So there's a conversation I had with Mitch 'Krepo' Voorspoels at the League of Legends [official site] All-Star which I've been coming back to a lot this week as I contemplate a festive season with time to play MOBAs.
"Everybody sees their current position as neutral and they can go up and they can go down. They never consider they may actually be at the peak for a while."
I'd thrown in an extra question at the end of an interview just out of curiosity. Krepo's a caster/analyst for League now but he has also played professionally so I asked if there was anything lower level players can change – perhaps a mindset thing rather than a skill thing – if they wanted to improve their play. His full response is about keeping the game fun rather than getting caught in the grind of climbing ranked for the sake of status. I'll put it here so you can read it but it's that line which suggests maybe you've peaked which really stuck out to me and which I've been pondering.
"Unless you're planning to go pro – unless you're this close [he holds his thumb and forefinger as close as possible without them touching] to the pro level – your rank doesn't matter that much. You always want more, you always want better [...] The most important thing is to have fun. This is, after all, still a game.
"I think a lot of people get lost in the grind and they see points and whenever they see their Elo they never consider it as a peak. Everybody sees their current position as neutral and they can go up and they can go down. They never consider they may actually be at the peak for a while. They may have lucked out. The negative variance will hit them way harder in that perception. Maybe your average is actually 100 LP lower than where you're at right now and you're in a lucky state. Instead they assume it's their average and they could go 50 up or down.
"Just have fun. If you enjoy the game more you may lose a little bit but it won't affect your life. You shouldn't get grumpy – try to avoid getting grumpy – because then why else are you playing the game?"
At the time I suggested I could start a "Bronze and Proud" club, maybe with badges and t-shirts for the 2016 season. I might still do that. Or at least I could google the price of badges and then throw the idea out and start a hashtag instead. Unless it's already in use by a sunbed corporation or something. ANYWAY.
The idea that you might be at a peak in League (or Dota or Smite or CS:GO or whatever your ranked multiplayer tipple of choice is at the moment) felt important. It highlights the realities of matchmaking systems. Matchmaking ranking systems are there primarily to help you find matches you enjoy and which you have an equal chance of winning or losing. We (and game developers) frequently repurpose visible versions for use as symbols of skill or ways to guide our play by measuring improvement. They turn into these sources of pride or shame, to be protected or improved upon and which can affect the respect given to us by the community. In that way, explicit ranking systems can become this destructive, grind-inducing thing. [I've written about that topic in more detail here and here]
I liked that conversation with Krepo because, for me, it's a good reminder of the realities of ranking systems. It questions how we tend to think of ranking/MMR/Elo in relation to ourselves and prioritises enjoyment. I like that.