The State of Ranked Play - July 23, 2019
Well, once again it has been too long since I've written anything here; real life got busy and, well, reasons...
Now that we're about three weeks into Season 2, I figured I would post something in here to follow-up on my article, "The New Ranking System" and on TheMetalMafia's great article, "Is Ranked Play Good for the Game?"
I think the short answer is... Come on. This is me writing here. Did you really think there was going to be a short answer? Here's the actual answer: yes and no.
Why Ranked Play is Good
Ranked play is good for a couple of reasons. The first reason I can think of is that competition tends to make things more interesting. This means that players are more likely to stay interested in the game because they have a goal to achieve. Sure, many of us don't play for that reason, as TheMetalMafia pointed out, but a lot of others do play games for that reason, and the ability to challenge themselves (and to gain bragging rights) is a reason to stick with the game. The more people that stick with the game, the more likely we'll see long-term development of the game. I guess if you want Titanfall 3 anytime soon, though, you should probably hate ranked play. Oh, and Star Wars. You should probably also hate Star Wars. I don't, but you should.
The other reason that ranked play is good is... there isn't one. The above is the only real reason why ranked play is good. It certainly hasn't made the actual gameplay of Apex better. If anything, it has made it much worse.
Why Ranked Play is Bad
I am at the Gold Tier. (If you read that quickly, you may have read it as God Tier. I promise you that I am nowhere close to that.) I can't remember whether it's III or II because I stopped caring about a week-and-a-half ago. Why did I stop caring? I played a few games with friends in the Platinum Tier. Wow. I didn't know that Apex Legends could be such a boring game. I got to a circle that encompassed Slums, and there were nine (!) teams remaining. What's crazier? Almost none of those teams were engaged in firefights. Everyone was just sitting in buildings hoping to finish in the top five to avoid RP loss. That's bad. That leads to a passive game that Apex isn't built to be. This is not a tactical shooter. This is a frenetic shooter made by the folks who made Titanfall. Camping wasn't a thing in Titanfall. (I didn't play much of the second game, but I doubt it was a thing there either.) Respawn doesn't make games where camping is a great strategy. They didn't make this game to be like that, but the introduction of ranks made it that way. An external reward changed the behaviour of players. That can be a good thing sometimes, but in this case, I don't think it was.
In the Bronze and Silver Tiers, this isn't a noticeable thing. In the Gold Tier it starts to show up, but mostly it's teams trying to make it to the top ten. At Platinum it is the way people play, at least from the handful of matches I was a part of. I can only imagine that it gets worse at Diamond and Apex. It isn't fun. In my article on ranking I said that they had capped kill count to make it so that winning is all that matters. This is certainly true at the higher tiers, and I think the game is worse for it.
What Can Be Done?
Thankfully, right from the beginning the team behind the ranking system said that they would evaluate the system to ensure it is meeting their goals. Technically they've met them: teams that win get rewarded for winning. Unfortunately, it has the side effect of making the game boring for a lot of people. I add the caveat "for a lot of people" because I know a few people who aren't bothered by the slowdown. If the game is seen as boring by a large percentage of players, however, then you are working against the benefit of bringing more people in to play in the first place. If people see the game as boring, they'll leave. This is great if you want Titanfall 3, but bad if you want more Apex.
So, what can they do to fix this? I think rewarding RP for things like damage would help (maybe 1 RP for every 250 damage, a little more than the 200 you need for a kill against a purple-armoured character). It would also be useful to take into account assists (as I said in my previous article) and maybe a 1/2 RP for knockdowns.
Knockdowns are tricky because you may only do a single point of damage and get a knockdown, but you can get a kill by cleaning up that single point of damage, so it isn't that big a difference from what we have now. Knockdowns would help, I think, as teams would be more willing to engage if they knew that a loss didn't mean that they got nothing for their efforts. Right now, you push and knock down two opponents, but your team gets wiped by the third player on the other team who then rezzes their teammates. Those teammates are then immediately shot by the third team in, and that third team did a total of 75 damage (because the guy doing the rezzes is weak), but they got 3 RP and you got none. That really sucks, seeing as they simply waited the longest to engage. This is why it is so slow at Platinum Tier: everyone wants to wait to be that third (or eighth) team into the fray. There needs to be a reward for the teams that are engaging in the fight in the first place, as that is what keeps the game interesting, and I think that it is what the game was designed to be in the first place.
What Else Can Be Done?
The other option? Just stop playing ranked. I haven't played in a week-and-a-half, and it seems like any team I play with is in the same boat right now (i.e., not playing ranked matches). Ranked was interesting when it first appeared, but many of us who enjoyed the game in its Season One state are happier playing a game like that but on a new map with a larger pool of viable weapons. If you are as bored with ranked as I am, then just play in the normal queue. There are still plenty of good players there, and the game is a lot more chill and fun.
If you are enjoying ranked play, that's great. I would love to hear what it is about it that you enjoy other than the challenge of seeing how you stack up against others. I don't even know that the "stacking up against others" argument really works given the passive nature of play and all the third-, fourth- and fifth-partying going on.
Obviously these are simply my feelings on the way ranked is playing out, and I am happy to hear from those of you who feel differently. Hit me up in the Discord or on Twitter to let me know what you think about ranked play as it stands today.