Following the release of Modern Warfare 3, the community has once again voiced their frustration over the series’ controversial skill-based matchmaking (SBMM) system. The hot topic recently saw Call of Duty developers bombarded with questions over it during an open Q&A, which they ignored. But why is the topic being ignored, what exactly is SBMM, and how can you get into the highly desired ‘bot lobbies’?
First, it’s important to understand what skill-based matchmaking is and how it has become progressively harsher on players over the years.
What is SBMM and How Has it Changed?
In November 2021, former Call of Duty developer Josh Menke revealed that SBMM has been in Call of Duty since Modern Warfare (2007). If Menke’s revelation is true, then why is the discourse around the system so prevalent today? Does everyone just like to complain, or is there something more to the story here?
While it’s impossible to disagree with a developer who worked on the SBMM system for COD 4 and subsequent titles, it’s important to know that the system has changed significantly since its first introduction. In fact, the system has changed so much over the years that it arguably is a completely different system altogether.
Luckily, I’ve played every title since COD 4 and have actually exploited the SBMM system for YouTube videos since Black Ops 2, so I have a pretty good first-hand account of how things have changed over the years.
As I said, it’s impossible to disagree with a developer, but admittedly, it’s also difficult to back up that there was a SBMM system in those early years. Between COD 4 (2007) and Modern Warfare 3 (2011), matches felt entirely random. Maybe it’s because the matchmaking prioritized ping over its skill parameters, but whatever the case may be if it was in these titles it was minuscule.
The first major noticeable addition with SBMM was with the launch of Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 (2012). Gone were the days of seemingly randomly skilled players on either team and instead, the SBMM system preferred to place people in lobbies of similar rank/level. As a Call of Duty YouTuber who was known for large kill games at the time, this was a system that I and many other ‘pubstompers’ exploited for those highly desired ‘bot lobbies’.
Back then, it was simple to get around the SBMM system as you could simply have the lowest-level player of your party host the lobby. Back then, Call of Duty YouTube clans like KARNAGE or AMP would even have their members take turns being the low-level hosts on a different account. If this wasn’t possible and you were solo, then simply joining the session of a lower-level player worked just as well.
The results were night and day, and YouTubers, including myself, were able to pull off high kill, low death games in every single game. You can watch a 191 kill, 0 deaths game from me below if you’re interested – just ignore the really bad commentary.
The skill-based matchmaking system would then progressively get more ‘restrictive’ over the years. In 2014, with the launch of Advanced Warfare, it seemed like the SBMM system leaned more towards the kill-death ratio, rather than just player levels. To get around this seemingly new SBMM system at the time, players needed to purposefully destroy their K/D to get into easier lobbies. Soon after launch though, hackers came into the mix.
For as little as $10, players were able to purchase a max-level account, with all the best weapon variants unlocked – More importantly though, the accounts would have zero kills, but 500,000 deaths. While it was not a permanent solution, a $10 purchase would give players at least a couple of months of ‘bot lobbies’.
In fact, buying hacked accounts in Advanced Warfare became so prevalent and popular among the Call of Duty community, that it eventually led to bot lobbies having multiple hacked accounts in the same lobby. I even remember it becoming that much of a problem in the summer of 2015, that a courtesy ‘honour among thieves’ type of agreement was formed and if you entered a lobby with a hacked account already in there, you’d back out and find a fresh one.
The next major and noticeable change probably came during the launch of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (2019). The parameters of how the SBMM works aren’t exactly known here, but player kill-death ratio, rank, and even skill are factors. SBMM is certainly not as cut and dry as it used to be and players have resorted to extreme measures to overcome it, which we’ll get into soon.
Will SBMM Ever be Removed?
So, now that you’re familiar with SBMM and its history, the most important question a lot of people have is will it ever be removed? In short, that’s a difficult question to answer.
I’ve spoken to many Call of Duty developers over the years over this issue and although some have voiced their own frustrations with the system, it unfortunately works in the favor of Activision. If we reference back to Menke’s comments about it being in the game since 2007, that’s 16 years of tweaking parameters to perfection.
Record player engagement and revenues might not all be down to SBMM, but if a company is seeing significant increases in these two statistics, then why would they change it? Of course, never say never, but currently, despite the constant social media frenzy on the topic, Call of Duty is doing just fine.
How to Get ‘Bot Lobbies’
As mentioned there have been several ways Call of Duty players have got themselves easier lobbies over the years and with Modern Warfare 3, there are two different ways.
The first is the most expensive, but reliable, and is a method that a lot of big Call of Duty pubstompers have used since around the release of Call of Duty WWII in 2017. It involves buying two (or even three) copies of the game, meaning you’ll now be paying at least $140.
One account will be your main account, which can be played with as normal, but the second account is your ‘reverse boosted account’, which you’ll join as it’s in the pre-game lobby. First, to get around the SBMM system, you’ll need to trash the stats of the reverse boosted account. As it’s currently unknown what the exact parameters for SBMM are, several reverse boosters have told me that you cover all possibilities during this reverse boosting stage.
Play one a 1-2 sensitivity, use terrible guns, do not get a lot of kills, but do get a lot of deaths, and never play how you normally would. The goal here is to trick any and all parameters that you are a terrible player. After around five games, you’re now ready to get into bot lobbies.
How it typically works is that you find a game on your reverse boosted account and once that account is in the pre-game lobby (SBMM has worked and matched people of similar skill), you join the accounts session. This can be incredibly time-consuming as lobbies fill fast and as such has resulted in pubstompers even resorting to purchasing more than one account to reverse boost, so they can back one of them out to free up one space.
During testing, I came across one of these pubstompers doing exactly that with two reverse-boosted accounts.
This is also the method used by popular Call of Duty pubstomper ‘ChainFeeds’, who has accumulated nearly 600,000 subscribers in recent years. Ever watched his stream and wondered why he never shows himself searching for a game? This is why.
Using a VPN
A VPN is now the most commonly used method to overcome skill-based matchmaking. You might have heard your favourite Call of Duty streamer joke about setting their location somewhere across the world and although this might seem like a joke, it’s likely they’ve actually done it.
If you’re not sure what a VPN is, they are programs that allow you to route your internet traffic through a server located in a different geographic location, which can hide a lot of your data such as your actual location and IP address.
It’s not entirely clear why setting your location to a different region works, but a likely explanation is that you’re tricking SBMM into matching you against a smaller pool of players, which results in the system not using all of its parameters to match you.
The end result is that you do generally come against lesser-skilled opponents and while you’re not guaranteed a ‘bot lobby’ every single game, it’s a trick that people have been using for years to get into easier lobbies.
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