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Dota 2 Esports

Are matchmaking seasons enough?

DotA 2 Patch 7.07 arrived a full day early, much to the surprise of DotA fans used to Valve’s affinity for delays. “It will be ready when it is ready” seems to be the company motto after all. This time, with hardly any time to absorb the patch notes properly, fans are already jumping in with the new characters, abilities, talents and modes. There is however one very important new feature that Valve is holding on to for a couple more weeks. I am talking of course about the new Matchmaking Seasons.

For years now DotA has measured player skill using a single MMR number. When the first season starts in two weeks time, this will instead be measured by a collection of badges that will be shown at the beginning and end of each game to give teammates an idea of where you stand. This seems like a cool feature at first, but why is it being introduced in the first place?

The problem

It’s no secret that the community has some problems with the current matchmaking system. Players often complain about quitters, feeders and generally toxic players affecting their games and their MMR. Valve has tried to address these concerns in previous patches by implementing new features like “behavior score” system, but these have been met with critical feedback and mixed results. Even if well behaved players are placed together, it is still frustrating to perform well personally, but lose game after game due to perceived weaknesses in the rest of your team.

While there are those who have achieved whatever their MMR goals are, there are still many who are struggling to dig themselves out of a skill tier they do not feel like they belong in. MMR may just be a number, but the larger DotA 2 community uses this number as a measure of credibility when discussing nearly anything about the game. Because of this it can be difficult not to feel self-conscious about having what is considered a “low” MMR. Feeling stuck in the “low skill” trenches can thus feel incredibly demotivating. This is especially true when players feel like they’ve learned from their past few (hundred) games, but still can’t get the results that they want.

The solution

Screenshot grabbed from

The question becomes how Valve hopes to create a more positive experience with this season system. The idea is to give players a biannual opportunity to re-calibrate their ranking. By removing the usual limits on how much MMR can change between matches briefly, players that deserve a higher ranking can attain it more quickly should they perform well. Of course, the same can be said of higher skilled players falling to lower ranks as well.

This solution also affects players returning to the game from extended breaks. Chances are high that if a player has not played in months, they may not be able to perform well at their old skill tier immediately. If they re-calibrate in a new season, they may find themselves below their old rank. This seems frustrating, but this new system will also allow players to showcase their previous season’s medal to celebrate past achievements.

But will this solution be enough? Valve’s own patch notes claim that players will be seeded by their previous season’s MMR. If that is the case, will the MMR changes be fluid enough to allow for the large jumps in skill tiers that players want to see? The system itself isn’t very transparent at the moment, so it is difficult to say. In typical Valve fashion, they have explained what they want the system to accomplish without showing us details on how it achieves the result. We’ll have to wait until mid November to find out, as I’m sure there won’t be more information coming before then.

Is it enough?

The most surprising thing about DotA’s competitive seasons might be that we are just now getting them. Other MOBA style games have been using similar systems for years. Vainglory has introduced quarterly seasons in October of 2015. Heroes of the Storm has operated on seasons ever since they launched ranked play in 2016. There are other examples both within the MOBA genre and outside, so why has it taken so long to receive what is basically an “off the shelf” solution.

To be fair, the previously mentioned season systems of Vainglory and Heroes have features that make a season system very attractive. Both Vainglory and Heroes operate on a freemium business model that uses virtual currency to unlock playable characters. By offering this virtual currency as a reward for good performance during the season, they provide additional incentive to play ranked throughout the year. This is of course dissimilar to DotA, which does not have a virtual currency system. This lack of additional motivation to play ranked during the season makes the argument for seasons significantly weaker. All DotA players are going to get is a nifty new emblem next to their MMR number. I’m not sure that is going to be enough to convince players to continue grinding through each season if they’re not already actively grinding MMR now.

One step forward

Maybe it is all part of the grand plan. As I have mentioned previously in this article, Valve is known for keeping information close to their chests. We still have two weeks before this system is rolled out in full, and surprises could very well be waiting. A seasonal reward system could do a lot for player retention similar to how the tournament specific Battle Passes already function. Since seasons are a free feature, I certainly would not expect a Battle Pass level of complexity, but any kind of seasonal reward would be welcomed and appreciated.

These rewards are a good wish list item, but they’re pretty unrelated to the underlying problem that seasons are trying to solve. When it comes to creating more fair matches, I think these seasons can be considered a step in the right direction. Though we’re bound to see tweaks in the coming years, it is good to see Valve trying to step up to better such a divisive matchmaking system.

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