With the talk of league restructuring on the forums and the birth of the Gameplay Faction, I’d like to discuss the problem of sandbagging and propose a solution. I’m strongly opposed to the solution I most frequently see proposed (viz., capping individual event point achievements in lower leagues), because I believe it will a) not be very effective at discouraging sandbagging and b) be highly effective at hurting the low-level players it’s aimed at helping. I believe my proposal solves the problem and does not have these flaws.
The greatest problem in the lower leagues is level imbalance between competitors. Competitions are generally interesting (good) when all participants have near-even odds of winning, and boring (bad) when they are one-sided. Close competition makes games more exciting, because gameplay decisions have bearing on the outcome, raising the sense of stakes. Improving matchmaking means placing competitors in competitions that are close, not one-sided stomps. This is the goal of league systems in most games.
The platinum, gold, and silver leagues are full of matchups in which no such balance exists. Level 40s are being told to compete against level 200s and 300s. The game is not designed to make such matchups winnable for the level 40, hence they realize it’s pointless to try; they get discouraged and lose interest in competing or the game as a whole. If a matchup isn’t winnable, it shouldn’t exist, and there’s currently nowhere for sub-100 players to go to reliably find winnable matchups.
There’s been a lot of talk of high-level players in low-level leagues as “sandbagging.” As a player in a low league, I’ve seen and talked to a lot of players 100+ levels above me, who I have no hope of touching or defending against. I’d say, broadly, that they all have different reasons for being in lower leagues, and most of their reasons are pretty sympathetic and reasonable. I would also say that all of them break any semblance of competition in lower leagues by being there, and I’m also sympathetic to the ~1200 other people who have to compete against them, too. To solve this problem for everyone, it’d be helpful to understand the high-level players’ motivations:
Jackasses who want easy PVP and team prizes by stomping low-levels with no resistance. (classic sandbaggers) These are what everyone thinks of when they think of sandbaggers.
Ex high-leaguers who are tired of diamond/sapphire for various reasons, and want “gentle retirement.” (You may or may not perceive a difference between these guys and type 1. I’d say one distinguishing feature could be the effort they expend; if they are trying hard to take #1 in events, then they aren’t really gentle retirees. Of course, with breeding/fort, they still score massive points for their team even without effort.)
High-levels playing with low-level friends or family. (Again, if they Really Want To Help Their Family by taking #1 in every event, they are not very easily distinguishable from type 1, because that means making everyone who doesn’t have a magical fairy godfather lose.)
People who aren’t very competitive, don’t care very much about wars, or don’t maintain a full roster, but who have been around long enough that they’ve leveled quite a bit.
Reformed teams on their way up. You have a 30-50% chance of facing them any given week at the bottom of gold right now, higher odds in silver.
This is a pretty diverse list. League-based achievement caps on personal rewards would deter type 1 from hanging around low leagues. They’re unlikely to help much against types 2-5, who–while they might be nice people–still tend to ruin low level competitions just by being there. Caps will definitely hurt high-performing noobs, with the result that we’ll spend more time in low leagues, getting beat up by types 2-5.
I’d propose as an alternative the creation of standard and veteran (overleveled) pools within lower leagues. The way it’d work would be that if a team has overleveled players (either a hard threshold, like 150 for Gold 5, or a statistical threshold, e.g. over 2 standard deviations above the subleague median), they get put into the veteran’s pool and matched against other veteran teams for their weekly batch of 25. Optionally, the top subleague of each league could be left undivided as a gating mechanism to keep teams from moving up unless they’re actually able to compete at the next level.
This way, high level players would not be forced to play in more competitive environments than they actually want to, and low level players will actually be able to compete in weekly events if they’re in a level-appropriate league. It’d keep competition fair without disrupting teams. If you’re a level 300 who wants to take a break in Gold, the system doesn’t keep you from doing that; it just makes sure you fight against other 300s taking a break, instead of 40s trying their best.
It has the additional benefit of not discouraging high-performing noobs from growing fast, which is a problem that capping personal achievement points incurs.
I’d suggest applying this system to bronze, silver, gold, and probably platinum to start.
Thanks for reading!