Noticing an ever increasing skill gap, Epic Games recently implemented skill-based matchmaking (SBMM) with the Fortnite v10.40 patch to make the game far more accessible to brand new players and those that struggle to keep up.
In essence, this switch to SBMM means that newer and lesser players will be paired up against each other, meaning that it’s a far more level playing field than ever before. For Season 11, Epic will be introducing bots to make the learning process that much easier.
This is a great change — in principle. With millions having played the battle royale for two years now and expending countless hours into honing their craft, it used to be a rather unforgiving introduction for anyone hoping to get into Fortnite, not helped by the fact that it’s one of the more complex and constantly-shifting multiplayer games out there.
It’s something that’s clearly been on the mind of Epic for a while, them introducing unbalanced items being perceived as a way of introducing equalisers by the community. There have been a few weapons in recent seasons seemingly geared towards newer players, but it’s the hugely controversial BRUTE in Season X that has been the most obvious indication that Epic want the casuals back.
A switch to SBMM was a long time coming, then. The lobbies newer players enter will gradually increase in difficulty the more they succeed, and there’s even talk of a tutorial mode down the line.
However, it’s not been entirely plain sailing for SBMM so far, and that’s all down to some rather contentious smurfing from professional players.
Smurfing, in the simplest terms, is when a player creates a secondary account to circumvent some of the restrictions they may have on their primary, or to practice without impacting their stats. These burner accounts can be harmless, as seen when Luke the Notable has to get through his ridiculous end of season challenges, but smurfs are now being used for rather unscrupulous kill records thanks to SBMM.
Ghost Aydan, a World Cup 2019 competitor, played Arena Trios under the “Cpt. Aim Assist” alias and rampaged to 42 kills, a new record at the time. His attitude has been widely criticised as toxic, him constantly referring to the other players as “bad” (which brings this to mind) and just generally being demeaning throughout.
Not long after, Gorb beat Aydan’s record with 44 kills by abusing SBMM in the same way, utilising a Reboot Van to claim the extra kills he needed. Gorb’s less condescending demeanour and slightly more mature smurf account has meant he’s received less criticism than Aydan, though the questionable methods remain the same.
From what I can gather, smurfing doesn’t explicitly break the Fortnite rules, though it does toe the line for “impersonation” and “cheating and trolling” as listed in the official community rules. We’ve reached out to Epic to see what their official stance on smurfing is and will update this if we get a reply.
Morally speaking, however, smurfing to farm kills and claim records is pretty objectionable for a couple of reasons. The first is that it’s a bit of hollow victory, like throwing Mike Tyson in the ring with Gilberg and being shocked when Tyson punches Gilberg’s head off of his shoulders. The switch to SBMM means that any genuinely new kill records are unlikely with the competition being so fierce, but it’d be better to leave records as they are than resort to what pros have with these two quickfire records.
The second reason is that it’s effectively undoing Epic’s good work in introducing a more balanced, accepting experience for newer players. Fortnite is a tough enough nut to crack as it is, so coming up against World Cup competitors is only going be more offputting. All games, even those as big as Fortnite, need casual players to survive and thrive.
Epic already mentioned that they were introducing SBMM with the view of making it an iterative system with things likely to change over time, which means that they may be taking a look into smurfing if situations like these keep happening. Perhaps some kind of IP restriction would work, but maybe players who ought to know better should restrict themselves first.
“On the topic of smurfing, we’ve seen discussion around players smurfing as a way to have easier matches. Smurfing is a bannable offense. We see a bunch of negative behavior that occurs with smurfing and issues with gameplay integrity. If we see consistent reports and perceive that you are negatively impacting other players’ experiences, we will take appropriate action.”
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