The Finals speedruns into ‘too sweaty’ discourse as Reddit mods shut down SBMM complaints

Now that The Finals has been out over a week and lots of people are still playing, its burgeoning community is grappling with a question that we all ask of our preferred shooters at some point: is it too sweaty, and is it skill-based matchmaking’s fault?

It started last week, when developer Embark Studios released a hotfix for The Finals that made tweaks to SBMM.

“We’ve made some changes to our skill-based matchmaking to ensure better-quality games,” the patch notes read. “This means matchmaking times are likely to be ever so slightly longer, but you should find yourselves in slightly closer matches.”

The two-line patch notes mention was a seemingly benign adjustment to make matches fairer, but as any Call of Duty player can tell you, SBMM is something of a boogeyman in FPS communities—many people’s go-to explanation for why they’re not having fun at the moment. Developers tend not to acknowledge their SBMM systems because of the pandora’s box the topic can open. Following last week’s hotfix, SBMM (alongside cheating) became the hottest topic of The Finals subreddit.

“SBMM back at it again ruining a perfect game,” wrote Reddit user Spicy_take. “Whatever they did to the matchmaking turned it into the most heated, meta filled, kill hungry sweatfest it could be. The beta? Phenomenal. The first few days? Phenomenal. Now? Horrid.”

“I was having a blast in this game trying new builds, figuring out which of the 3 classes I liked the most, all while having a pretty good KD and win rate. That experience is in my rear view mirror,” wrote user chilllpenguin.

“Screw nerfs and all that, I want to know why SBMM has made matchmaking worse,” wrote user Electrical-Agent-309.

And of course, the influx of players dissatisfied with their perception of Embark’s matchmaking was met with retorts from players who think SBMM is fine, actually.

Anti-SBMM Kevins be like from r/thefinals

“Do I just suck? No, it must be the balance,” user KaleidoscopeRich2752 expressed in the form of a Principal Skinner meme. 

“Watching this subreddit develop a snarky holier-than-thou attitude towards CoD, just to devolve into making the same anti-SBMM arguments CoD’s crybabies have been making for years, has been absolutely hilarious,” wrote user Orphu in a top-upvoted thread.

Considering The Finals is brand new and Embark has already felt the need to tweak its SBMM, those experiencing funky matchmaking may be onto something. But the discourse was loud enough that, today, the subreddit’s mod team announced that it’d start reflexively taking down “SBMM complaint” posts, as well as a handful of other topics, to “reduce clutter” on the subreddit.

Bigger than matchmaking

For FPS fans, SBMM is an endlessly absorbing debate. Unlike other discourse mainstays that make me want to mute people on Twitter like “should hard games have an easy mode” or “how much should games cost,” SBMM is more nuanced than some of these Reddit fights suggest.

I’ve previously made the mistake of assuming everyone who argues against SBMM is arguing against fairness. Sometimes that’s true—there’s a corner of SBMM detractors who believe completely random matchmaking would be the ultimate equalizer when they’re really just above-average skilled players who know a random system would frequently feed them opponents they can easily beat. Generally these people don’t get much traction because obviously fair matchups are a good thing.

(Image credit: Embark Studios)

Nowadays, I’m more interested in the other common case against SBMM: that it makes shooters too sweaty, and less fun as a result. When SBMM is strictly enforced, the argument goes, players are pushed to be competitive and only play according to the meta. That means if you’re not running the best loadouts with the most advantageous team composition, you’re unlikely to win, and maybe that’s just not very fun.

It took 400 hours of Hunt: Showdown to see for myself what people mean by this. When I “got gud” at Hunt last year and entered its higher skill brackets, the difference in playstyles was night and day. Hunt’s rich arsenal of quirky 19th-century guns and gadgets might as well have not existed against the small handful of “meta” guns that nearly every enemy team was carrying. My favorite shooter became ultra sweaty, and very boring.

The experience taught me that metas are overrated, but it also helped me realize that a game’s sweatiness has more to do with format than matchmaking. In other words: Those who think The Finals is too sweaty might actually be reacting to its ultra-competitive 3v3v3v3 game modes where everyone fights over a single cash box and team wipes are a sure way to lose. The small squad sizes, high mobility, and scarcity of points on the board naturally brings the sweat out of people before SBMM even enters the picture. The squad that sticks together, creates opportunities to quickly cross the map, and coordinates around who to shoot at will always beat a squad that’s just trying to unwind with a fun shooter.

(Image credit: Embark Studios)

Maybe the real problem isn’t that The Finals has SBMM, but that it’s underserving fans who want less sweaty modes. I fall into that camp. I love The Finals’ shooting, destruction, gadgets, and maps, but its competitive format sands down its unique qualities and creates uneven squad fights that reward inaction and third-party ganking. It’s fun as is, but The Finals has even more potential as a casually competitive FPS sandbox, and I think others have picked up on this too.

In a game that lets players blow up the level design, replace your gun with a sledgehammer, create wrecking balls out of hardened goo, and get abducted by a UFO, it’s remarkable that its only modes are just two variants of competitive snatch-and-grab with high respawn timers.

There’s reason to believe The Finals will one day be an FPS for more types of players. Ahead of Season 1’s launch, Embark told me it has plans to appeal to solo and casual players in the future, but stopped short of saying what that would actually entail.

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