Over the July 4th weekend, Destiny 2
had a massive number of active players in its PVP modes, specifically Iron Banner. Even on the last day of the event, 15% of everybody playing were in Iron Banner, and on July 1st, 728k of the total 1.18 million players were enjoying PVP. That’s twice the amount of people playing Strikes, Nightfall, Raids, or Gambit. For comparison, if we look back at July of 2019, the PVP population was 289k, less than half of what it is today.
Destiny 2: Season of Arrivals
What’s spurred this drastic increase in PVP participation? That’s not clear. A recent change on the PVP front is the removal of skill-based matchmaking on June 10th and, while the Reddit community claimed this was a huge success bringing in a “record” number of players, the real numbers (source: Warmind.io) show that, while the unique player count increased ~6.9% during the most recent Iron Banner bringing in 1,172,044 unique players, the overall PVP pool actually saw a decrease of about 1% of unique players when compared to the week Iron Banner was active in April.
So while there was an increase, it should also be considered that this is a new season where everybody is trying to hit the new max power level. Iron Banner offered several easy ways to acquire Pinnacle rewards (the highest tier available) via bounties and a quest that rewarded six drops for one completion – and, of course, it’s a fun mode, as long as you’re playing with a team. Especially now that skill-based matchmaking has been turned off.
For most events in Destiny 2, I like to play solo. I (usually) find it to be a calming experience, as I can hop in and knock out a few pinnacle drops while working toward the latest season’s cap. But as a competitive player with a paltry 0.94 lifetime kill/death ratio (which puts me in the top 41%, according to Destiny Tracker) I found this last Iron Banner to be a tad more frustrating than usual. As a solo player, you’re constantly facing off against stacks of teams who are partnered, and getting my fair share of Mercy rules (where the other team stomps you so thoroughly that the match ends early) doesn’t leave me with a wonderful feeling. The balance definitely felt off in solo play thanks to the abandonment of skill-based matchmaking, with no new system to replace the old flawed one. Still, Iron Banner keeps you constantly working toward a goal by rewarding you with a Pinnacle drop simply for playing, win or lose. Hey, if the player population hasn’t suffered as a result of the matchmaking changes, it can’t be that bad, right?
Another cherished PVP event is Trials of Osiris, but it needs a ton of work on PC right now. This is a mode for the top echelon of players in which they claim a card that tracks wins and losses before fighting in 3v3 battles in the hopes of getting a string of seven consecutive victories. Do this and you’ll get to see the location known as The Lighthouse where you’ll be showered with loot. The catch is that Trials of Osiris is matchmade based on your connection strength as well as your card-state, and it’s simply not working.
Playing on PC, it seems to me that the problem is that the pool is so full of either near-professional level players carrying a friend to The Lighthouse, or “account recoveries” – services where you can pay a high-skill player to play on your lower skill level account to get your character some wins. These groups join forces to wipe the floor with most players, and that combined with the prevalence of hackers on PC – which forces you to doubt whether you were the victim of a great shot or if someone’s 94% headshot accuracy is a bit suspect – have made it so that Trials of Osiris is just not fun.
Bungie did announce that it’s working on an anti-cheat system this last month, but no word yet on when it will be deployed. Likewise, even though the recovery services are potentially against the terms of service they’re currently are so prolific that I don’t think a week has gone by that I haven’t been delivered an ad for one of them across various websites and social media services, and I haven’t seen Bungie take any action to shut them down.
Destiny 2: Trials of Osiris
Cheaters and shady businesses aside, the main problem that gets in the way of my enjoyment are those near-professional-level players being mixed in with the general population and slaughtering everybody with impunity. To give you an idea of what you’re up against on PC, there are players who can slide forward while also somehow moving backwards, fly through the air like Peter Pan and hit every headshot before Warlock dashing away to safety, or simply nail every single headshot with what seems like inhuman reaction times when swiping 90% to land that snipe. As the community would put it, it’s “sweaty.”
Sometimes I’ll see teams like this on their third or fourth run to The Lighthouse stomping my team out midway through a respectable run. It is exhausting to be having a series of great (and close) games only to be crushed in a 5 – 0 game where you’re clearly outmatched, or faced against straight-up cheaters who are under-leveled but still hitting every sniper headshot. Needing to play at a level that’s nearly unfathomable to most PVP players makes Trials feel insurmountable. So they may choose to stop playing, leading to even higher proportions of pro-level players, account recovery players, or hackers in the pool for the rest of us to play against, meaning I’ll probably never get that coveted Warlock helmet.
I didn’t have a lot of answers on how to fix this, but while complaining (yet again) about my latest Destiny 2 woes over the weekend a Reddit thread was brought to my attention with several great ideas from u/TheCommunityDiaries. The tl;dr version is that card-based matchmaking simply isn’t working – and I think they’re right.
What they propose is something they refer to as “hand-based matchmaking” which would mean you wouldn’t go up against a team with several Lighthouse runs on their card if you’re struggling to hit your third-win, non-Lighthouse victory. This would alleviate a lot of the problems and create separate “pools” of players, meaning the more time that went by over the weekend, the better your chances would be. Currently, even high-level players like Aztecross are choosing to hop in on Fridays because the pool is bigger and you have a chance when the odds are stacked against you. The Redditor also brings up the idea of a Freelance playlist for Trials, something I would adore – as this currently exists for the Glory playlist, where you’re still paired with and against people at your skill level. The argument against matchmaking of this type in Destiny 2 was made irrelevant, in my opinion, given the tremendous success of the Freelance option. I’d love to see this for all Nightfalls, and yes, even for Raids – but that’s for another article.
I’m a big advocate for close games that I have a chance of winning, but putting me up against Gigz’s team from 100 Thieves (yes, this has actually happened to me in the early days of Destiny 2) is not fair. I lose. No contest. However, putting me against a team where we go 4-4 and I end up losing is something I can live with. To me, that means the system is working because we got close, and I still have hope of getting to that coveted destination if I keep trying. No matter what Bungie changes, I hope they take a look at the current systems in place and keep refining what’s working and what isn’t. Iron Banner seems to be working, but maybe not for the right reasons, and I think Bungie knows that Trials needs some time on the workbench – especially for the PC players.
However, I want to make one thing clear: I am in no way advocating bringing the current structure of skill-based matchmaking into the Trials of Osiris or Iron Banner playlist. The current version of SBMM in Destiny 2 has its own set of flaws, and there’s a reason it was dropped. Instead, I think that each mode needs unique considerations for how matchmaking should work within their unique structures. For example, Iron Banner should not pit solo players against a premade team of six. And Trials of Osiris needs a little more nuance and care with how teams are paired.
Even with all of that said, Trials is still one of my favorite game modes of all time. It’s not in a great spot right now, but when it launched in the original Destiny on PS4 and Xbox I said that it redefined PVP. It came out at a time before battle royales existed, and offered an experience unlike any other. While the PVP space in games has evolved, I still think Bungie has that secret recipe that it’s constantly working to perfect. Just like games have evolved, I think the backend matchmaking aspect of Trials needs to do the same. Here’s hoping we’re only one patch away from bringing the competitive PVP space on PC back inline.