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Unprecedented 'inside look' at Call of Duty matchmaking debunks fan theories on SBMM and confirms our assumptions: 'Skill is not the dominant variable'

 Modern warfare 3 captain price.
Modern warfare 3 captain price.

Call of Duty's matchmaking is no longer a mystery.

Last year, Activision promised fans that it'd finally open up about how matchmaking works in Call of Duty. Today, it delivered: The unprecedented blog post dives deep into exactly which factors Call of Duty is looking for when grouping you with other players, and where its priorities lie. The post does not cover Warzone matchmaking or ranked modes.

It's a longer list than you might assume. For instance: whether or not you have voice chat enabled affects matchmaking, as does what maps you've played recently. The blog also reaffirms comments from Activision studios over the years that Call of Duty values low matchmaking times and ping above all else. Yes, player skill is a factor too, but Activision says it's not "the dominant variable." Perhaps in this case, "skill-based matchmaking" is a misnomer.

Here's how Call of Duty matchmaking works in order of importance, according to Activision:

1. CONNECTION – As the community will attest, Ping is King. Connection is the most critical and heavily weighted factor in the matchmaking process.

2. TIME TO MATCH – This factor is the second most critical to the matchmaking process. We all want to spend time playing the game rather than waiting for matches to start.

3. The following factors are also critical to the matchmaking process:

  • PLAYLIST DIVERSITY – The number of playlists available for players to choose from.

  • RECENT MAPS/MODES – Considering maps you have recently played on as well as your mode preferences, editable in Quick Play settings.

  • SKILL/PERFORMANCE– This is used to give our players – a global community with a wide skill range – the opportunity to have an impact in every match.

  • INPUT DEVICE – Controller or mouse and keyboard.

  • PLATFORM – The device (PC, Console) that you are playing on.

  • VOICE CHAT – Enabled or disabled.

Call of Duty matchmaking
Call of Duty matchmaking

The post expands on some of these factors, with Activision understandably having the most to say about skill. Certain corners of the Call of Duty community believe skill-based matchmaking makes the experience worse by forcing players into "sweaty" matches constantly. These fans argue that, ideally, matchmaking would be purely random or intentionally serve lopsided matches to balance out the challenging ones.

Activision takes a different view, driven by its own data.

"Our data on player outcomes clearly indicates that the inclusion of skill in Call of Duty’s Multiplayer matchmaking process (as it currently stands) increases the variety of outcomes experienced by players of all skill levels," the post reads. "In other words, all players (regardless of skill level) are more likely to experience wins and losses more proportionately."

Our data shows that when lower skill players are consistently on the losing end, they are likely to quit matches in progress or stop playing altogether.

Activision also took the opportunity to clear up exactly which metrics determine your skill level. Call of Duty takes into account your kills, deaths wins, losses, and "more, including mode selection and recent matches as an overall metric across all Multiplayer experiences." This contradicts popular theories (some of which have evolved into accepted truths) that Call of Duty only cares about your recent performance, or tries to knock players down a peg if they win too many times in a row. In a FAQ further down the page, Activision debunks the claim that your skill level can affect your level of aim assist, damage, or hit registration.

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call of duty dokkaebi comparison

"Our data shows that when lower skill players are consistently on the losing end, they are likely to quit matches in progress or stop playing altogether. This has an effect on the player pool. A smaller player pool means wait times for matches increase and connections may not be as strong as they should be," the post continues.

"Eventually, when only high-skilled players remain because lower skilled players have quit out of frustration, the result is an ecosystem that is worse overall for everyone."

So yes, Activision is unambiguously in favor of SBMM, or at least factoring skill into matchmaking generally. Interestingly, the post clarifies that SBMM has been present in Call of Duty dating all the way back to 2007's Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, indirectly butting against another common complaint that Call of Duty was "better before SBMM."

Aside from all the fascinating skill talk, my favorite tidbit of the post concerns something that all FPS players have done at one point or another: leaving and restarting matchmaking in hopes of making it go faster. Activision confirmed that resetting matchmaking in CoD is about as useful as repeatedly pressing the crosswalk button at an intersection.

"This does not quicken the matchmaking process and in fact can even be detrimental."

Those are the highlights, but the full post really is worth a read for anyone who plays lots of multiplayer games. It's extremely rare for a studio to talk about its matchmaking, let alone break it down so thoroughly. While no two studios work from the same playbook, there likely is a lot of overlap here that can help us understand how other games tackle matchmaking, too. As matchmaking continues to be one of the most contentious and curious topics of modern gaming, I expect we'll be referring back to these insights for a long time.