I’ve been holding off on writing an actual article on official matchmaking for a while, not sure whether it’s been the right time or not. It turns out there’s never a good time, so here’s a heavily opinionated article on the matter.
First off, whether I’d actually play matchmaking or not, I’ve always wanted ranked matchmaking in TF2. It’s that sort of thing that probably wouldn’t have fitted in early on, but as competitive leagues began to get bigger and bigger, Valve should have properly jumped on it and done something with it. All these years later and we’re only just getting something even remotely substantial.
It’s also a case of “put your money where your mouth is!” No longer can UGC Steel 4v4 players claim they’re brilliant and amazing and that they know best (you know I’d never do that!). Being at the top of official Valve matchmaking would suggest that you’re genuinely a good player, the same way reaching Global Elite in CS:GO or 8000 MMR in Dota 2 proves that you’re among the best. Of course, Invite players will always be the best, but now they’ll be able to doubly prove their TF2-based superiority over the rest of us. Sadly, that means that we’ll end up with that “you’re a low rank, your opinion is an idiot!” but we already do that anyway with both community-run leagues (“you’re just a shitty UGC steel player!”), with the value of your backpack (“you’re a F2P noob.”) and with the amount of hours spent playing the game (“You only have 1000 hours. Fuck off!”).
That being said, I have a LOT of worries about how all this will work. It’s already been confirmed that 6v6 will be the format, which makes sense, it’s easier to get 12 players ready rather than 18 players ready, you have faster games and can use just as many game modes. But there’s also confusion on whether there will be class limits or not. 6v6 only works as a format because there are class limits, otherwise every game would boil down to Demomen and Medics pushing into a wall of Heavies and Engineers. Removing that means all hell could break loose, ruining the fast-paced game that the community’s top players set out to create.
The same applies to weapons. The weapons that are banned in competitive leagues are generally banned due to glitches or for being ‘unfun’. The BASE Jumper, although a perfectly balanced weapon, had a bug that meant sentries would not fire at you. The Vita-Saw, while seemingly underwhelming, is banned because it forces both Medics to use it for face being at a disadvantage (although technically this is true of the Crossbow too). The only reason these weapons end up being banned though is because it takes SO LONG for Valve to fix things. I’m all for Valve not having weapon bans, but they will have to work far harder and way faster in order for things to be at least somewhat balanced. This could mean weekly or bi-weekly updates, and I fear Valve is not willing to do that for TF2.
There’s other things as well that worry me greatly. As always, news is slow. The official Steam Group dedicated to matchmaking had very little information on it and is open to pretty much every single person who has ever played TF2 and visited a forum. You do want experience from all ends of the player spectrum, but you kinda need to get the basics down with the experts first, and with beta passes being handed out wholly randomly, there’s no way you can reliably cover the whole spectrum. On top of all that, for some insane reason, you need to be using the Steam Mobile Authenticator. Why? I originally thought maybe so they can hand passes out straight away because they forgot to add a way for the TF2 team to bypass the trading/escrow system to give people items, but why not do it as a drop in-game like they do with party hats and promotional items? This isn’t a Steam Trading beta or a Steam Market beta, it’s a beta for matchmaking in a video game, there’s no need for the Mobile Authenticator which I so hate. I’m basically screwed out of a beta pass now, because I don’t want to give Valve my phone number. Then again, the chance of me getting a pass is 1 in however many people are in the group right now, a tiny possibility.
Once again, I’m brought back to that uncertainty I’ve always been so scared of. Maybe Valve will be able to avoid all these problems and make everything alright. Or maybe day one will be a fucking awful buggy mess which won’t be fixed for a week. No one knows, and Valve aren’t exactly predictable, apart from everything being late. But because of how long we’ve waited, expectations are all over the place. I really hope that matchmaking won’t be a flop, but I’m very scared it will be.
For all we know, matchmaking could just be a glorified pub…