An Update on Season Eight and Matchmaking Times

Get the lowdown on how we’re planning to tackle matchmaking challenges!

Firstly, I’d like to say a huge thank you from the entire team for all the positivity toward Season Eight and for the feedback you have raised around it. It’s been a huge release for the team with many hidden complexities and we’re very happy it’s been received well by our players.

We have heard the feedback from the Sea of Thieves community that the matchmaking queue times to get into the Battle for the Sea of Thieves can be long. We appreciate that people are eager to make progress in each Faction and earn the two unique Curses that Season Eight offers. This is an area we knew we’d need to monitor and improve even ahead of launching the content update.

Since the release of Season Eight, we’ve been working behind the scenes to improve our matchmaking queue times. We want to take some time to discuss how these queue times work, and what the team are doing to improve them going forward.

First, I’d like to explain why queue times can sometimes be long for players:

1. Imbalance of players between Factions

Over the launch period, the data has shown us that different regions often have significantly more players in one Faction than the other. This imbalance will also swing to the other Faction at different times of the day. Whenever this imbalance exists, it’s always going to result in longer matchmaking times for the Faction that has more players in it.

Simply put, imagine there are 10 players matchmaking in the underwater tunnels:

  • Nine for the Guardians of Fortune
  • One for the Servants of the Flame

As soon as the first players are paired up against one another, we now have:

  • Eight Guardians of Fortune
  •  Zero Servants of the Flame

This means the Guardians of Fortune players will have to wait until a new Servants of the Flame player enters the queue before they can be matched for a battle.

Even if we have millions of players all diving into battle, an imbalance in the number of players siding with each Faction means that one Faction will experience longer wait times than the other.

2. Players on different stamps

To enable Sea of Thieves to support the largest possible number of players, we separate our servers and services into smaller units that are easier to manage. These units are called ‘stamps’. This helps us to scale our game and ensure the gameplay experience is great for all players.

The downside to arranging our servers in this way is that it can mean our players are separated between different stamps. Currently, Sea of Thieves does not allow players to migrate between these stamps, which means that even if crews of the opposing Faction are ready to fight you, it may not be possible to actually matchmake you all together. This will in turn result in longer queue times as you wait for an opponent who is also on the same stamp as you.

3. Low population regions

Certain regions, such as Japan and Australia, have a lower population of players. This will also result in longer matchmaking times.

4. Xbox Controller Only preference

Xbox players can select a specific option to only be matched with other players using a controller. The pool of players that select ‘Prefer Controller Only’ makes up a significant minority of our player base, and as such there is a smaller section of players to choose from. The data here suggests that it doesn’t cause a massive difference in matchmaking times, but you will likely see an improvement if you are comfortable with broadening your options to encounter players using all control schemes.

Before moving onto the solutions, I’d like to clear up some misconceptions around how skill-based matchmaking could be creating long queue times and how our estimated matchmaking times work on the Hourglass of Fate.

Skill-Based Matchmaking

We have investigated the data and are very confident that skill-based matchmaking is not contributing to long matchmaking times. Our skill-based matchmaking system is based on a variant of the Elo system – we take into account the win/loss ratio of the crew combined, not any session's streak, and this informs who you're matched against when you opt into a battle.

However, if there aren't any perfect matches waiting for your crew when you opt into your next battle, we broaden the net of players you could face over time to ensure you’ll always find a match. This means SBMM isn’t restrictive on matchmaking times because we quite quickly move to getting you the next best opponent instead of the perfect opponent for your skill.

Estimated Matchmaking Times on the Hourglass of Fate

Our estimated matchmaking times shown by the Hourglass of Fate are based on the recent history of matchmaking times for that Faction on the stamp you’re playing on. This helps provide an estimate of how long you may be matchmaking for, but it is purely an estimate and not a guaranteed time.

As mentioned above, the team have been working hard to try to improve our matchmaking queue times. Below is a summary of what we’re currently focusing on.

Upcoming Improvements to Matchmaking Times

Enabling Same Faction Battles:

When a crew dives into the underwater tunnels to seek out a battle, we currently only allow them to match against a rival Faction. We will still prioritise this way of play and always try to find a rival Faction for you to fight first.

However, after a period of time where a match has not been found against a rival Faction, we will open up the search to include battles against a crew in the same Faction as you. Think of these battles as skirmishes within your Faction: the Guardians of Fortune duelling for honour within their ranks, or the Servants of the Flame clashing for dominance among themselves.

Allowing battles within the same Faction as a fallback will help reduce long wait times in instances where an otherwise appropriate match cannot be found quickly.

These battles will play out in the exact same way as a traditional battle from a gameplay point of view, the only difference being that you are battling a crew of the same Faction. Allegiance, Hourglass Value and Streaks can still be earned just as they would in battle against the rival Faction.

Most Commendations and Captaincy stats will also count as normal, omitting only a few that specifically involve battling the opposing Faction.

Cross-Stamp Migration:

As mentioned in the section on stamps above, Sea of Thieves does not currently support cross-stamp migration, which can result in long matchmaking times.

We are actively working on this functionality to ensure that players can eventually be matchmade against an opponent on a different stamp, which in turn will mean there are more potential opponents to be matched against, reducing the queue times.

With the additions described above, we feel our matchmaking times will see definite improvements and greater overall consistency. The team are actively working on these updates, and we hope to deliver them to players in early 2023.

In the short term, before these two improvements make it into the game, you can find battles more quickly by using the Hourglass of Fate to see which Faction currently has shorter matchmaking times and aligning yourself with that Faction. But if you only want to increase your Allegiance with a specific Faction, and their matchmaking times are longer, these upcoming improvements will soon be in place to help ensure you don’t have to wait as long.

The team are actively working on getting these improvements to you as quickly as we can. As always, we appreciate your patience and we’ll see you on the seas!