Battlerite: MOBA’s, Matchmaking, and Communities
Over my years as a gamer I have racked up an abnormally high amount of time playing in what the industry has deemed Multiplayer Online Battle Arenas (or MOBAs). From League of Legends to SMITE to Overwatch, there are a ton of multiplayer arenas out there; today I will be talking about my most recent MOBA discovery, Battlerite, and how the design of this frenzied arena game, along with its matchmaking system, captivates its players.
One of the most interesting pieces of information about Battlerite is that it is a direct sequel to the developers, Stunlock Studio’s, allegedly failed attempt at a Free to Play MOBA, called Bloodline Champions, a game that I had heard of at the time, but never clicked that download button (Mawhorter). Part of the reason Battlerite appealed to me, like its predecessor, was that unlike most MOBAs its gameplay stems from a simplified version of World of Warcraft’s Player Vs Player (PVP) arenas. Essentially, every ability in Battlerite is a skill shot with a cast time that must be channeled in order for your aiming and timing of the ability to pay off. This core pillar of the game leads to a supporting game design that encourages fighting in order to eliminate members of the opposing team, as well as a max round time of 3 minutes via it’s sudden death mechanic. All of this makes Battlerite not your typical 30 minute RTS or shooter based MOBA.
Looking at the population numbers of Bloodline Champions and Battlerite alone, you can tell that the game is engaging a lot more users, and is on the right track with a deal with Xbox.
While playing the game I noticed that for some reason the community, as a whole, was a lot nicer than other MOBA games that I had played. The small team sizes 2v2, and 3v3 provide a somewhat cozier social experience for the game. People usually say ‘gg’ for good game, and there are far fewer people who get mad at their internet acquaintances. At the same time, there are a lot of peculiar ‘features’ about the games matchmaking system, for instance: initially in early access there was no casual mode, every match was worth rating, which they have since changed. Another Battlerite matchmaking ‘feature’ will match players up consisting of players from the match played prior, providing them with a ‘revenge’ or ‘rematch’ narrative for their current game; however, this could just be a symptom of a relatively small community size (compared to other MOBA’s). Nonetheless, creating player stories provides players with meaning for their actions. Most everyone in the game is playing to practice and learn the game, to become better at it. Just like the marketing material says, “Challenge friends and others in a battle of reaction, unleashing the champion within you” (Steam Page).
While the game’s matchmaking system has nuance, that doesn’t necessarily inspire sportsmanship, but something that certainly plays a part in player prestige is the games ranking system. Like most MOBA games, players start out in their placement matches and then graduate, to a ranked league, bronze, silver, then gold, all the way up to grand champion. However, something that Battlerite has the luxury of having, is the overall sense of reward you get for moving up the ladder in the games ranked progression system. The ranked progression system controls how much matchmaking rating you have after you win or lose, thereby judging your relative skill level, like Elo for chess. What the game does differently is that, through how the game is set up, being a best of 5 round game, players lose or win rating equal to the number of rounds they won / lost. At the same time, the game will put you in matches where you have a grand champion player on one team, and a platinum ranked player on the other, at times making the matchmaking system seemed rigged in one teams favor. Although, Stunlock Studios development team put in a strict matchmaking feature to accommodate player feedback.
Some of these features may seem like the opposite thing that players would want in a competitive game, but ultimately, this ruleset creates a diverse, and ultimately ‘fair’ gameplay experience for players. Not to mention the game is pretty well balanced. The games ranked matchmaking progression system reveals itself to players as they continue to play and work towards their goal of getting better at the game; providing matchmaking with a relatively fair and trustworthy system. Inspiring the games more-sportsman-like attitude that competitive video games seem to be lacking. Add a win streak bonus, and players really feel rewarded as they progress through the ranks rather quickly.
Providing players with an explanation of why, and how they are being judged, as well as the nuances of ranked matchmaking systems, creates a sense of trust and transparency, something that is critical for cultivating respect among fellow game players.
The Elo system in chess only works so well because players know how it works and trust the system. Why should online games be any different?
All of this being said, Battlerite, is a unique MOBA that makes for an interesting gameplay experience that I highly recommend.
Mawhorter, John. “The Death of Bloodline Champions.” Gamasutra: The Art & Business of Making Games, UBM Technology, Web. 02 Nov. 2011.
“Steam Charts — Tracking What’s Played.” Steam Charts — Tracking What’s Played, Steamcharts.com.
Stunlock Studios. “Battlerite.” Battlerite on Steam, Valve Corperation, 20 Sept. 2016.