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More on Blizzard's new Arena system

Zach Yonzon

Blizzard has gone the extra mile in trying to explain their extremely mysterious new Arena matchmaking and rating system. They've featured their blue posts prominently on their front page as a feature called 'Shop Talk', collating all the official statements on the subject over the past couple of weeks. This is retroactive transparency going into overdrive, seeing as how they unleashed the system on players without mentioning it or even getting it tested on the PTR. When the system blew up in everyone's faces soon after Patch 3.0.8 was released, they were quick to suspend Arena play and tried to get things right.

Now that it's up, players have reported winning games but losing points. In fact, some readers have written in to report extremely successful Arena records but result in low or even negative gains. If Blizzard wanted to make Arenas more accessible and enjoyable, taking points away from winning teams was certainly the wrong way to do it. In the latest chapter of this sordid saga of the new Arena system, Kalgan mentions that Blizzard "made adjustments to the ratings system" in a hotfix applied recently. Notable points after the jump.

Personal Ratings will drift towards the Team Rating, as opposed to the internal hidden matchmaking rating. This was the culprit for many discrepancies in the past weeks. Teams will now gain or lose around 12 points when faced with an opponent of similar matchmaking rating, which hopefully should eliminate the extremely odd and frustrating point losses for wins. Kalgan also says that it should be easier under the new (and I should note, "fixed") system for teams and players to get higher ratings due to scale adjustment.

He's quick to note that 'easier' does not mean 'easy', and that Achievements such as The Arena Master will not be trivialized, a term that professional Arena player Serennia used to describe what happened when the system first debuted. Some teams obtained the Achievement in a ridiculously easy fashion when Patch 3.0.8 hit (it took Serennia several weeks on his Death Knight to get the title under the old system). Achievements have supposedly since been stripped, so players working towards Arena Master should find it easier but still challenging.

One of the most interesting revelations about the new matchmaking system is that it does not take gear into account at all. This should clear up many questions from players wondering how they can bump into a team that's clad in complete Deadly Gladiator gear. Considering that the very best PvP gear can drop off the easiest raid boss in the game, it's not surprising that gear wouldn't factor into the equation. It isn't unlikely to see ordinarily 1500 scrubs running around in three pieces of Deadly Gladiator gear, after all. The new system, Kalgan says, only takes into account wins and losses.

Furthermore, teams below 1500 will gain exactly the same points as though their team rating were 1500. This is a significant change and will help reduce the number of teams made purely for points. This way, for example, teams can piddle around the 1200 rating and still gain points without the added cost and hassle of reforming a team just to get back to 1500.

On the other end of the spectrum, the system still hard caps the Personal and Team Ratings at 3000. It's highly unlikely that any team will reach those numbers, at any rate, and the last team we saw hit that level were win traders who were properly penalized. That said, the new system -- the fixed one, that is -- is extremely friendly to casual players. In many ways, the ease by which players can advance in Arenas is comparable to the ease of raiding in Wrath of the Lich King.

Is this a good thing or a bad thing? In the long run, I suspect it might be a good thing. It has been met with criticism from high ranked Arena players, particularly the lowering of Deadly Gladiator requirements by a full 100 points, but the response is expected. It's the same reaction hardcore raiders had to the arguably ez-mode raiding of Wrath. For most of the community, this turned out to be a good thing. In a way, if the new system works as intended (and it must be noted that it hasn't been until, theoretically, two nights ago), it should make Arenas more enjoyable to play for a larger player base. This is the ultimate goal.

As much as I understand the need for Arenas to be a high risk / high reward environment, accessibility to the format is critical to its survival. The past four seasons increasingly raised the barrier of entry into Arenas, so much that by Season 4, fewer players were breaking 2000 than in the seasons before it. This also resulted in lesser participation and a whole lot of criticism (you'll see a lot of that on this very site).

The way I see it, good players and teams will continue to dominate and quickly leave the rest of the pack. The new system only makes it so that other players won't be feel so penalized. We'll have to wait and see for the curve to settle into place, but if it all works out, Arenas should be a friendlier place and participation should rise. And as counter-intuitive as it sounds, friendlier Arenas is actually good for the game.

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