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Call of Duty: Warzone skill-based matchmaking, explained

Warzone players off to shoot someone.
(Image credit: Activision)

Call of Duty: Warzone has a complicated relationship with skill-based matchmaking (SBMM). With every year of CoD, many argue it isn't competitive and shouldn’t be structured to be. Others urge Activision's studios to add features to encourage competitive play, like dedicated ranked modes. Right now, Warzone falls somewhere between casual and competitive. You won’t find any official rank on your profile in Warzone, but that doesn't necessarily mean it won't try to matchmake you with similarly skilled players.

The system is a bit confusing and doesn't conform to how most modern games handle skill levels. It's also opaque: Activision hasn't come out and explained exactly how Call of Duty's SBMM works, and says that Warzone doesn't have it. We're not so sure about that. Here's what’s up with Warzone SBMM in 2021.

Does Call of Duty: Warzone have SBMM?

Signs point to yes, despite what Activision has said publicly. Call of Duty's many developers usually don't like to disclose any details about skill-based matchmaking. In a rare move, Infinity Ward told CharlieIntel that Warzone has no SBMM because of the high player count.

That’s still the official word, but there is good evidence that Warzone does indeed match players based on skill. Or, at least, it tries to. Warzone YouTuber JackFrags recently released a deep dive into the game's seemingly light SBMM standards.

JackFrags pulled the data from 105 solo battle royale matches and found some consistency between the average skill of his lobbies. Since this video is fairly new, it's a good up-to-date representation of the average matchmaking experience. Paired with similar results from an examination done by YouTuber TheXclusive Ace around the game's launch, we have a pretty clear picture.

How exactly does Warzone SBMM work?

As far as we can tell, kill/death ratio is king. Warzone has no visible ranking system like CS:GO or Rainbow Six Siege, so the game's matchmaking appears to hinge around a player's current average K/D. This is also the way that unofficial stat-tracking services like SBMM Warzone assign their custom lobby rankings—Bronze through Diamond for low-to-high average K/Ds. 

As JackFrags points out in his video, it's impossible to know for sure exactly how strict Warzone's SBMM is. He makes an educated guess that Warzone prioritizes skill first before considering ping and time waited. From the evidence available, it's fair to say that your chances of finding unevenly skilled lobbies is greatly affected by the number of people playing in your region. If there are fewer people online, the game gets less picky about skill levels and mainly focuses on building a full match of 150 at a low ping.

This makes sense when you consider Warzone’s incredibly short wait times. It's no small task to gather 150 people together for a single match. Even a game as popular as Warzone probably can't afford to accurately matchmake players and keep queue times short. It's not uncommon in Rainbow Six Siege to wait 3-5 minutes for a ranked match of 10 players. No matter what time I'm playing Warzone here in California, I never have to wait more than 90 seconds.

That seems to be the tradeoff that Activision is comfortable making with Warzone, though a growing number of players say they want an official ranked mode that takes skill-based matchmaking more seriously.

How does it compare to Cold War and Modern Warfare?

Again, we can’t know for sure, but Warzone appears to follow the same philosophy as other Call of Duty games. As you can read about here, examining Cold War’s matchmaking results in similar findings. Kill/death ratio is the main stat that the game cares about when looking for similar players, but it's willing to compromise to speed up the process or favor a low ping. The same goes for Modern Warfare 2019, which may explain why Warzone also follows the same formula. After all, Warzone began as a side mode to Modern Warfare.

Stat trackers can be a valuable tool, just don't obsess

If you'd like to see the machinations of Warzone's SBMM for yourself, there are some useful stat-tracking tools that plug right into the game's API. The most popular in-game tools are Warzone Companion and Warzone Tracker, both of which can be installed easily through Overwolf (a handy all-in-one app for other game trackers). You can also use the SBMMWarzone website to see past records of your matches and their aggregate skill level as defined by the site.

Just don't obsess over skill levels too much. Having that much data at your fingertips can be a thrill, but seeing enemies with high K/Ds can psych you out and negatively affect your performance before the game even starts. I went through the same thing with Siege's tracker tool and I eventually uninstalled it. That said, live stat tracking can be a crucial tool to identify cheaters in your lobby. If the top squad has somebody with an impossibly huge 12 K/D, you probably have a cheater on your hands.

Morgan is an FPS specialist who spends way too much time trying to get his friends into Rainbow Six Siege. He also loves weird stealth games, immersive sims, and having new memes explained to him by his partner.