Should Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War have skill-based matchmaking in unranked play?

Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is exciting for numerous reasons, including the long-awaited return of Zombies and a Black Ops story, plus Treyarch back at the helm of multiplayer. However, there is one aspect of the upcoming Call of Duty game that has tempered some expectations and that is skill-based matchmaking.

If you dove into the recent open beta for Black Ops Cold War or you read someone’s impressions of it, you are likely to have heard of the controversial feature. Skill-based matchmaking is exactly as it sounds: having match-ups determined by the skill of the player and seemingly only queueing them up with players of a similar skillset.

While I didn’t experience skill-based matchmaking in the alpha back in September, I did encounter it during the beta. Like others, that actually dampened my time with the game and has me less excited for launch. That said, I do think skill-based matchmaking has its place but should Black Ops Cold War have it?

Benefits of Skill-Based Matchmaking

First and foremost, it is worth mentioning that not all skill-based matchmaking is an issue. There are benefits to it or else developers wouldn’t implement it in the game in the first place. It is the perfect example of having all the right intentions where Treyarch wants to ensure that players have a balanced time in multiplayer.

The seemingly best way to do that is to have players match up with only those around their skill level, such as kills, wins, and so on. This is beneficial since it promotes a fair environment where you shouldn’t see a bad or even average player matching up with someone who is basically on a professional level.

This is especially helpful in a case like Black Ops Cold War where it is going to be cross-platform and cross-generations. It doesn’t matter if you play it on PS4, Xbox One, PC, or even the upcoming new generation of consoles, you can play together. Having five different platforms playing the same game together can be complicated.

No longer are you dealing with only PS4 players playing against other PS4 players but also different control methods, controllers, platforms, differing performance, and so on. This type of matchmaking can help with that as it can attempt to balance everything out as much as possible given the circumstances.

Negatives of Skill-Based Matchmaking

While skill-based matchmaking has all the right intentions in balancing games like Black Ops Cold War, it has many negatives. While the point is to balance the game, it can do the opposite if done harshly like in the case of Cold War’s predecessor Modern Warfare.

Due to the lack of a traditional ranked mode in 2019’s Modern Warfare, the matchmaking was distinctly harsh in ensuring that players were matched with those of a similar skill level. In casual play, this is a problem as every match is then a fight to the death. You really have to give it your all to even have a chance of winning the match.

While that works for ranked play and is the whole point of that system, it makes unranked multiplayer frustrating and too challenging. To make matters worse, Cold War will most likely have both of them available. If unranked and ranked both work almost exactly the same in matchmaking, what is the point of having both options? You would only need one since the experience would be largely the same.

To make matters worse, matches can be one-sided, despite the fact that it is supposedly based on skill. If you are like me and mostly queue up for matches solo, you are likely to be destroyed if your opposing team is in a party or clan together. Sure, it is seemingly matched based on “skill” but premade teams will almost always dominate, no matter how good you are, which is understandable for ranked modes but not for casual matches.

For example, if you just want to jump into a couple of relaxing matches of Domination or what have you, that isn’t really possible with skill-based matchmaking in the way that Black Ops Cold War had it in the beta. This can make gameplay unnecessarily stressful, shutting out those who want a more casual experience online and ironically limiting the player base in the process.

Worse still, skill-based matchmaking’s algorithm can be odd, matching up newer players with those who are much more skilled. On the first day I did the beta, I did a couple of matches and was level three. I did well in both of those matches, leading to my third match being unfairly designed.

I was the only level three in the lobby with everyone else level 20 or higher, and therefore, likely more experienced with the game and maps. This was especially problematic since the other players had the unfair advantage of having already unlocked various weapons and perks that I didn't have.

In fact, I wouldn’t even unlock the ability to make my own class until level four so I was stuck with a limited arsenal against more experienced players. This was all because I did well in the first two matches I did so the system thought it would make sense when it really didn’t.

How Black Ops Cold War Can Fix Its SBMM Problem

Fortunately, the beta was a test so not everything is set in stone. In fact, there were integral changes made just from the alpha to the beta so Treyarch has time to fix the skill-based matchmaking problem. To answer whether or not it should exist in casual play, I think that it can in a certain way.

Ranked play should be where the highly specific matchmaking should be as players should be challenged there in every match they do. But when it comes to normal unranked matches, players should be free to have a more relaxing time. My solution for this major problem is to have level-based matchmaking for casual play, rather than a skill-based one that is focused on your kills, deaths, wins, etc.

What I mean by this is, for example, to have all level 20 players match up with other players within a certain range of their level. In this way, you should never have a situation where a brand-new player is matched up with someone who has already reached the account level cap. If there is prestige, it should take that into account as well.

I think this is the best method since it makes multiplayer much more varied. Just because someone is max level doesn’t necessarily mean they are amazing; it just means they’ve played a lot. The opposite can be said for newer players who are naturally skilled at first-person shooters and might be better than the others at their level.

This would help the game tremendously since you would always be matched with people around your level and with the same amount of experience and unlocked items in Black Ops Cold War. Sure, some players at your level will be better than you but there will also be ones worse than you, making it so that matches will not be the same frustrating mess every single time. It can provide a much broader spectrum of match results rather than the same thing over and over.