Apex Legends released the new season, Arsenal, and the ranked system has become a point of contention for the community. A large portion of players are climbing rapidly on the ranked ladder and reporting bad gameplay experiences. The Apex devs have always shown a willingness to adjust ranked game mode, but multiple changes coming to the competitive system in consecutive seasons could be detrimental. Respawn’s downfall may be their over-eagerness to cater to the player base as they haven’t stuck with a consistent philosophy or vision as to how ranked gameplay should feel and play. Ultimately, Apex Legends ranked is doomed to fail if they keep ruining the parts that worked, and over-tune the problems to create different ones.
The Problems of the Ranked Experience Now
Apex Legends has gone through multiple iterations of its ranked experience. They never seem to find the right balance, heavy entry cost forces teams to play in a free for all death match style as teams aim for kill points. The opposite is true now as teams rat in and out of the ring to gain easy RP for placements and avoid fighting altogether to get free RP.
In Arsenal, LP was given generously and wasn’t taken enough upon entry which allowed players to inflate their rank and perform above their MMR while still playing at the same level by exploiting the system. This is why there is such a prevalence of Masters players as anyone who played enough of the ranked mode can easily climb to Masters and the border for Predator has gone up significantly by this. All in all, this ratty playstyle doesn’t test gun skill or teamwork but the ability to hide effectively from enemies making it a problematic experience for most of the player base.
The matchmaking is also problematic with the system netting too wide of a range in many lobbies. Players from higher ranks are queuing with players from lower ranks creating a large skill disparity. This is a problem Apex will have to keep fighting with the game well and truly in its twilight stages and the active player base dwindling. To keep the queue times consistent with when Apex was at its peak, the devs opted to cast a wider net in MMR for matchmaking but this has come at the quality of matches and the skill disparity within the lobby.
For me, the ranks feel pointless and I’ve lost motivation to play the ranked queue as Masters is just about putting in time and ratting rather than an active challenge of skill. Matchmaking with players of much higher and lower skill levels is also annoying as if I’m in Platinum, I only want to play against Platinum players on the whole. Ranked doesn’t feel like a reflection of skill or ability but rather a method for the devs to force players on the game for longer in order to reach Masters. The changes to the LP system also discourage team play when I solo queue and it’s frustrating that they actively reward players that hide and refuse to play the game to sit in a corner and hard peek at the only entry point at the very edge of the ring.
An update on Ranked: What we’ve learned so far with Arsenal and a peek at what’s to come.
— Apex Legends (@PlayApex) July 19, 2023
How It Was Before
Initially, the rank system in Apex was released in a very simple way. This is why Season 1 Predators, while undoubtedly skilled, are sometimes Masters players now despite their skills not regressing. The first few seasons saw static single-point entry costs and 1 LP for a kill with two, four and seven points added for getting in the top ten, five and three squads with a bonus 12 LP for winning. From Season 3, they added a scaling multiplier for ranked, which is what most players will be familiar with as the traditional ranked system with the multipliers, points for placement and entry cost all being shuffled around to balance the state of gameplay and the meta.
The entry points have been difficult to balance as this season the entry points do not punish players enough for dying or taking bad fights in the start as if they rat the next game, they will gain all of the points back. The effects of this are twofold. It encourages players to rat and stray away or support teammates during fights in order to gain placement and doesn’t actively punish this behaviour. Since the entry cost is so low, there is no real need to fight or win any fights. This is why even if the situation presents itself to fight a favourable battle and potentially gain a squad wipe, players will run the other way from the gunfire and prioritise finding a good spot to chill inside the ring.
Another effect of the generous LP system is it gives players the ability to INT or intentionally make bad decisions without consequence. Even if they die and lose points, it doesn’t punish them enough and if they rat out of the ring once every few games, they get the points back anyway. Compared to the first effect, this sort of behaviour can swing the pendulum in the complete opposite direction with players W-keying into fights they traditionally wouldn’t in previous iterations of ranked, dying, and then hightailing it out of the lobby to try and get that squad wipe.
Rewards, Maps and Philosophy
The ranked rewards have also been fairly underwhelming for all of Apex‘s history, with a Badge, Charm and Holospray for all tiers and a Dive trail for Diamond and above. While it is cool to see the first time you rank up to your highest new rank, the novelty wears off quickly and there isn’t any active perk or meaningful cosmetic that rewards players for pushing up to the higher ranks.
