As AOE2 increasingly becomes a team game, the time has come to re-think ELO and matchmaking. While the win rate-based ELO system kinda-sorta works for 1v1 games, it’s clearly flawed when it comes to determining skill in team games, where the outcome is dependent on not just your skill, but that of your teammates. After all, ELO was developed for a 1v1 game (Chess), not a team game.
Lopsided matches are never fun. Most players (of both 1v1 and team games) just want to play fun games where they can try their best against players who are roughly their skill level. And our goal should be a system that can provide that consistently for the exploding number of players that primarily enjoy team games. Here is how we can do that:
Instead of focusing on game outcomes to guess a player’s skill, we should analyze how they actually play. We can start by creating a model that looks at dozens of key metrics, everything from APM, to age-up times, eco, military production, and create bands of skill levels. A players’ skill level would be determined against those models, which could be continuously updated over time.
Not only does this fix the team game matchmaking problem, we can even use it to help players improve! The game could give players tips based on how they play, like “you create fewer villages in Feudal age than other players, be sure to keep making villagers in Feudal,” or “you create military units later than other players, try making military units earlier.” The possibilities of using a machine learning model here are huge.
It will also have an impact on smurfing. Instead of 10 games of smurfing to figure out a player is much better than the ELO of their newly-created account, the system will figure out faster they are skilled by how they play.
With this new system, we can also fix another common complaint of players: ranked map pools. Because the ranked ladder is the only way to play with players of a similar level (or try, at least), many players are forced to play maps they don’t enjoy. But you need uniformity on a ladder to rank people. However, many (perhaps MOST) players don’t care about climbing the ladder. They just want balanced games against players of similar skill where they can try their best.
But now that we have a skill system that isn’t tied to a ranking, we can matchmake without a ladder! This would allow players to choose a pool of their own favorite maps (for example, we can force them to choose a minimum of 8 maps they are willing to play to keep matchmaking smooth), and just allow them to play whatever they want.
I think these two changes would dramatically improve the multiplayer and team game experience and improve the online experience for everyone.