The Colosseum: A basic guide to the Arena rating system

Michael Gray
M. Gray|09.16.09

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The Colosseum: A basic guide to the Arena rating system

The Colosseum takes us inside the world of the Gladiator (Brutal, Vengeful, Merciless, Furious, and otherwise), to interview some of the top Arena fighters in the battlegroups. Our goal is to bring a better understanding of the strategy, makeup, and work that goes into dueling it out for fame, fortune, and Frostwyrms. We're especially focused on the people who play these games, to further shed light on the world of the PvP player.

When our new PvP guru C. Christian Moore wrote about a team skyrocketing to a 3206 team rating, a commenter pointed out to our staff that all the various language, acronyms, and "points" involved in the Arena can be somewhat confusing. It can be hard to figure out what the heck we're talking about.

I think that probably makes sense when you consider there's probably about ten different kinds of "points," three different ratings, a few different ranks, and two different kinds of spendable currency. (While I'm not looking to delve into all the Battleground dynamics here, you have to keep in mind that Honor Points do have a pretty real effect on the Arena.)

So, this time in your neighborhood Colosseum, we're going to take a break to enjoy a basic guide to the Arena rating system, and try to clarify the difference between Team rating, Personal rating, and Matchmaking rating. Check it out behind the cut.

The first thing to understand about the Arena is that it is an entire avenue of play, just as valid and complex as any PvE raid. I've seen folks successfully argue that it's more complex and difficult that any raid. (After all, while raid bosses relatively stay the same, your PvP opponents are constantly learning, growing, and becoming more skillful).

The basic premise of the Arena is that two, three, or five people will duel it out for victory. You're dropped into an enclosed, limited-space fighting area, and whichever team has the last person alive at the end of the match wins the contest. (The limited-space dynamic of the Arena is why early detractors of the Arena system called Arena matches "fishbowl duels"). The idea I'm driving to here is that it's a team sport. And while Blizzard notes and rewards personal performance in PvP, the intention behind the Arena is that it's a team fighting together. You're not doing it alone.

Because Arena is considered to be a team sport, in order to compete in rated Arena play, you must be a member of an Arena team. (I know, there's no way you saw that coming.) Your team has its own rating, which is predictably called a Team Rating. Your individual character, as well as each other member of your team, has their own individual Personal Rating. Lastly, your character has what's know as their Matchmaking Rating. It's that final MMR that determines who you will be fighting each time your character logs into the Arena.

The Arena system will always try and match your group against another team with equivalent Matchmaking Rating. Exactly how it does that has changed throughout the Seasons, and will probably change again in the foreseeable future. But, ultimately, it's trying to get you against people with equivalent skill.

Here's where some of these ratings start getting confusing for people. Even though the formula for going up and down in individual and team ratings is fairly well known, the formula for moving your Matchmaking Rating (or MMR) is not as well known. We do know that it is a "diffusion filter." In other words, it is a very long, very complex math formula. And while the details are fairly well obfuscated, what we do know is that the eventual goal of these three different ratings is to have each team win about 50% of their matches, and lose 50% of their matches.

That can be a hard pill for many new Arena players to swallow. While an experienced, well-practiced Guild will eventually put their PvE content on farm, and never die to Noth the Plaguebringer again, a PvPer will, at best,. only ever win 50% of their matches. That's just how PvP works -- it's a zero sum game. Someone has to win, someone has to lose.

Your personal rating will rise and fall with every match. When you leave one team and join another, you carry your personal and matchmaking rating with you. When you purchase a piece of Arena gear, both your personal and team rating must meet the requirements.

Every Tuesday morning, when our usual maintenance rolls around, the Arena point payouts happen. You receive a number of what's called "Arena points" based on your Arena team's rating. (It's important to note that this payout is not based on your personal rating, but is instead the result of how your team performed. Remember: the Arena is meant to be a team sport here. You have to have played at least 30% of your team's weekly matches to qualify for a payout.)

These Arena points are then taken to a vendor, and spent for valuable prizes. These prizes can range from a Commendation of Bravery to the very latest, hottest Arena shoulders available. The Commendation of Bravery is
only 100 Arena points, which is about the minimum most people who spend any time playing Arena matches will see in a given week. Your season-latest tabard, by comparison, require a very high Arena rating -- the Relentless Gladiator's Tabard requires an Arena rating of 2350 in the current season. This tabard represents the very highest required achievement for Arena purchases.

There have been a total of seven Arena seasons, if you include the current Season. Each Season has had its own kicky sobriquet -- it started with "Merciless" and has now ranged all the way up to "Relentless." (The intermediary steps, if you're interested, are Vengeful, Brutal, Deadly and Furious.) In the Wrath of the Lich King Arena world, you can buy the previous Season's gear for Honor points, and the current Season's gear with Arena points. The exact cost of the gear, as well as the rating required to be able to buy, have changed a little bit over time as a result of balance issues.

The Arena has been controversial in its time. There was a time when Arena-purchased weapons were considered "Welfare Epics," based on the idea that the only valid weapons was one earned through PvE. (Of course, nowadays, you can't even get a PvP weapon without at least an 1800 rating.)

Blizzard wanted to move Arena fighters away from these perceived "Welfare Epics," which is how the whole Arena rating requirements came into being. It used to be that you could simply purchase your gear when you had enough points. For me, I've felt like the needle has swung all the way in the other direction -- if I can't get an 1800 rating or better, there's not much point in stepping into the Arena. I'm not sure if that was the goal or not, but I feel like there must be some kind of middle ground between the raider's complaint of PvP Welfare Epics and "No weapons if you can't be 1800."

The second controversy that created the three-rating system was point-selling. PvPers who already had their gear, and didn't need to worry about end of season rewards, were selling high ratings to people who might not have otherwise seen very high Arena ratings. With those artificially high ratings, the newb PvPer could purchase good PvP gear. The skilled PvPer would jump between various teams, lending their expertise and raw killing power to the highest bidder.

Additionally, some folks would simply reroll their Arena team whenever they got bored. I know that may seem ludicrous to a lot of people. But the complaints in the official forums were heard loud and clear. When a 2500+ rated person could be found rolling new players in the 1300 brackets, Blizzard implemented the Matchmaking Rating. The big deal with the MMR is that it stays with you between teams and between seasons. So if I had a high rating in Season 6, then I carried that rating over into Season 7.

Ultimately, the three rating systems in the Arena try and keep people fighting similarly skilled people. Whether it's successful in that goal is obviously up for debate, but I think it's done a pretty good job. I don't often run across folks who dominate me, nor do I feel like I completely override other people I face. Hopefully, you have the same general experience.

The Colosseum is's interview series spotlighting strategies, compositions, and tactics from the Arena fighters who use them. For more PvP information, be sure to hit up Blood Sport and the Art of War(craft).

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