: We can improve the ladder experience for virtually everyone- competitive players, newbies, casuals alike- by changing the starting rating on Bayeselo ladders like the 1 v 1 Ladder from 0 to 1500.
---Starting from the bottom is why we're here
The purpose of a system is what it does. The 1 v 1 Ladder does 2 things:
: it rates and ranks participants based on demonstrated skill
: it tries to pair participants with players close to their skill level
This is all pretty simple to accomplish with ratings based on game data. But what about when you're just starting out? You have played no games- whom should you get matchmade with?
On many other games using Elo-like systems- online chess (Lichess), online tetris (tetr.io)- the default assumption for new players is that they're somewhere in the middle. When you start out, your pseudo-rating is around the average rating, so you get paired with roughly the average player on the ladder. If you beat them, then you next face above-average players; if you lose, you explore the lower half, like a binary search- an efficient way to figure out your rating.
On Warlight, however, a decision was made a decade ago to avoid confusing players. To keep players from wondering why they have a rating when they haven't played any games, new ladder teams have a starting rating of 0 (cosmetically meaning "no rating"). This isn't just cosmetic, though! When you start, you actually get matchmade with the very bottom of the ladder.This sets off a vicious cycle
. Most new players are not, in fact, 1500 Elo points worse than the average ladder player. But starting from 0, they get matchmade with the lowest rated players (usually rated something like 600-900). Then, the first data point the ladder has to work with? "Beat a 600 rated player." Bayeselo is roughly a naive Bayesian maximum likelihood approximator for Elo ratings- but you can just think of it as like a person looking at your results and finding a reasonable rating. When you beat a 600, it just gives you a rating a little bit better than 600. Then you get matchmade with someone rated, say, 800. Now it's "beat a 600 and an 800." Another easy win, for most. Then you face a player rated 1000. Your initial rating has a lingering effect- deflating your rating for many games.This breaks the ladder- for everyone
The complaints people have about Bayeselo- enabling ladder runs, making ratings game-able- actually come from the 0-rating, not Bayeselo itself. But it's not just competitive players that get hurt. The 0-rating leads to low match quality for all players early in their ladder careers and
hurts newbies long term.
This is what the first 5 games look like (based on manual sampling in Oct. 2021):
As you can see, new ladder players are highly likely to leave if they just keep getting matched with substantially stronger or weaker players- it's a grind. People want enjoyable games against opponents roughly their own caliber; starting from 0 and working your way up is an inefficient search that gets in the way of that. Even below-average skill players have to go through a bunch of games before getting good, enjoyable matches.
But even for players who are low-skill, this is bad! If you're rated 900, you're on the frontlines to face players rated 0. Those 0-rated players are just players with no games, who could be newbies, average-skill players, or elite players on ladder runs. You can look at the ladder history of low-rated players (https://www.warzone.com/LadderGames?ID=0&LadderTeamID=25722
) and notice that they face more high-skill players than you'd expect.
And for newbies? 0-rated players' closet-rated opponents are other 0-rated players, so they also roll the die. Among the very low rated players, you also have players on long boot streaks, like Scrooge McDuck (https://www.warzone.com/LadderTeam?LadderTeamID=13793
). If you look at Scrooge McDuck's two ongoing games, they're against a legitimately low-rated player and a newbie, both of whom are just going to either waste their time waiting for an inactive to boot or get crushed if McDuck comes back online.
Starting from 0 hurts competitive and casual players alike by making the ladder exploitable, giving lower-skill players the worst matchmaking, and making the recent-join experience a grind on the ladder even for below-average-skill players.Area man discovers ONE WEIRD TRICK. Ladder cheaters HATE him!!!
What if we started from 1500 instead? 1500 is probably optimistic right now- the average new-join is probably below-average skill compared to existing ladder players- but 1) that might not be true, since elite players go on ladder runs all the time; and 2) it's a chicken-and-egg problem because the ladder disproportionately attracts high-skill, competitive players, and isn't as attractive to casuals just looking for fun multi-day games rather than a serious try-hard experience.
Even with that source of error, 1500 will work better for:
a) Competitive players: starting from 1500 will get in the way of ladder runs, stalling, etc. Stalling is most powerful when the ladder has limited data to rate you on- e.g., when you've played 15 weak players and 5 players closer to your caliber, the outcome of any one of those games against players close to your caliber is more significant. If you set the starting rating to 1500, there'll still be a slight grind for elite players- they'll play an average skill player first- but instead of taking 10-15 games to get quality matches, they'll get them after perhaps just 5. That's more data, less power to ladder runs and stalling, and a healthier environment that doesn't disadvantage as much players who've been on the ladder longer.
b) Newbies just starting out: starting from the middle is a more efficient search strategy to find someone's true rating. Most newbies are still better than the worst-ranked players on the ladder. Starting at 1500 will also protect them from the randomness of facing other 0-rated players (who could have any
skill level), the disappointment of facing players on boot streaks, the missed learning opportunities of only facing very weak players, and the baggage of having a bunch of old games against low-rated players dragging them down even if they improve later.
c) Casual and non-high-skill players: starting from 1500 will again reduce the grind you have to go through before getting quality games and make their opponent pool less random (if you lose to a 0 just starting out or a 600-rated player who snaps their boot streak, that drags you down hard and your rating gets pegged to theirs).
As far as cosmetics go, starting new players at 1500 or some other middle rating is a common pattern for Elo-like ladders. Players on Lichess, Tetrio, etc., are all familiar with it. I don't think the confusion can't just be explained away. Alternatively, the actual
starting rating can be decoupled and the ladder could just say "Not yet rated" but use 1500 under the hood for matchmaking. (It doesn't have to be 1500- if you think that's too ambitious, even 1300 or 1100 would be significant improvements over 0).