Fans of Blizzard’s arena brawler Heroes of the Storm are getting some good news out of BlizzCon today: major changes to matchmaking are on the way.
One of the hottest topics in the community is easily matchmaking, the process of teaming up players in a game, and how it affects the player experience. If player skill is too disparate, a game isn’t fun. If there’s a gap in experience, it’s often difficult for newer players. Even team compositions can ruin a game experience.
Blizzard’s made some significant changes to matchmaking recently with rules intended to fix some of those issues, like factoring player experience into the equation. But today Blizzard revealed it’s going to revamp the entire system—and it’s going to be better.
The team is currently working on a “major re-factor” of the matchmaking system, according to Alan Dabiri, the game’s technical director.
That could potentially fix one of the biggest problems of Heroes’ first year, and one of the development team’s constant struggles.
“It’s something that we actually think the matchmaker in general does a pretty good job,” Dabiri said. But there are “enough” matches, both anecdotally and when they analyze their vast pool of matchmaking data, that just aren’t good enough. “We acknowledge that,” he said.
Blizzard has recently made a plethora of changes addressing that fact. For example, the developer recently increased the maximum queue time before relaxing matchmaking rules.
Dabiri says the most successful change may be taking into account the experience of players in addition to other metrics like their skill rating. Before the change, new players had about a 38 percent win rate, he said, “which we weren’t happy with with, especially for a new user. You come in, you don’t want to just get rolled for a bunch of game.” After the change, that win rate is close to 50 percent.
There’s other tweaks the team has made that haven’t even been publicly revealed. Matchmaking is server side, allowing the development team to make tweaks without pushing a client patch. But even with those improvements, it still wasn’t enough. “The matchmaking has gotten better, but like I said, there’s still enough games where we’re not satisfied with where we are,” Dabiri said.
So Blizzard has opted for rebuilding the system from the ground up. As a game based on the StarCraft 2 engine, it’s not surprising that the Heroes of the Storm team used Starcraft’s matchmaking as a basis for their own system, adding rules to update a system designed for one-on-one matchmaking to a team environment. They added party sizes, team composition stipulations, and dozens of other factors. “When we started layering these rules on the Starcraft matchmaker, we saw the base of the Starcraft matchmaker is really designed for this one-v-one experience,” Dabiri said. It started to fall apart in certain cases.
“We’re actually going back to square one on this matchmaker and re-factoring the underlying aspect of it so we can add these rules on better and have a better experience,” Dabiri explained.
What that means, essentially, is that it’s simply going to work better in Heroes’ team environment. The team already has a prototype internal version that they’ve tested using data samples from real matches, and Dabiri says it provides “great improvements” in simulations.
“This is something we’re actively working on right now,” He said. “We want to get it out as quickly as we can because we know it’s an important thing for the community.”
Dabiri is cautious though—this isn’t a miracle fix. “I don’t want to oversell it too much,” he said. It’s still a work in progress, and it’s going to take more tweaking, even after it goes live.
The new system will keep some of the hard rules that govern the current quick match queue, like the requirement that a team with a support gets matched against another lineup with a support, though the development team is taking the opportunity to reevaluate them.
“In quick match, there’s a feeling that if I don’t have this, I don’t have that, it’s unfair,” he said. “We really don’t want to push too hard that this is how you have to play this game. You must have this role, that role, and that role, otherwise the game is broken. The reality is that’s not the case.”
Blizzard’s data analysis shows that isn’t necessarily the case, Dabiri said. No warrior teams are viable, if played correctly, and the data backs that up. So do competitive matches. Sometimes teams pull out team compositions with no tanks or no support, and they work. But more often than not, a non-standard composition causes a lot of hand wringing in-game, even if it’s a viable way to win a game.
“Initially here we’re probably going to do some similar rules, but we might try some new things,” Dabiri said. They’re toying with the concept of matching lineups of similar composition to other similar compositions, so if you queue with five assassins, you’re more likely to meet another five assassin team, for example. “So at the very least if you get a comp that isn’t standard, you’ll at least get a comp that’s similar,” he said.
Of course, the reality in any game is that, even with perfect matchmaking, it may not be a close or satisfying match. But when the new system goes live, that satisfying experience, even in a losing game, should be much more common.
Callum Leslie contributed to this report.