Echo Arena is clearly one of the best multiplayer games that VR gaming has yet seen. There is zero question about that. However, the game has an extremely troubling issue, that could keep it from being the mainstream hit that it really deserves to be. The problem is matchmaking. I'm not sure what type of matchmaking system the game is using, but whatever it is, it needs to be revamped. I was playing the game yesterday, and had some of the strangest feelings I've ever had in my long gaming life. At first, I was playing with two other players, and we were absolutely getting SMOKED by the other team. The score was 24 to 0 at one point. The other team was toying with us like we were children. Imagine LeBron James playing Justin Bieber one on one. That's basically what happened. Did playing on this losing team give me the strangest multiplayer feeling I've ever had? No. That came later...
After my team got destroyed, I returned to the lobby and mingled around a bit before getting into another game. This next game was a completely different situation. I was paired up with two of the best Echo Arena players I've ever seen. Basically LeBron James and Stephen Curry were my teammates in this game, and again, we were playing 3 other players that were totally outclassed. The two superstar players were basically dominating the whole game, and I felt like a complete ass during my game with them. I couldn't really do anything. I couldn't keep up with them. I couldn't do any of the crazy maneuvers they were doing. It was as if I was standing in a corner, just watching them play their game, and the feelings that washed over me during this experience were some of the strangest feelings I've ever felt in a multiplayer game, or any video game for that matter. I seriously felt like I was standing there completely naked, with these two superstar players just judging me for being such a terrible player.
It's not like this is the first time in my life that I've sucked at a particular multiplayer game. It's an experience that I'm all too familiar with. However, I've never felt as ashamed and defeated as I did in Echo Arena. Why is there such a huge difference? The only thing I can chalk it up to, is the presence that this game evokes. The playability is so good, the movement system so good, the voice chat so clear, that you really feel like you're someplace else. You really feel like you're there, on that basketball court with LeBron and Steph. If I was really on a legit court with LeBron and Steph, and just running up and down the court with them, but not being involved in the game whatsoever, I would probably feel those same feelings. That's the power of VR. It can affect you in some really amazing ways, both positively and negatively. This just happened to be a very negative experience.
I don't mean to sound like a crybaby, but I'm just not sure that I ever want to experience that feeling again. I'm not sure that I'll ever fire up Echo Arena again, because I really don't want to be on either side of that paradigm. I don't want to be on the team that is completely demolishing my opponent, and I don't want to be on the team being totally demolished. What's the solution to this problem? Don't suck so much? Well, sure... The thing is, some of us don't have the luxury of being able to play Echo Arena for 7 hours a day, every single day. I have a feeling that LeBron and Steph probably put in that many hours per day, to be as ridiculously good as they were.
What we need, is a matchmaking system that will keep LeBron and Steph forever away from my Justin Bieber. I should never be paired with or against a level of talent that is light years beyond me. Maybe if Ready At Dawn offered up two play modes. Ranked and Unranked. Serious players can play ranked matches, and more casual players can play unranked. That should help things a little bit. Of course, it would be ideal if Lone Echo could somehow have the deft matchmaking of something like Overwatch or Halo 3. Of course, even with the amazing Oculus Rift sale that just took place, we're still somewhat limited in our player base. I'm not sure the matchmaking systems of Overwatch or Halo 3 would save us. This is a very big problem, and I don't really have the answers, but I can tell you that I never really want to feel like that again. I suddenly have a new found empathy for the nerdy, uncoordinated kid that is the last one to be picked for a pickup game.