The ranked maps have also rotated every mid-season since Season 4, with new maps entering the fray every few seasons. This has had the effect of evolving the meta and not keeping everything stale, but the newer maps have been met with a lot of trepidation and the old ones feel very small since the maps have traditionally gotten larger the longer Apex has been out.
While every season of ranked has seen less than one per cent of players reaching Masters and above, Season 12 had 4 to 5 per cent of players reaching this milestone, with the number quickly falling under one per cent the season after, implying that the devs want only the top 1 per cent or less in Masters and above. This will definitely not be the case this season. I personally think it’s healthy that less than one per cent of the player base reaches Masters and above as it should feel meaningful to reach these ranks rather than it being only a matter of time spent in the game to reach these levels as it rewards and encourages growth and improvement in the player base.
How It Could Be Moving Forward
In a developer blog, Respawn announced that the rank system will undergo the following changes:
- LP gains per match will be decreased to address the shift in the ranking distribution.
- Adding a ruleset that only applies to Diamond + to address the large concentration of players creeping above. Players in these ranked tiers will have increased stakes and LP losses and decreased rating bonuses and loss mitigations.
These changes towards the ranked point system seem like a short-term fix to a long-term problem. Personally, I’m not a fan of scaling points from Diamond and above to combat players from reaching higher ranks. This just makes the game artificially more difficult and encourages more and more players to take fights they shouldn’t. At the end of the day, Apex Legends is a Battle Royale, and while ratting out of the ring should be discouraged, the primary goal should always be to win the game.
Artificially making the lobbies more difficult in Diamond and above has been a problem since the beginning of the Apex ranked system. Masters and above forces you to win about two fights and place in the top 25% or you don’t end up going positive in a meaningful way as a trio. This is a problematic experience as having to take on two parties and still place high without getting a third party is a feat in and of itself, and that was against other Masters players who were part of the top few per cent of players in your region. Masters players don’t really have the option to play it safe if they want to climb. The old iteration of Masters lobbies that I experienced made it feel impossible to climb and that is ultimately why I stopped playing it consistently.
I’m sorry but what??? The “average” player in a ranked system isn’t suppose to be able to reach the highest ranks, that’s what makes them average.
Imo an “average” player should be able to achieve high gold – MAYBE low plat – by simply playing. pic.twitter.com/IpFtvzCC7q
— Lulu (@LuluLuvely) July 20, 2023
The Camping Problem
The devs have also recognised that the game is way too campy and are pushing towards improvements that force players to fight each other and not hide or run away until the final zone. In this sense, I think the data backs the claim that Arsenal’s ranked system discouraged players from playing the game the way it was supposed to be played. The devs state:
- Adjusting ring timings to increase mid-game encounters
- Ring damage tuning to enforce playing inside the ring
- Fixed a number of “ratting” spots with more fixes to come
This should be one of the biggest patches for Apex going into Season 18. All the maps in Apex Legends always have rat spots, and with the addition of the Heat Shield, it became viable to camp outside the ring on the crafter and craft Med kits while watching teams kill each other in the ring.
The ring timings worry me because the pacing of the games becoming too quick or slow could be detrimental to Apex. On larger maps, if the ring pulls to the other side of the map from where you landed, it’s a very rough rotation and you’re running for 90% of the match only to stumble upon a party and die within a minute. I think adjusting ring timings scaling on the size of the map should be a top priority for the Apex devs.
King’s Canyon is a small map and you can get around fairly safely if you know your pathing and there aren’t many hard choke points that are unavoidable when rotating. Especially since the Mobile Jump Tower got introduced, getting across King’s Canyon shouldn’t be too difficult, even for a novice player.
Contrarily, Storm Point is a map with large-scale elevation, difficult chokes, and hard-to-navigate rotates when running from the impending wall of death that is the ring. My friends and I literally call it a running simulator because you spend most of your time running from the ring rather than shooting someone. Nice way for the Legends to get some cardio going I suppose.
