3 big problems with ranked battlegrounds

Ranked battlegrounds have been something of a THING in the current MMO cycle, with WoW introducing rated battlegrounds in Cataclysm, and SWTOR introducing ranked battlegrounds with the last patch. I imagine they exist in other games too. They involve players being part of a fixed team and queuing together for battleground play against other fixed teams, with rankings and points assigned for wins and losses. So it is an arena-style setup but with more players and pre-existing layouts and objectives.

On paper, it should be a happy medium for offering keen PvP players the chance to play battlegrounds competitively, while keeping the random PvP players away from organised groups that will roll straight over them.

I haven’t heard much from the WoW side about how well the rated battlegrounds have been working out, but I do know the main issues in SWTOR. I suspect they will be similar, although because of the cross-server queues in WoW, it might not be as bad. This is hard to gauge since the WoW PvP forum is dominated by discussions about arenas rather than the rated bgs at the moment. And here’s a thread from the SWTOR forums where people discuss why they aren’t queuing for ranked warzones.

Problem 1: Long queue times

I noted in a recent post that one of the goals for any random queuing mechanism would be to get as many players into the queues as possible. The queues in ranked battlegrounds can be very long, purely because each group needs 8+ players so there aren’t many teams queuing at any given time.

This sometimes means that ranked teams get bored and queue for random PvP instead, where they just walk all over the randomly queued players which isn’t much fun for them either. You could argue that this means the system is working as intended and random players should be encouraged to PvP in a more organised way. Which isn’t much help if the rest of your team isn’t on, you’re a new or casual player, or if you like random-ish low impact PvP.

Problem 2: Insufficient teams for well matched rankings

In any ranked PvP setting, ideally players would prefer to be matched with teams who can give them a good fight. (OK, there are some players who would always prefer a walkover, but aside from those.) That means teams of similar experience/ ranking/ ability in PvP. If a newbie team is consistently matched against an ultra-hardcore PvP team, they don’t have a lot of space to experiment and learn tactics because they’ll be over-run immediately all the time.

You would expect the hardcore teams to dominate, but if they are actually putting off newer teams from learning to play the rated game, then there’s no turnover when more experienced teams get bored,  and also no teams for other newbie teams to play.

Problem 3: Needing to grind random PvP to get the gear to play in ranked teams

The way PvP gear is acquired in both SWTOR and WoW is that a new max level character can buy a set of entry level PvP gear. To improve this, they need to earn tokens by playing battlegrounds which they can use to buy better gear. This will likely be quite grindy, depending on how much you enjoy the PvP in random battlegrounds. (In WoW you could also play arenas to gear up more quickly, as those queues are much shorter.) If the majority of teams in rated battleground play have the better quality gear (which they will) then every single new team member needs to do that gear grind if they aren’t going to be a weak link, gearwise.

The gear dependency of PvP is an issue in themepark style MMOs in any case, but it’s clear that this pre-requisite isn’t going to encourage more teams to queue for ranked battlegrounds unless they were already quite keen PvPers. That’s another barrier for newer or more casual teams to face.

Getting more teams into the ranked queues

Probably the rewards for playing a ranked game, whether you win or lose, need to be significantly better if they are going to encourage inexperienced players to team up and try their luck. The gameplay and rewards system should encourage teams to work on improving their performance, and that means limiting exposure to wildly better teams. This may mean that hardcore teams keep facing the same small number of competitors. It may mean extra achievements for the first time you play a ranked match or win one to encourage new players to try casual teams formed from general chat as an alternative to random queuing.

Another option would be to enable ranked battleground queues only at specific prime time slots, so that queues will be primed at those times. Or just give extra rewards to teams who queue on ‘ranked battleground night’.

I find this quite a tricky problem, but it’s undoubtedly true that people are put off creating new teams or  experimenting with pick up teams with voicechat because of concerns that their gear isn’t good enough or they’ll be facerolled repeatedly by the server’s best teams. And the people who do run teams are frustrated by the long queue times and lack of good matching. Ultimately I suspect the ranked bgs will be left to the hardcore who will probably arrange their own fight nights between themselves.