League of Legends: the problems of (and solutions to) positional matchmaking

eague of Legends College Championship (Photo by Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images)
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SANTA MONICA, CA – MAY 28: Alvin Ngo (Gaow Gaiy) of the University of Toronto at the League of Legends College Championship match between Maryville University and the University of Toronto at the NA LCS Studio at Riot Games Arena on May 28, 2017 in Santa Monica, California. (Photo by Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images) /

Positional matchmaking has been live in NA and Korea for over a month at this point and to say the reception has been mixed would be generous. Many are saying that this is the worst that the state of League of Legends ranked ladders have been since the famed DynamicQ debacle of Season 6. What is causing these problems, and what (if anything) can Riot do to solve them?

When Riot announced last year that they would be implementing positional matchmaking into the League of Legends ranked queues in Season 9, they were met with a mix of skepticism and couched optimism. While many immediately saw flaws and possible exploits that such a system could offer, others hoped that it would be a solution to the complaints of poor matchmaking that plagued Season 8. Instead, we got the worst of both worlds.

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This season, there have been cries from pro players, high elo players, and coaches alike to do away with positional matchmaking and reset the ranked ladder. While some of these complaints and problems are due to problems with the early season LP gains (which Riot has acknowledged), there are still a ton of valid complaints against the positional matchmaking system.

The problems with positional matchmaking

1. It’s exploitable to boost with duo queuing

Many high-elo and pro players have pointed out that some players have been using this system to easily boost teammates or duo partners by swapping lanes. Essentially, players are abusing the match-making system to get matched against players in their main role who are much lower, MMR-wise, than they are to get easy LP.

Worse yet, if a player performs badly, there is the possibility that the player can go into another role, go AFK or keep feeding, without consequence. This is because the system will detect register your position based on the lane where you spend most of the time in your early game, and give you LP and MMR losses for that lane. Basically, if you give up first blood while playing top lane, you can immediately walk bot, AFK, and you’ll lose LP as an AD or support (although you can get punished for doing this).

2. It’s much more of a grind than previous years

This has been a concern from players since the system was first announced. Because each role has its own rank and LP gains, you won’t get to rank up at the same rate you used to be able to unless you’re always getting your role. Playing off-role when autofilled basically feels like a waste of time.

3. It’s made matchmaking worse

One of the initial selling points of the positional matchmaking system was that matchmaking would feel fairer because you would play against players equal to your level when you’re playing at your off-role. Instead of struggling to play against Diamond players when you’re filled to support as a mid lane main, you’ll get to play against high Platinum players and have a better chance to win the game. This came at the heels of a season where high elo players complained that games were decided by who got the autofilled player, or who got the Diamond V player on their team and aimed to reduce that pain point.

Not only does this mean that players are getting boosted to higher MMR brackets than their skill deserves it also means that Riot’s matchmaking is thrown out of whack. Because there have been massive LP gains to cushion against players getting placed lower than their MMR warrants at the start of the season, you end up with a lot of players in high elo with very low MMR by abusing this mechanic. This, in turn, creates less-balanced games even when all players are on their main role because their main role’s MMR has been artificially inflated.

4. There’s no incentive to win when you’re autofilled

The problem with the idea of positional rankings is that, by definition, you will end up in games that are less meaningful to you than to your teammates, thus making the quality of the games decline. Say I’m a top main, and I get autofilled to AD Carry. I never play AD Carry, but instead of dodging and waiting five minutes to hopefully get placed top, I decide to take my hand at ADC.

I might try my hardest and just not be good enough, which would be frustrating to my teammates. However, there is also the possibility (and reality) that I decide to troll, feed, or “soft int” in games to get my ADC game over with, re-queue, and get one of my main roles. Since the splashing LP losses in my main role aren’t that large and I don’t care about my rank in the ADC role, there’s no incentive not to do this in the few games I get autofilled.

While that doesn’t matter to me, it does matter to my teammates, who may be playing in their main roles and trying their hardest. Even though skill-wise we should be about the same in this system, the incentive is just not there to allow me to try my hardest to get the win and rank up a position I don’t care about.