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Reimagining "competitive" Destiny (Destiny)

by CruelLEGACEY @, Toronto, Saturday, August 10, 2019, 14:30 (98 days ago)

I've been thinking a lot lately about the state of the Crucible in Destiny 2, and the competitive playlist in particular. We've had several discussions lately here on the forums about the way Destiny's sandbox (supers and power weapons in particular) effect the PvP experience, and the pros and cons around those systems. I've come to believe that Destiny, as it exists now, is fundamentally anti-competitive. And it is this anti-competitive foundation that is the primary source of all the difficulties in delivering a compelling competitive gamemode. This also raises the question of "should Destiny even attempt to provide a competitive experience"?

I'll dig into all that in a moment, but first I think I should step back and explain some of my definitions for the sake of clarity.

What makes a game "competitive"?

For the sake of this topic, when I'm referring to "competitive", I'm talking about a mindset as much as anything else. A "competitive" player wants to test their skills against other players, and see who wins. A "competitive" player wants to win and have moments where they feel awesome and badass, but they don't want those moments handed to them. They want their sense of accomplishment to come directly from their ability to execute in-game. On the flip side of that coin, they want to know that every defeat comes from being out-played, partially out of a sense of fairness, but also because such defeats present them with an opportunity to learn and improve their own skills. If I know that my death was caused by a mistake that I made, or superior play from my opponent, then I can learn from it.
From this point of view, having a PvP mode does not inherently make it satisfying for players looking to have a "competitive" experience.

Here is where I can point to 2 specific ways in which Destiny is anti-competitive: As we've discussed in earlier threads, Destiny is designed specifically to be a game where the better player does not always win, and therefore defeat is not always a learning opportunity (since you can do everything right within a given encounter and still lose). Too often in the crucible, I die not because I've been outplayed, but because of super-spam or spawning into an enemy rocket, or other such events that I affectionately refer to as "random bullshit" deaths. And when I win, I rarely feel a sense of accomplishment because that victory was at least partially decided by my team's random bullshit scoring more lucky kills than the other team's random bullshit.

With that clarification established, I'll also say this: I believe the vast majority of people who play Destiny are not playing the game with a competitive mindset, nor do they want to be. It's probably a good thing for a game like Destiny to be designed around other goals, rather than building a competitive-minded foundation. And yet, we have a "competitive" playlist, and there does seem to be a small but vocal portion of the player base that would like a competitive experience. So I've been thinking about what it would take to deliver a truly "competitive" game mode within Destiny 2, without interfering with/detracting from the gameplay elements that the majority of the player base enjoys across PvE, Gambit, or Quickplay.

Making a truly "competitive" D2 playlist

To create a proper competitive playlist in D2, we'd need to rework several levels of the current playlist;

1) The in-game combat experience
2) The ranking/matchmaking/player sorting mechanics
3) The loot/progression/ player investment systems.

I'm going to discuss points 1 and 3 first, because they tie into each other directly.

Supers and heavy weapons are both big problems with the current PvP sandbox, from a competitive point of view (special weapons are arguably on this list as well, but to a lesser degree). I'm not going to make any bold claims like "they should be removed from comp" because there may in fact be ways to incorporate them into a comp game mode that doesn't ruin the "competitive" spirit of the match. D1 Trials of Osiris did this very well. Heavy ammo spawns were limited to a single round (which was aptly referred to as the "heavy round"). So for 1 round, the entire dynamic of the match was focused around securing the heavy ammo and using it to maximum effect. Supers were similarly limited. Because of the relatively short rounds, players didn't have time to build and then chain supers for minutes at a time. The first 3-4 rounds would be pure gun-play, and then you'd get a sort of rock/paper/scissors dynamic as various players supers became available. Because most players would only earn 1 super per game, it was important to make it truly count. There was a tactical and strategic element to using supers that barely exists in D2 comp or quickplay. So it is possible to make supers and heavy weapons part of a competitive experience. What needs to be severely reduced is the frequency of "bullshit deaths" that I described above. Unavoidable 1-hit kills should be reduced to an absolute minimum. The focus should be on skillful gunplay, movement, positioning, and teamwork.

With that, I'd like to shift focus towards primary & secondary weapons.

Many competitive-minded players have asked for a comp playlist that features set-loadouts. That runs very much counter to the overall Destiny experience. However, I think it is both a good idea, and an opportunity to do something unique with the loot/reward cycle of the comp playlist. Here's what I propose:

* The D2 Comp playlist should have its own unique, complete loot pool (1 of every weapon type, specifically designed for PvP, and an armor set for each class). All of these items are acquired from a vendor (Shaxx, or a dedicated Comp vendor).

* These weapons and armor sets should be the only gear that can be equipped during a comp match.

