We've now had our hands on the Call of Duty: Vanguard alpha and beta. We were providing full coverage over those weekends for those who were either on Xbox, PC or didn’t prepare an excuse for their loved ones. Now let's tackle the elephant in the room: SBMM.
Some of you might be asking: what is SBMM? SBMM stands for skill-based matchmaking. If a game uses skill-based matchmaking then when you try to find a lobby it will match you with players at a similar skill level, so the game is never too hard or too easy. That's the idea at least. SBMM is going to come up a lot in the Vanguard conversation as the game releases so it's worth knowing.
SBMM has been highly controversial since Modern Warfare's release in 2019. The community felt that SBMM had become 'stricter', such that you were only finding matches with people very, very close to your skill level. It was argued that Call of Duty is essentially casual and so you should sometimes get to play against easier opponents, and it shouldn't always feel competitive. SBMM in BOCW was allegedly so strict that it would raise the maximum ping allowed in the lobby to force players to stay within tight skill level groupings. In BOCW the game was sacrificing good connection for the sake of SBMM.
But Call of Duty has continued to use SBMM, so there must be market research to support its use. The people least likely to be vocal online - the most casual of the player base - are those who would benefit from SBMM, and they make up a quite majority of total players, so SBMM does make sense from that perspective. Honestly, Call of Duty is really between a rock and a hard place on this one - the hardcore hates it but SBMM brings in more punters. Let's take a look at what they went for in Vanguard.
Update: We have now played the beta and seen the 'Game Pacing' system, which should do a lot for those who dislike SBMM.
How Strict Is The SBMM In Vanguard?
It's definitely there but it feels less strict than either Modern Warfare or Black Ops Cold War. We were grinding the alpha quite solidly since the game went live and we noticed that after a number of bad openings games (forgive me senpai) the competition became noticeably easier. Then into Saturday, it went back to normal and after a few really fantastic games in a row, we found ourselves among the bunny hopping sweats. This is obviously nowhere near enough to confirm yet, but a lot of members of the community are sharing similar stories.
On the beta weekend, we had Blitz for the first time. Blitz is a new 'style' of game, where you have more than double player count on the maps so they all feel like Shipment. In that environment, it's so much harder to tell whether SBMM is in play. Those chaotic, 'classic CoD' games are just so flukey anyway. But this is a good thing, those who traditionally dislike SBMM will enjoy Blitz a lot.
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How Have The Community Responded?
Not well. SBMM is a topic that a lot of players are very sensitive to, and indeed, it only took a few hours of the alpha being live for people to complain. Only an hour in and Tom Henderson, an infamous leaker with a large following, posted this:
Very few of the replies dissented from this view.
Similar statements were made about the beta more recently, but these were counterbalanced by those who saw Blitz as a solution to offer more casual games. So it seems that - yes, SBMM has been implemented, but Game Pacing will negate the worst effects of SBMM.