David Vonderhaar’s endearment to the Call of Duty community, particularly the professional part of it, opened up a world of possibilities for fans of the franchise back in November, 2012. Inside the competitive community, one of the most notable additions to Black Ops 2 was League Play; a series of game modes outside of public games where players can compete for ranks outside of the traditional ranking module.
Broken down into six different divisions (Iron, Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum and Masters), League Play presents competitors with the chance to work their way up their ladder and hone their skills as a competitive Call of Duty player. However, despite League Play being a great addition to Black Ops 2, it is seriously limited.
In this five part series, we’ll look at Black Ops 2’s League Play, specifically the Championship series, and highlight where it needs improvements and additions. Through such fine-tuning, we may see League Play expand beyond its standard 8,000 players and transition into bigger numbers. The interest is there, but how can it be catalysed?
PART 1: REVISED RANKING
Upon its reveal, League Play received a surprisingly large reception from the Call of Duty community. With past instalment in the franchise, players of a more competitive nature have had to resort to using either GameBattles, or websites such as Decerto to enter a real competitive arena outside of public games.
League Play looked to turn that on its head by providing players with all the necessary tools to participate in competitive games, and by doing so, a series of divisions were introduced.
Six divisions, ranging from the depths of the Iron division, to the soaring heights of Masters, were conceived by Treyarch with the help of various eSports personalties; namely Mike 'Hastr0' Rufail. Through these divisions, Treyarch looked to emulate Starcraft 2's resounding success, which has been largely down to the competitive nature of its ladders, and in the beginning of Black Ops 2 many players warmed to it.
However, as time has progressed, League Play's popularity has slowly crumbled at the foundations, with the ranking system right in the centre of it all. Typically, when people complain about ranking they're frustrated at the difficulty of ranking up, but with Black Ops 2, it's the complete opposite; it's too easy! Time and time again, many players find themselves placing in the Masters division without any real effort, and considering such a rank is suppose to represent the top 2% of players in the world, something has obviously went wrong.
This can be wrapped back to the fact that Treyarch have been strenuously coy on how exactly League Play's ranking and matchmaking system works. As we already know, each win in League Play results in +10, +30, +50, +110, +130 or +150 points as a reward for your efforts, with each of them having a corresponding negative for the losing team. While this sound simple enough, there seems to be no real algorithm to determine exactly how much you deserve for your efforts. Deserve is the key word here. I can personally attest to gaining +150's against a team of players who all back out mere seconds into the game, whilst only getting +10 for overthrowing a team of Masters - the alleged top players in the world.
There appears to be no equality here, and as you delve deeper into the more concise components of League Play, you can slowly tear away the smoke screen and notice the fallacy of it all. The points system is flawed to the extend that it makes absolutely no sense, and matchmaking appears to prioritise connection and locale over rank - a seriously vexing issue itself that we won't get into too much, but instead present a solution.
Remedying these issues is far from being an easy task; it essentially requires a full-on overhaul of the systems already in place. However, if done correctly, the solution is a mouth-watering prospect.
To look at a successful ranking system, Treyarch needn't look further than the 2007 FPS hit Halo 3. Amongst many others, one of Halo 3's most decorated accolades was its stellar ranking system which mesmerised millions - its addictiveness was one of the reasons as to why people kept coming back for more. Usually when the prospect of emulating Halo 3's ranking system arises, many naysayers are fast to chime in that it shows a lack of creativity, and that copying it would be shallow. However, it is a working formula; why not go for something that's already known to succeed?
It's arguable that Halo 3's booming success was because of its enthralling ranking system. What was most notable was the difficulty of it all; if you weren't the greatest at the game, but were above average, chances were you'd be around level 30. Yet when you look at Call of Duty, average players are more than capable of gaining Master Rank 1; it's all a question of how much time you have on your hands. That's the difference, whilst CoD simply takes time to rank up, Halo 3 required true skill - only the cream of the crop ascended into the 40's!
So if Call of Duty is to emulate such a system, what exactly do they need to do? Well, to the common gamer (you and I), that's not a question easy answered. Bungie have never really revealed the inner-workings of Halo 3's ranking system for consumers, but it's thought that it follows the same framework as Microsoft's Trueskill system. It's here that the game takes your player skill level (Mu) and your uncertainty factor (Sigma). Your MU tracks and records your skill level through past performances. Winning raises it, whilst losing lowers it - simple enough. Sigma, on the other hand, is a whole other ball game! Sigma is a representation of your potential true skill. Consistent players will find themselves having a low Sigma level, which results in you ranking up slower than usual. Due to this, Halo is commonly littered with players using secondary accounts; all of which have high sigma's that ultimately boost your rank faster than usual. Further algorithms are obviously in place, but even these two combining is nauseating to think of!
What the above information tells us is that creating such a system from scratch is far from easy, and without Microsoft's framework, this may be out of Treyarch's league; especially at this point in the year, where the next Call of Duty is on the horizon. With that said, nobody is expecting a perfect system to come into play, at least not for Black Ops 2. What we would like to see, however, is the foundations of such a proposition being built around League Play to make it representative of true competitive gaming. With a true skill ranking system in place, there's no doubt that League Play would see a rise in figures over time - it's what got Halo big, and it's what'll get Call of Duty competitive bigger.
Source: me via FPSGeneral