As many of you noticed, players at the highest levels of ranked competitive play hit some problems with Challenger tier at the end of the season. While we've had a number of discussions about Challenger tier, it's clear that we - and the systems running Challenger tier - weren't as clear as anyone would've liked. We'll be fixing it based on your feedback, but first we want to explain our original thinking behind the system and where we think it broke down:
Immunity is the chief culprit of some of the issues involving Challenger tier. The intent with immunity was to create a window where a player could reach Challenger but not feel immediately pressured to stay afloat. This was intended to give players enough time to build up a pool of LP so that the newest players weren't always the ones being kicked by up-and-coming Diamond I players. Winning a series of five promotional games against the best players in the region, and then being told you also need to immediately start climbing the ladder in order to not be the first player kicked is a bit much. A complete lack of immunity would also give an unfair advantage to incumbent Challenger tier players.
During the regular season, Challenger immunity worked and most players even appreciated it for the breathing room it provided post-promotion. Unfortunately, the end of season deadline threw a wrench into things. It opened up the opportunity for players to game the system by hitting Challenger at the right time and relying on immunity to rest easy for the last few days. The first feat - hitting Challenger - is deserved by each and every player who accomplished it, but the second - using immunity to remain competitively stagnant during a period of intense competition isn't the behavior we want to allow at the highest competitive tier.
Clamping in Diamond I can become ridiculous with LP gains of one or even zero per win. Behind the scenes, the player is always getting slightly closer to entering their Challenger promos but the opacity makes the experience unfulfilling and even discouraging. The reason it behaves in this way is that there are only 50 spots in Challenger. Those spots must accurately maintain the top 50 players. So if a player is almost as good at the top 50 players, but not quite there yet, a safety valve must exist to keep them from taking a challenger spot. The choice here was between clarity at the top of Diamond 1 and Challenger's accurate depiction of the very top of the game. We chose accuracy for Challenger, but ultimately believe one without the other is flawed and will be working to change this in the coming season.
Perceived unfairness of Challenger
Promotions from Diamond I to Challenger trigger when a player hits a higher MMR rating than the lowest ranked, non-immune Challenger player. Once the lowest ranked Challenger is passed, the next Diamond I player to hit a promo series would need to pass the second-lowest ranked, non-immune Challenger player. During the end of the season, when competition is fierce, the floor constantly rises because of the cut-off date. We wanted to emphasize that players who've reached Challenger deserved it, because they surpassed their opponents, but the clarity of the system failed. Nobody knew when they were safe in Challenger, what had happened when they were kicked from Challenger, or how close they were to re-qualifying for Challenger. To us, this is a major shortcoming. The system being perceived as accurate is just as important as the system actually being accurate, and it's something we'll be improving on.
First, the core tenet of Challenger is that it should represent the absolute pinnacle of competitive play in every ranked queue. The system broke down at the end of the season, so we're going to do this philosophy justice by also cross-checking MMR values. The 50 players/teams with the highest MMR in each ranked queue (regardless of League position) will be granted Challenger rewards. This is in addition to those who already have their rewards for ending the season in Challenger. This should end up dishing out rewards to about 10-20 additional players / teams.
Second, we're going to take a long, hard look at immunity in Challenger tier. Clearly immunity is an issue when a deadline is introduced, but we still want some kind of grace period for players that reach Challenger. We're hitting the drawing board on this now.
Third, we're going to look at the core transparency of Challenger tier and player progression to and through it. At the highest level of play, competition comes down to the wire and the current system is incapable of reflecting players' positions relative to their opponents. We have some ideas on this but they're still in development.
Expect more thorough and transparent updates on these efforts down the line. In the meantime, expect some additional quality of life changes coming to Leagues, including the introduction of tier demotions, reductions in LP clamping outside of Diamond I, and a few other upgrades.
We're actively investigating cases of deliberate abuse like win trading in low-population queues, team selling and deliberate game throwing to sabotage other's promo efforts. We'll act only in cases of irrefutable evidence, but you can bet that players (including high-visibility ones) who abused the system will see the shoe drop.