FIFA 20's Smurfing Problem Has Players Yearning For a Better Ranking System for Division Rivals

FIFA 20's Smurfing Problem Has Players Yearning For a Better Ranking System for Division Rivals

A new challenge system is wreaking havoc in ranked play.

A series as popular as FIFA has to be designed to accommodate wide ranges of skill and player commitment. Online matchmaking shouldn't routinely put lower skill players in unfairly tilted matches, and there should be some way for players to build decent teams beyond sinking money into loot boxes. FIFA 20 has introduced a new way to get Icons—incredible players from years past—that's intended to make collecting them easier. In turn, players claim that the system is ruining the spread of skill in Division Rivals matchmaking.

Icon Swaps are at the root of what has FIFA 20 players annoyed with Division Rivals. As detailed ahead of FIFA 20's release by live producer Yahsir Qureshi, Icon Swaps are a way for players to unlock Icons. Each Icon Swap release introduces a number of Icons and objectives; players complete objectives to earn tokens, and in turn those tokens can be used to unlock Icons. Simple enough. The issue is, many of the objectives require wins in Division Rivals matchmaking.

Division Rivals divides players into ten divisions by skill, which is why the addition of Icon Swap objectives creates an issue. USgamer's own Jake Green describes FIFA 20's Division Rivals matchmaking as "generally pretty fair," but that assumes people are always playing to win. The challenges establish a perverse incentive: for any player, the Icon Swap objectives that require wins are simply harder to do while playing in their regular division, while ranking down would make them easier.

If a player purposefully relegates themselves down to another division by quitting or throwing matches—not too different from making a "smurf" account—it gets harder for anyone who is naturally in those divisions to win games, let alone complete the objectives for themselves. Regardless of how widespread an issue this is, the dynamic exists, and it colors how many players are experiencing sudden strings of losses in their division.

Over the last month, many players have taken to r/FIFA to air their frustrations about exactly that. "Since people started getting relegated to do the icons objectives I don't even remember the last time I won a match," reads one such post. "I completely understand why players do it but EA surely have to know it's hurting the casual player base," pleads another. "This is the closest I've been to just selling my team and then selling my coins and closing up shop for Ultimate Team for the year." On Twitter, popular FIFA content creators bateson87 and CapgunTom both caught heat from fans after posts celebrating being relegated down the Division Rivals ranks.

One suggestion for a fix to this issue is drawn from another EA title. A Redditor by the name D3S-9 recommends following Apex Legends' lead for ranked play—once a player climbs into a new division in a season of Apex, they won't fall out of it even if they continue to lose. Other suggestions include temporary bans and putting a cap on how far players can fall through divisions in the span of a week.

FIFA 20's barely been out for more than a month, and the roadmap for introducing new and better Icons to Ultimate Team extends deep into 2020. Dedicated FIFA players of all skill levels will keep coming back to earn Icons in a few months time, so there's time for EA to arrive at a fix for rankings in Division Rivals. Of course, it's also a problem that could fix itself as better players get bored of stomping through the lower ranks—but that'd come at the expense of a lot of peoples' time spent just trying to enjoy a round of FIFA in peace.

For more info on FIFA 20, head to our FIFA 20 Everything We Know page. For a look at how Pro Clubs have changed this year there's our FIFA 20 Pro Clubs Guide. There's also our page on what's new in FUT 20. For a look at how the new FUT progression system works, there's our FUT Season Objectives Guide.

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Mathew Olson


Mathew Olson is a writer formerly of Digg, where he blogged and reported about all things under the umbrella of internet culture (including games, of course). He lives in New York, grew up under rain clouds and the influence of numerous games studios in the Pacific Northwest, and will talk your ear off about Half-Life mods, Talking Heads or Twin Peaks if you let him.