Implications for Future Gameplay
If the ring timings increase on this map, players will be hard-pressed to loot their POI or even fight around it without getting swallowed up by the ring and dying to someone that is camping the edge. In Masters lobbies, it was common for teams to camp the edge of the ring on a point of entry so that teams running in from the ring would be forced to face them in an unfavourable situation.
If the tempo of the game were to increase, this would happen but these teams running from the ring would have less loot, and ring RNG will play a bigger factor in the outcome of the match as camping edge will become an even more oppressive strategy. I think the devs need to tread carefully with adjusting the tempo of the game as it could encourage more unhealthy gameplay and the pacing of the game has never been problematic, it’s the players that play outside the ring that are ruining the experience.
The developers held an AMA on Reddit and in response to a question about reverting to the previous ranked system that was used between Seasons 7 to 11, they replied they will continue with this philosophy of prioritising winning the match rather than kill-count, stating:
No, we are going to continue forward with this Ranked system at this time. We felt prior systems were too focused on racking up kills and not focused on winning the match. We want to put focus on playing to win and we feel the path we’re pursuing now is headed in that direction. The current system is not perfect, but we will keep iterating on it to achieve our goal of putting focus on winning the match.
I think the philosophy being towards winning and increasing mid-game tempo does not gel together as too many mid-game encounters in key POIs will decimate most of the lobby and replicate a lot of the kill race gameplay that was happening in previous seasons. It will be interesting to see how this is tackled as if the game were to end in the middle of Fragment East, I can understand increasing the tempo of the game and forcing everyone to move more quickly. Contrarily, if half of the final few rings are inaccessible or are covered by unscalable terrain, it will encourage a bloodbath. Apex Legends players have been conditioned to third party during the game’s life cycle and this feels like it could be potentially very problematic.
Parties vs. Solos
I think Respawn need to think about queue times and in particular, parties and solo players mixing it together in the same lobby. Hypothetically speaking, if a 3 stack of Diamond players all in VC together run up on an equally skilled party of 3 solo Diamond players, the 3 stack with the VC are going to stomp the 3 solos nine times out of ten. When I played ranked, I would often play solos or duos and see the same 3 stack be the Champion squad every few games as their synergy and overall coordination allowed them to continually win the games while solos and duos alike suffered due to a lack of coordination and familiarity with each others’ playstyle and preferences.
This season, I’ve even had people leave the ship solo and camp out of the ring in order to gain RP and rat outside the ring. This sort of behaviour is the culmination of the generous LP curve, the ability for players to camp outside the ring without repercussion, and the lack of incentive to coordinate or play together when not in a 3 stack party. I think separating the two lobbies may be impossible, but having a system side distinction between parties and solos or duos is an important one as they test different gameplay skills and 3 stacks are at a huge inherent advantage in comparison to the average solo queue player.
Hakis from Alliance also echoes a lot of these sentiments as he talks about how mixing solos and 3 stacks makes an unhealthy environment as the quality of gameplay suffers. In a sense, 3 stacks will always be more coordinated and play off each other more effectively, while solos have to accommodate each other. Even if they are all in the VC, it will be the first and maybe the last time they talk to each other and therefore their lack of familiarity with each other will decrease the level of coordination and teamwork in comparison to a 3-stack full party.
I ultimately believe that without a clear direction and constant evolution with the state of Apex Legends, the devs are going to fail to balance the ranked system so players are largely satisfied with the level of competition in the ranked game mode. I think swinging the pendulum too much between making the game mode too easy so people rat and too difficult so players are forced to pick fights from the drop makes for a jarring experience for the average player, with LP holding too much power in controlling what playstyle teams must play in order to rank up. What the game mode needs is consistency and a meaningful challenge without making it feel like a Team Deathmatch.
I worry the damage with the Ranked system is permanent if they don’t release it with an entirely new system of ranks.
The average ranked grinder is grinding with the goal in mind of beating their previous best. Having inflated LP so heavily this season, 99% of players won’t…
— SEN Rkn (@rknhd) July 19, 2023
I think scrapping the traditional point system multiplier, making it a flat high entry cost at all ranks or separating the solos and parties are good steps in the right direction for Apex to make the gameplay more fun and competitive. Do I feel like this will happen in Season 18? No. I hope they can prove me wrong as the game still has so much to give and has unique mechanics that other FPS games cannot replicate.
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