Starcraft 2’s Leagues, Ladders, and Rankings Explained

Starcraft 2 has one of the most robust systems for ranking players of all skill levels and giving them fair games and a sense of progression. Blizzard doesn’t want to reveal too much detail about the way the rankings work as to prevent gaming of the system, and as such, a lot of speculation has caused a lot of misunderstanding among the player base. Still, we know that the ladder system is based around a few core principles and we have a lot of information that can be pieced together, so let’s examine the inner workings of the ladder system.

First, let’s tackle something a lot of people don’t know: the only thing that affects your ranking is winning or losing. Any good rating system for a competitive game must operate in this way. If it was based on how long the match takes, actions-per-minute (APM), or other factors, players could easily inflate those numbers to artificially increase their rating. Like ELO, the chess rating system on which Blizzard’s rating systems are based, each player has an associated number representing their skill level. In addition, there is an important second statistic called volatility that represents the algorithm’s confidence that your matchmaking rating (MMR) is accurate. This innovation allows players to be ranked very quickly and jump right into a range close to their skill. In other systems, like Warcraft III and even WoW’s arena system (to a degree), players must start at the bottom and work their way upward. The Starcraft 2 system prevents “n00b stomping” by creating new accounts and other abuses.

If you’ve tried the Starcraft 2 multiplayer, you are familiar with the process of acquiring a ranking. It asks you if you first want to play some practice games, which are played on a slower speed with “no rush” rules enforced. It is unclear if this data is incorporated into your early MMR, but I suspect that it is, as there is no drawback to starting players with an accurate rating. You then play 5 “placement” matches, where it chooses opponents from across the spectrum to try to get a general idea of your MMR. Keep in mind that it is only looking at win/loss data, and there are a lot of variables that go into deciding victory in a Starcraft 2 game. As such, with just five data points, the MMR it approximates for you is going to have a very high volatility.

Another key point to keep in mind going forward is that MMR is the sole factor in determining your opponents. League, rank and other factors have absolutely no hand. A high-ranked silver player could be playing a low ranked platinum player. If you have recently played an opponent, the system may shy away from matching you with them again, but this is just a theory I have carried over from Warcraft III’s matchmaking system.

With an MMR now associated with a new player, will place players in a league. While your MMR is always hidden, the system seems to use only this number to place players into leagues. There are 5 leagues that players can be placed into, and in descending order of quality and approximate player base, they are:

  • Diamond (top 10%)
  • Platinum (10-25%)
  • Gold (25-45%)
  • Silver (45-70%)
  • Bronze (70-100%)

The system will never place a new player into the Diamond league after their placement matches.

Within each league are divisions. Each division is a small group of 100 people against whom members are ranked against. For example, one of my 2v2 teams is in the Gold Mutalisk November division. I can see all of the other players in this division, which gives me a ballpark idea of where I rank globally, but I do not play anyone in my division more or less than anyone else close to my MMR. The purpose of the division is simply to give players a sense of progression with a number that has less variance and more weight than a global ranking six digits long.

There are certain points at which re-evaluates your league placement. The number of games or time-frame is not disclosed, but occasionally after a game, you will be placed into a new league. This can even occur after a loss. Players can be promoted or demoted to higher or lower leagues based on their performance. This is the only way to access the diamond league, as the system does not want 5 data points adding players into Diamond only to quickly remove them. Diamond status should be an “elite” league and carry some weight. During the initial rush of unranked players that occurred in the past week since release, the system has had very little data and, in my limited experience, low accuracy. My placement matches put me in the silver league, but after about 25 games, I’ve been promoted to gold and then to platinum, where I’m holding the top 10 in my division pretty well.

Now, how does your MMR change and how does this relate to points? We will explore this later this week with lots of number crunching.

Continue to part 2…

32 Comments on Starcraft 2’s Leagues, Ladders, and Rankings Explained

  1. interesting write up.

    it’s worthwhile to point out that a division ranking is good indication of your global standing among the SC2 players in your league, since it is a random sample of players which approximates the population. while not 100% certain, you can even compare across different divisions with a reasonable amount of certainty that the two divisions don’t differ significantly in player skill.

    never thought i’d get to use my statistics training for gaming.

    looking forward to your next installment.

  2. i actualy am a noob stil but i think i am better than bronze , i started bad (never played starcraft since this one – i was more a aoe fan ) but recently i started to win against silver or gold players , i am ranked 5 in my bronze division, but i have like more than 40 wins in my last 60 games and still ranked bronze …

  3. Starcrafts system is stupid im not a good player put when i played the placment matches i went againt 5 shitty players and won against them easy and got placed in the silver league and i havnt been even close to winning one single game there im at my 15th loose i have no room to getting better cuase i never gets the chance in this matches how good you are you should always get placed in the broce league in the beging and work your way up

  4. “never place a new player into the Diamond league”

    This is incorrect. I’ve been played from placements straight into Diamond league multiple times.

