This article was updated on May 12 with a comment from Respawn.
Is the point of battle royale games to survive, or to eliminate competitors? The latest season of Apex Legends has centered that question with a new ranking system that’s stupefying top players. To “prove how bad the system is,” NRG pro sweetdreams challenged himself to hit the game’s highest rank, Apex Predator, without scoring any kills. After playing for almost 19 hours, entirely livestreamed, he succeeded.
“I mean, that is just so dumb,” said sweetdreams after climbing into Predator rank on the stream. “I don’t even know what to say, bro. I don’t even know what to say. That is one of the dumbest screenshots in the history of the game, on the right side of your screen [where his rank is displayed].”
Reached for comment, a Respawn rep told PC Gamer that the studio is “seeing a majority of players settling in as expected” to the new ranking system, with some anticipated outliers, and that it’s listening to feedback and will make fixes if necessary.
“We’ve also seen some instances of players exploiting the early days of the season to make a point,” Respawn said. “We’re keeping a close eye on everything so rest assured, as with any other change, we’re gathering data and will always iterate and refine based on what will serve the whole community best.”
To make his point, sweetdreams not only refrained from eliminating any players during his Predator run, he didn’t deal any damage at all over 50 matches. He did this while solo queuing, so he couldn’t count on always having expert teammates. After the stream, he tweeted: “Increase the Entry Fee for higher levels or we’re sitting in trees!”
Ranked Mode in @PlayApex This picture is not photoshopped.Increase the Entry Fee for higher levels or we’re sitting in trees! pic.twitter.com/wydhqRyZb6May 10, 2023
The entry fee in question is the 35 “Ladder Points” it costs to play a ranked Apex match. Ladder Points are earned by placing and performing well in ranked matches—if you do really well, you’ll earn more than the 35 you spent to enter and your LP total will grow. Earning 1,000 LP promotes you to the next ranked division.
The 35 LP entry fee replaces Apex’s old “Ranked Points” entry fees, which scaled from 10RP for a Bronze match to 70RP+ for matches played at the highest ranks. That scaling was designed to “filter out unskilled players from higher ranks,” according to a Respawn blog post, but the dev said that it put “excessive” focus on eliminations at those ranks because competitors needed every point they could get to offset the higher fees.
Alongside the retiring of Ranked Points and the introduction of Ladder Points, Respawn has added a hidden MMR system which determines who you’re matched with in ranked Apex games, and says that this negates the need for the old scaling entry fees. MMR is calculated independently of Ladder Points, but affects your LP gains through bonuses. If you perform well against players with a higher MMR than you, for example, you’ll gain bonus LP at the end of a match in which you place well. Over time, MMR and LP should start to align with each other.
The controversial thing here, and the reason sweetdreams was able to reach Predator rank without firing a shot, is how much more weight the MMR and Ladder Points system seems to put on staying alive vs getting kills, at least early in the season.
But is that a flaw? Respawn doesn’t necessarily think so. In the blog post linked above, the developer said that “the key goal” of battle royale games is to be the last squad standing and that, as a result, the system values “placement above all.”
“We want everyone of all skill levels to have the same Ranked experience with the same common goal in mind: winning,” wrote Respawn. “This helps create a common team goal and helps players learn from each other. It ensures macro strategies from lower tiers continue to be valid throughout the tiers.”
To reach the rank he did, sweetdreams played 50 matches and his team won five of them and finished the rest in the top five. He also scored 34 recon assists. He may not have shot anyone, but if battle royale is about placing, then arguably the system is not just working as intended, but working exceptionally well. Sweetdreams is one of the best Apex Legends players in the world, and the system ranked him correctly even though he chose not to eliminate other players.
As his “sitting in trees” comment indicates, though, I don’t think most people consider placing in the top five to be the only reason to play a battle royale shooter—they like shooting, and winning by hiding feels hollow. But I don’t actually see much sitting in trees in sweetdreams’ stream: He’s playing Crypto, a recon character with a surveillance drone that sweet uses to support his teammates with intel and directions. I doubt the average Apex player could replicate what he did: having a pro on your team is a big advantage, even when they aren’t dealing damage. But was it enough to justify a top ranking?