If I were a competitive purist, I'd probably say that all this gear should come with set perks and stop there. But for the sake of building a mode that is competitive yet still fits within Destiny, I'll add:

* The vendor versions of these weapons and armor should come with set perks, but once acquired, random-rolled (or semi-random rolled, a la Redrix Broadsword) versions would be added to the post-match loot pool. I think some conditions would need to be added to the armor perks... perhaps every piece of comp armor comes with an enhanced perk, for example. The goal would be to let players chase perks that they want, while avoiding a situation where some comp players have armor that is statistically better than their opponents.

* Comp "pinnacle weapons" should no longer be a thing.

That last point might raise some eyebrows. I'll get into my thinking on that as we go forward into discussing the ranking/matchmaking/player sorting.

Competitive ranks

In any competitive game or sport, it is understood that making some sort of effort to divide players/teams into brackets or leagues facilitates better competition. It's not fun or rewarding for anyone if players of a lower skill are constantly thrown against highly skilled opponents. When that happens, the competition doesn't matter anymore. So some kind of skill-based sorting mechanism should be in place.

As it currently stands, the competitive ranking system does not supplement a competitive experience. There's a lot we don't know about the inner workings of D2's matchmaking, but there are some common beliefs that appear to be at least partially true, so I'll be pulling from that.
By all appearances, a player's comp rank seems to at least partially affect the matchmaking system (meaning players are more likely to be matched against other similarly-ranked players). That would be great, except for a couple factors. First of all, the comp ranks keep resetting. Every few months, players get thrown back down to zero, effectively putting everyone back into the same pool again. Over the next few months, the player pool slowly spread themselves out across the rank ladder. But it can take quite a bit of time before players start to settle into the ranks that reflect their skill level, and then BAM, everything gets reset again.

The other big problem with D2's current comp ranks is that their primary reason for existing is not to sort players appropriately. The ranks exist as a mountain to climb in order to unlock pinnacle weapons. Players strive to reach ranks that may or may not reflect their actual skill level, because they want Recluse or Not Forgotten. So players do whatever they can to climb the rank ladder (get themselves carried, give their account to a more highly-skilled friend, pay a pro), rather than treat the ranks as a sorting mechanism to ensure that they are matched against players in a similar skill bracket.

That's why I think Pinnacle weapons should have nothing to do with the comp playlist. Their inclusion creates priorities that run counter to each other. As I stated near the beginning, the majority of D2 players are not looking for a truly "competitive" experience. Tempting them into the playlist by dangling carrots on sticks in front of them will only force them into an experience they won't enjoy. OR, the comp experience itself would need to be designed in a way that those players will enjoy, ie not a competitive experience. And that leaves players who want a competitive experience out in the cold (which is where the game stands right now, I would argue).

I'm not enough of an expert in this area to say how it "should be done", but my instinct would be to implement skill-based brackets or divisions. The comp playlist could be initially locked behind a "quest" that involves a certain number of qualifying matches to determine the player's ballpark skill level. This quest could also serve to unlock or earn the comp gear, or at least enough of it to enter the playlist (the full armor set, and at least 1 weapon for each slot). From there, players would be matched based on their division, with more finely-tuned skill-based matchmaking working at all times to provide the most closely-matched games possible. Players would be moved up or down divisions as time goes on, based on their performance (a nameplate that shows your comp division could be made available from the comp vendor).

Trials of Osiris

IMO, Trials needs to come back. It was near-perfect when it was first introduced in D1, and it remains the best competitive experience that has ever existed within Destiny (subjective, but a commonly-held opinion). In my reimagined version of the competitive playlist, Trials would come back as a near carbon-copy of its original incarnation, with some modifications:

* Trials would be a recurring weekend event

* Trials would be considered a "competitive" playlist, meaning players would only be able to enter trials with competitive gear equipped.

* Trials would not support matchmaking for teammates, and teams would be matched against each other on a purely random basis (nothing skill-based). This is how it worked when it was first introduced in D1, and it was the most exciting version of Trials. Some cards, you'd get lucky and match against easier teams. Other cards, you'd be less lucky. This gave lower-than-top-tier teams a chance of making it to the lighthouse. This is important, because unlike the rest of the comp playlist, the primary goal during trials is to get a chance at sweet loot!

* The Trials loot pool would be a selection of ornaments for the competitive loot pool. This would give players the ability to get cool looking stuff without compromising the integrity of the competitive sandbox. (I'd be open to an actual set of Trials gear that could be taken back into comp, but the more gear that gets added to the comp playlist, the trickier balancing becomes).

* A flawless Trials card would award a curated/masterworked version of one of the comp weapons, along with a unique ornament, AND a unique visual effect on the ballistics and/or the gun itself. The idea is to have gear that stands out visually in ways that make it look special and cool, both to the player and other players, without effecting actual gameplay.

Conclusion

This is just my attempt to organize and present some thoughts on why I believe Destiny 2 fails to deliver an experience that satisfies competitively-minded players, and some ideas on what might work to create a satisfying competitive playlist within the greater Destiny framework.

Any thoughts/feedback/suggestions?


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