Another look at Casual Matchmaking

Oh look! A Team Fortress 2 article! That’s a genuine surprise. Except it’s not, because Halloween is here, and Scream Fortress has always been my favourite event of the year. This year, not so much, but that’s really for another article. Yes, I wanted to have another look at Casual Matchmaking.

What made me want to write this was the fact that I spent half an hour in one match, on Ghostfort (the Lakeside Event map). This map is incredibly long at the best of times, but casual matchmaking’s best of 3, combined with people being unfamiliar with the map, the 7 minute cap time and Merasmus interrupting all the fucking time, what should have been a short match took forever. After all that, I didn’t even complete the Merasmission to kill Merasmus, despite having killed him four times and finishing the match.

I hate you.
I hate you.

My disappointment aside, there are a lot of things that were, well, overlooked. For example, a best of three is a really bad idea for a 7-minute KOTH map. Normal KOTH maps last 3 minutes and don’t get interrupted. Best of threes are really best saved for a competitive environment, where skill and tactics matter more. Most people just want to play a quick KOTH match then move on.

The worst thing though is accessibility. Your only way in to a casual match is via casual matchmaking. You have the option to be thrown into a match in progress, but the majority want to play a game from start to finish. This wasn’t so much a problem with Quickplay, because players could jump in and out, and autobalance would make sure that no matter how many players were around, you’d have even teams. It wasn’t fair but it worked.

The jumping in was also easier. Not because of Quickplay, mind you, but because friends could join in on you, or people could pick and choose via the server browser. Casual Matchmaking cuts that out, making it far harder to keep games even. And with most people not knowing that they can opt into games that are going on, or don’t want to jump into existing games, the flow of players has been clogged up and in casual matchmaking games that lose players, they rarely get replaced. It’s common to finish a game, and one side only has 6-9 players.

Assuming you can get into a match in the first place.
Assuming you can get into a match in the first place.

Thing is, a lot of the ideas behind Casual Matchmaking are genuinely good. The idea of a reason to continue playing, so you can fill up a bar. A way to pick and choose what maps you want. A slightly more formal setting. The ideas are all there. They’re just badly implemented. The XP bar works but doesn’t really reward you for leveling up. Choosing maps is great but you get put on high ping servers. The formal setting doesn’t work because it goes against the casual feel TF2 has always had.

You see, the TF2 community didn’t want matchmaking for casual games. We wanted a ranked system for competitive play, based on the 6v6 and/or Highlander formats (although I would have accepted fast-paced 4v4 or Ultiduo as well), and standard servers that we can access either via a Quickplay menu or a server browser, picking the map we and want playing the game we want, whether it’s a Valve server or a community server. In hindsight, that’s really not a lot to ask for.

A lot of it though is because of a falling player population. This year, so many games have come out to challenge TF2’s rule, and Valve has done precisely nothing to try and retain player interests, old and new. I mean, some of the TF2 team has tried a little, but they have been wholly unable to satisfy player demands. Not even close.

Really, they haven’t even been able to do the bare minimum and add crates with items in them. It can’t be that tricky to do.

It’s a pity how things could have been so great, if only people put a little more dedication into them.

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