Rating inflation and reward structure in WoW PvP

Many players will have noticed by now that rating in Season 2 of Shadowlands is a lot higher than in Season 1. As highlighted by Holinka in his chat with Venruki last year, this was a deliberate choice in order to inflate the rating distribution. This seems to have worked perhaps a little too well. In effect, rating has inflated by around 300-350 points, meaning that a person who achieved a 1500 rating in Season 1 could expect to achieve a rating of 1800-1850 in Season 2 without any improvement in player ability. Below, I am showing the rating distributions for Shadowlands Seasons 1 and 2 (3v3 US Horde), highlighting the dramatic impact of the rating inflation change.

A serendipitous effect of the rating inflation has been the increased availability of PvP rewards. Specifically, the highest PvP ilvl upgrade available to players is unlocked at 2100 rating, which is currently the 85th percentile of players (for US 3v3). In fact, the inaccesibility of the reward structure of Season 1 is pretty evident if we overlay the reward thresholds with the rating distribution (shown here for 3v3 US Horde).

The reward structure is shifted to the right of the rating distribution, meaning that you have to reach almost the 50th percentile to unlock even the 1400 rewards. This effectively means that close to half of the people who play arena will not unlock this most basic of rewards. Unlocking the ilvl rewards at 1800 rating can be a struggle for many, and the ilvl rewards at 2100 rating (97th percentile) is a Herculean undertaking for most players. We can compare the above to the rating distribution and reward structure of Shadowlands Season 2 (again, shown for 3v3 US Horde):

This provides a much more accessible reward structure due to it being centred on the rating distribution. This also arguably provides a far better player experience. However, as many people will have already observed, a major downside of the Shadowlands Season 2 system is that there is currently 1050 rating gap between Gladiator and named Gladiator (e.g. Unchained Gladiator). On EU, the R1 cutoff is 100 rating higher than this, meaning that the Gladiatorial Chasm spans a whooping 1150 rating. For a rated PvP system to be healthy, there has to be a coherent and accessible progression element to reward players who improve at all ratings. In Season 1, the reward structure was relatively unfriendly towards lower rated players due to the highest gear rewards being only unlocked at the 97th percentile. In Shadowlands Season 2, players who fall in the 2400-3000 range lack a serious carrot on account of the reward structure being compressed around the bulk of the rating distribution. In fact, one of the virtues of the Season 1 system was that there was only a 550 rating gap between Gladiator and Sinful Gladiator (although even this can be said to be very large).

Solutions?

So how could we provide a more consistent progression experience for all players? There are two options as I see it. The first option is to revert the rating inflation changes, and make the highest PvP ilvl reward unlock at 1800 rating. At the same time, one might want to introduce a truly entry-level title at 1100 or 1200 rating, similar to what Combatant (1400) is today. This would make the reward structure nearly identical to what it is today, but would reduce the gap between Gladiator and Named Gladiator (R1) significantly. A side effect of this is that PvP titles such as Duelist and Gladiator would revert back to being more in line with historical percentiles (97th and around 99th, respectively). The second option is to keep rating inflated, but to either introduce a new title between Gladiator and named Gladiator or alternatively maintain Elite at 2400 rating and move Gladiator to 2700 rating.

As for the title/reward structure, I don't think there are any solutions that are objectively better than any other. Any proposed system has different advantages and disadvantages, and it mostly comes down prioritisation. In the long-term, inflation does have a devaluing effect so if Gladiator is kept at 2400 rating, it will simply be viewed as a less prestigious accomplishment than it used to be when it was the top 0.5% of players. But maybe that's okay. What do you think?

What should be done with the rating/reward distribution?

The rating distribution should be kept as it is and Gladiator moved to 2700 rating.
The rating distribution should be deflated (as in Season 1) and all ilvl rewards unlocked at 1800 rating.
We should leave the rating distribution and rewards exactly the way it is in Season 2.
Other opinion.
No opinion/just let me see the results.

Standardise the yardstick

Ultimately, whether the median rating is 1450 or 1750 or 2050 does not actually matter: these are just arbitrary numbers that are intended to describe relative player ability. However, one thing I would be very sad to see is a repeat of the last three seasons, where we have three different rating distributions due to different levels of inflation. In BfA S4, 2000 rating was the equivalent of 1750 rating in Shadowlands S1, and this is the equivalent of 2050-2100 rating in Shadowlands S2. The yardstick with which we measure player ability keeps changing. There is a very compelling argument to standardising the yardstick and ensuring a consistent rating distribution across seasons. Presently, rating from one season cannot be compared to rating from another season without in-depth knowledge of the underlying rating distribution and the level of rating inflation that was present in that season. This is amazingly unfriendly to both new and returning players, and also prevents consistent player intuition around what a given rating means.

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