On PvP and how Playdom could make it better for everyone... (Part 2)
This is the continuation of my series on the problems with PvP and how Playdom can fix them. If you haven't already read part one, please backtrack and do that.
Sandbagging is one of those things I love to hate, and a lot of it has to do with the attitudes of the sandbaggers themselves. But first let's put a few definitions in place. What exactly is a "sandbagger"?
A Sandbagger is one who exploits loopholes in the game's system to continue building and leveling their hero roster while keeping their Agent level artificially low, quite often right around the cutoff for each armory page (levels 65 and 100 are common). They typically do this by making sure their agent is killed in every battle (ensuring minimum XP gains) while repeatedly running mission 4:4, which gives them the greatest Energy-to-CP ratio so they can buy more heroes. They then level the heroes by running them on constant flight deck missions (or by forking over Gold if they are crossing over into Wallet Warrior territory).
While one would think this runs counter to the logic of an RPG (that you get more powerful as you level up), this actually works in the sandbagger's favor in the PvP arena, which is the primary reason why they utilize this tactic. It allows them to face opponents whose PvP bonus will be lower than their own, due to the sandbagger's advantage of having a greater number of higher-level heroes than their opponent. This, in turn, boosts their AFK win ratio in PvP, allowing them to get into Adamantium league with much less effort than someone who is of the same level, and much less effort than someone of a higher level (due to the nature of higher-level players being attacked more frequently during a PvP season).
This, unfortunately, is a symptom of the way in which Playdom has set up the PvP arena. The prizes for PvP competition are awarded based on a global ranking. This ranking is calculated using the Elo method (look it up on Wikipedia if you don't know what it is) and is gained and lost over the course of a season, based on a player's wins and losses. This would be all well and good if everyone were playing on the same field, but Playdom breaks the field into artificial brackets that are centered around a player's given level. The matchmaking system that is currently used favors matching a player against someone who is within ten levels of the attacking player's agent level, then within a similar Elo rating. If there is no other player found within those parameters it expands the range of agent levels, then the range of Elo score. Even with this expansion you will never see a player who is level 65 being pitted against a player who is level 200+ (even if they have similar Elo ratings), simply due to the gap in their level ranges. This creates a "big fish in a small pond" problem, whereby the sandbaggers are able to dominate their level range and move into the top 0.5% of players, despite not having to battle players of higher agent and skill level.
This ability to win the top prizes while fighting at a lower level causes much annoyance and animosity directed at the sandbaggers by higher-level players, because they feel that the sandbaggers are taking up slots in the top percentile that they do not rightly deserve (thereby depriving others of the prizes that are awarded at that percentile). The sandbaggers, on the other hand, feel that they are justified in playing the game in a way that is unintended, and feel that the higher-level players are whining because they "leveled too fast and now can't play the way they want to" (among other spurious bits of logic). Right or wrong, this situation causes much strife on the forums.
While the easiest solution to this would be for Playdom to set up actual brackets and award the prizes to the top players in their respective brackets instead of using a global ranking, we all know that's not going to happen. Right now the top 0.5% of global players are walking away from the tournament with about $50 worth of prizes. If you estimate 1,000,000 players that play in a PvP season, that's 5000 players that get the top ranking, which means roughly $250,000 worth of merchandise given away to those players alone. There's no way Playdom is going to increase the amount of prizes they're giving away by expanding it to multiple brackets. So what can they do?
I see two distinct possibilities for this. The first would be to scrap the Elo system entirely and switch to something else that allows for player level to be taken into account when determining ranking. Unfortunately, I'm not aware of any system that accounts for artificial brackets like the ones that are created by their matchmaking system, so that's probably right out. The second possibility would be to normalize the levels of everyone playing and make the matches based solely on the heroes fielded and the bonuses incurred by Armory and Heroes. I see this second as the best solution overall. Playdom could artificially raise all player's levels to 300 for the sake of PvP play, setting that variable aside. The playing field then becomes equal for everyone, and any player could be matched up against any other player. In this scenario the superior players would naturally rise to the top, and the weaker players would end up in the proper ranking where they belong. While the scenario is not optimal for new players, it would encourage players to level up (increasing their base stats) and buy more heroes & armory items (increasing their PvP bonuses.)