Riot talk LoL matchmaking and ‘ELO Hell’: most players guess their rating at “about 150 points higher” than reality


Matchmaking’s an important business in a game where matches can last for over an hour, lengthy defeats crush like a swim at 20,000 leagues, and Terms of Service determine that rage-quitters be hanged from the neck until dead.

Important and, in League of Legends’ case, invisible, leaving players to whisper about the existence of an ‘ELO Hell’ – i.e., a hypothetical personal rating so wonky that players find it impossible to progress.

Not so, say Riot: though there are minor issues with LoL matchmaking, for the most part the problem is all in our heads.

Based on the company’s not-inconsiderable data and analysis, there is no ELO Hell.

“However, that does not mean that the pain many of our players feel is invalid,” wrote Riot in a new matchmaking FAQ. “Many players feel that, through no fault of their own, they are stuck in a situation where they can no longer progress. And there are several key factors that can heavily contribute to this feeling.

“The first of these is that when we take a look across all games, most players actually require about 150 to 300 games to reach their true matchmaking rating. This means that for many players, what feels like an unsurpassable wall may end up being just a small road bump.”

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Once that bump is overcome, however, two psychological factors stand in players’ way: the Dunning-Kruger Effect and negativity bias. The Dunning-Kruger Effect sees players rate their own abilities far above their actual skill level.

“For League of Legends, this translates into most players rating their matchmaking rating at about 150 points higher than their actual matchmaking rating,” say Riot.

Negativity bias, meanwhile, simply means that the worst experiences in LoL – the colossal losses, the match-curtailing and the trolling – loom largest in the memory, creating the impression of an imbalanced system where one isn’t.

Riot also note a common misconception about their system: that an individual’s matchmaking rating is a uniform score across all modes. In fact, each player has a separate number attached to their account for each queue. Your Dominion MMR is determined solely by your Dominion games, therefore, and might vary quite dramatically from the number used to match normal blind pick games on Summoner’s Rift.

That said, the above “represents the optimal case”, and Riot acknowledge there’s work to be done in improving matchmaking during off-peak hours.

“When server populations are low, for example at off hours or at the very extremes of MMR, the matchmaker will give up some of its accuracy in the interest of expediency,” they explain. “However, we are constantly tweaking our matchmaker to help reduce the chance that players of vastly different skill levels are matched together.”

And so the shadows of hearsay are chased away by factual illumination. The fact that sticks with me, though, is the 150-300 games necessary before players reach a dependable matchmaking score. That’s a potential hundreds of hours, just to determine a baseline – a drop in the lake for some LoL players, but not those whose free time comes at a premium.

How has your own experience of matchmaking matched up, so to speak, with all this?

Thanks, Reign of Gaming.