfare 2019, and then every Call of Duty after it, changed the way matchmaking worked in Call of Duty. Then, games supported cross-play, and sometimes even cross-generation cross-platform crossplay, meaning every device that ran Call of Duty could play with every other device running the same game.
This meant that there were a lot more people to matchmake with at any given time than there ever had been before in Call of Duty history. With the launch of Warzone, especially, modern Call of Duty games want you to play them more than ever before, too.
Whether it's unlocking stuff, leveling up your guns, grinding camos, or simply going through the latest Battle Pass, Call of Duty wants you to be constantly playing. This way the game can keep putting you into lobbies where you have a chance to see another player using something they bought to inspire you to maybe buy the same thing.
Related: Is Call of Duty: Vanguard Good?
More than anything else, it's important to keep players engaged to sustain a monetization system of this type. If playing the game sucks, who cares about skins or weapon camos? If you can't find lobbies that aren't miserable to play with, why would you level up your guns? So, Call of Duty decided to lean on its dedicated servers and bigger pool of players for matchmaking and design a system that intended to keep everyone engaged.
Spoiler alert: It has not kept everyone engaged. But these are the conditions that led to modern Call of Duty games matchmaking based on some combination of backend statistics about an individual player's performance. This is why SBMM, when people refer to it today, exists in Call of Duty.
It's also important to understand that matchmaking in Warzone works a lot differently from SBMM in Modern Warfare or Vanguard or Black Ops Cold War. Because of how big games of Warzone are, matchmaking in Warzone is a lot like older Call of Duty games: Ping is the single biggest factor in matchmaking.
As a result, even lobbies that rank as extremely high skill-level lobbies have a pretty low average KD ratio and are filled with players of a huge variety of skill-levels, from absolutely cracked gods at the game to people who barely play video games at all. This doesn't mean you can't get rolled in lots of Warzone lobbies and feel like you're playing with players who are much, much better than you, but this is how the matchmaking system works.
While SBMM is a factor in all modern Call of Duty games, as confirmed by developers, people at Activision, and the gamers themselves, very little is actually known about how the system works. We can see and understand it's more or less relevant in a game like Warzone rather than a game like Modern Warfare or even older games like Black Ops, but the actual details of the system have never been confirmed or explained.
We'll explain everything we do know about how exactly the SBMM system in modern Call of Duty works in another article, but it's important to know that nobody is an authority on the subject. Whether your favorite streamer or friend who plays the game nonstop tells you one way or the other, we only know general things about specific details of SBMM.
So, if somebody tells you a certain thing, like partying up with the right people or having a specific KD ratio or anything of the sort, is what makes games good or bad according to SBMM, they don't actually know if this is true.
It's a confusing subject, and having a bad time playing a video game you paid for to relax is fun for nobody, so people have strong opinions about SBMM, but it's important to understand what's anecdotal experience from what we actually know about what's going on.
For more articles like this, take a look at our Gaming page.