  5. and another thing you got wrong is that i won all 5 of my placement matches and got placed in diamond…
    i’m a top bronze mid silver player since i’m still in diamond but the only matchups i ever get are now bronze/silver. (yea i know i suck)

  6. “The system will never place a new player into the Diamond league after their placement matches.”

    I just got placed yesterday, after my first 4v4 match in diamond, so it is possible

  7. This ranking system is stupid. I started on bronze 87. After 2 losses and 1 win, that 1 win jumped me to silver top 10. After that it was just a bunch of pointless losses because Blizzard clearly has a bunch of glitches in their system.

  8. I finished my placement games and was put at platinum. but my teammates keep winning for me and i keep winning and going up rank. im now rank 8.

  9. For those of you who have placed in Diamond League, congrats. Your post is almost a year after this was published, so try to act more intelligent by reading the dates. There are many patches throughout the year that alter the game, such as the addition of the Master and Grandmaster leagues. No need to try and show off your skills by placing in Diamond League, because it’s really not that impressive…

  10. I play on both the SEA and NA servers. There’s definitely a descrepancy with skill levels. On the SEA server I’m ranked bronze, but play 80% of games against silver players. On the NA server I’m ranked gold and have beaten platinum players. The ranking systems from server to server must be independent. The systems may also be affected by the number of players. An increased number of new players completing their ranking matches may change the ranks by opening new leagues and increases opportunities for promotion.

  11. Small correction you can get placed into Diamond after placement matches. Happened to me and is currently kicking my ass.

  12. greetings,
    i am a bronze player and the last 15 matches were like this:
    all of them were against silver players. why am i not promoted yet and what do i need to do to get it?

    kind regards

  13. @squegan try playing 2v2 or 3v3 and try working on builds or getting better at macro or micro and you should start getting slowly better. Also who cares if you lose the game was made to be played and for people to get better. :)

  14. @robindevaal
    the season ladder has been locked meaning you can’t move up a league or down a league. It has been like this since 2nd of october

  15. The system is horse shit. I was a diamond player 2-3 seasons ago. Recently got back into the game and is obviously rusty. My first placement match was 2v3 and we lost because one guy was afk the entire match and my other teamate sucked. Okay so I won the rest got into platnium. Then they put me together with really bad bronze or silver players. up agasint people tht are paltnium and diamond. So yes it;s a mix of win and lose, then in the last 304 games I had a bad streak due to bad luck, it was either afker or people dcing out [without mineral contribution] or immature kids teamkilling each other and stuff like that. So I got demoted so quickly because of that bad luck streak to gold.. In Gold I’ve beat diamond players and games agasint 2-3 rank 1 platniums with some gold players..

    this would be me [ ]
    enemy plat [ ]
    enemy plat [ ]
    my teamate [ ]
    enemy plat [ ]
    my temate [ ]

    And within 18 miutes i killed over 235 units, while my teamate killed less than 50 combined.
    The enemy next highest kill was 60


    I pretty much stomped them but still stuck in gold? LOL this system is a joke. It’s qyuick to demote but takes awhile to rank up.

  16. @Systemisretarded

    the chart is wrong let me show you again..

    Me: ……………………………………………………………………………..

    enemy …………………………..
    team ………………

  17. I loved up to you will receive performed right here. The sketch is attractive, your authored subject matter stylish. nonetheless, you command get bought an edginess over that you would like be handing over the following. in poor health undoubtedly come more earlier again as precisely the similar nearly a lot ceaselessly inside case you defend this increase.

  18. very interesting. the only problem is that it CAN’T just be win/loss ratio. imagine you got 2 wins/3losses. there are A LOT of people who got the SAME thing!!!!!! there have 2 be other factors. otherwise, very interesting!!!

  19. @squegan
    I agree- lose almost all games. Played a couple of years ago in silver league, now im in gold. Wins one of five games, soon I start playing World Of Tanks again or another game that works. This sucks!

  20. I played 2v2 with my friend A. We won 3 out of 5 games and went to gold.
    Thne i played 2v2 with my friend B. we won 4 out of 5 games and went to bronze.
    any 1 care to explain?

  21. ok just to let every one know the rank system is messed up i am a level 87 bronze i only ever get matched woth level 10 bronze or higher way out of my league so all i do is loos and get stomped down in the ranking yet again get put up against an opponent that out classes me.

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