It’s another night, which means it’s another frustrating session of Overwatch 2’s competitive mode. My group of friends and I are all at wildly different ranks, despite playing together almost daily for the past few months. Tonight, for some reason, players keep quitting or getting booted in the opening moments of matches, sending us unceremoniously back to the main menu with the promise of a priority requeue.
There’s no indication that the servers are down, but this goes on for at least ten minutes. When we finally get a proper match, we’re absolutely rolled by a team with a god-tier Mercy player who keeps their decent tank upright in every fight. The next match, four out of five of us have zero deaths by the time we get the “Victory” title screen. After a few solid matches, my rank is adjusted: I drop. This is the state of competitive Overwatch 2.
Read More: Competitive Overwatch 2 Players Have A Lot Of Complaints [Update: Blizzard Responds]
When Overwatch 2 launched, it brought with it an entirely new ranking system that frankly, many of us still don’t understand. Overwatch 1 assigned competitive players a tier (Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum, Diamond, and Grandmaster) and a skill rating (known as SR, which ranged anywhere from 1 to 5,000; each game caused that number to go up or down in value) after a set of placement matches. The sequel, however, keeps that SR number hidden, and adds numerical tiers to the previously named levels (e.g. Gold 1, which is the top of Gold, and Gold 5, which is the bottom).
Overwatch 1 would adjust your SR after every match, giving you clear feedback regarding your quality as a player. Maybe you were a Gold-tier player with a 2150 SR and you won a hard-fought match—well, then your SR would go up to say, 2200. Number get bigger, right?
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But Overwatch 2 only adjusts your rank after every seven wins or 20 losses, and it only keeps an obvious visual tally of your wins—you have to go searching through the menus to see your losses. So not only is your actual ranking much more difficult to attach intrinsic value to, but you are only getting adjustments to that hard-to-parse rank every so often.
Players have suggested that this new ranking method is a tactic to keep people playing more, and therefore (thanks to Overwatch’s new, live service model), spending more money. It’s not a stretch to suggest this: “retention” is such an important buzzword in the industry that consulting firms offer tips on how to most accurately measure it and use terms like “quality of your gameplay loop” to provide insight.
The gameplay loop is certainly looping for me, even if my results are almost consistently frustrating. I’ll frequently play a dozen or so games and get to the necessary seven wins rather quickly, just to see my current rank badge and number pop up on-screen, shimmer for a moment in anticipation of a new rank and then, inexplicably, stay the same. I’ve been stuck in low Gold since the game launched in October of last year, and I was a high Platinum support player in Overwatch 1. I pump out consistent Moira pee and rarely have more than a few deaths in every match, yet I am stuck in this incredibly middling tier. I am desperate to get out of it, uncertain what’s affecting it, and so, I forge onward, like a hamster in the wheel of the Overwatch 2 gameplay loop.
I’m not the only one confused and frustrated by the current ranking system, which feels like a permanent purgatory filled with players who instalock Widowmaker, miss headshots for 12 ½ minutes, and refuse to use voice or text comms. This frustration isn’t just because our ranks still feel wrong and senseless even after Blizzard explained rank decay and how the system works back in December. It’s also because the matchmaking itself is a mindfuck, and the lack of clarity around ranks only makes it worse.
Overwatch 2, like plenty of other games, uses a hidden MMR (matchmaking rating) when figuring out who to set you up against in competitive matches. But that MMR is earned and lost in every game mode available, whether that’s competitive, arcade, or quick play—so you could ostensibly beat the hell out of randos in arcade, raise your MMR, and be matched with more difficult players that are outside of your skill tier in comp, or vice versa. There’s also a major issue with determining how to matchmake teams that are queuing up together, an issue that even Blizzard admits exists.
“Grouping up does, however, influence the matchmaker in a few different ways,” a blog post from December 2022 reads. “These matches can often feel imbalanced if they create situations where there’s a large disparity of skill within a single role between the two teams. For example, we might match a highly rated tank against a comparably lower rated tank, so even if the overall match is balanced, the competition between tanks feels very one-sided.”
With only one tank allowed per team in role queue competition, a major disparity between tanks means one team is getting rolled. And the same can be said for healers: if a Platinum-ranked Moira takes on a team whose Moira is focused solely on doing damage, you’re going to get murked. The fact that queuing up with a full squad only exacerbates these issues is even more infuriating, as it’s punishing you for not playing with randoms (who, universally, suck). Queueing up for games on my own is like playing Russian Roulette but instead of bullets the gun is filled with slurs and hate speech.
Blizzard writes in the aforementioned blog that it’s “got changes coming to the game over the next few months which will dramatically reduce these disparities. We’ll try to find pairs of similarly rated players in each role when making a match. For support and damage roles, which have two slots, each player will be paired with one player on the opposite team.” I reached out to Blizzard for more details on what the future of ranked and matchmaking could be, but was told the team couldn’t give me any comment at this time.
So, instead, I’ll leave you with the comments on the state of Overwatch 2 comp and matchmaking in general from my friends both IRL and online: “unbalanced,” “random,” “abhorrent,” and, my favorite, “ass.” Despite all of this, and as I have said one too many times since Overwatch 2 unceremoniously deleted Overwatch 1 from existence: I’m still gonna play it, though. Talk about retention.