ELO Hell Doesn't Exist

Watching Taggles recently breakthrough into Gold V in League of Legends has given me the itch to start playing again.  I’ve been an on and off Sona solo-que player for the past few years, trying ranked for the first time about a year ago and gaining a Silver 3 placement. I played a bit after my placements and felt like that was about where I was at with my current skill and knowledge of the game, and I didn’t invest much time further into it but felt I could improve myself into Gold with not too much effort.

Sage has introduced me to some awesome tools for evaluating my play including op.gg and mobalytics. With op.gg I’m learning a lot about MMR, ELO and my success & failure against different comps, while mobalytics gives me a deep analytical look at my play from multiple perspectives. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a huge data nerd and believer in the power of big data, so I’ve been diving deep trying to better understand my play and how I can improve myself.

An interesting concept has come up in game chat frequently of the existence of an “ELO Hell”; the idea that ones MMR has dropped so low that the players around them are an assortment of vegetables that make it very difficult to win. This is generally considered to be in the 1200-1500 MMR range for League of Legends which on a player distribution is roughly the middle 50% of players.

The existence of ELO Hell has been debated, with players struggling to move out of a rank insisting that they perform just fine when their teammates know what they’re doing. Some game developers insist this is a fictional land made up by players who aren’t willing to take a hard look at their own play and accept the fact that they make mistakes more than they’d like to admit. Let’s evaluate the League ranked system a bit to try to get at the truth of the matter.

League Ranked Matchmaking

The matchmaking system is somewhat of a hidden calculation, but let’s take a look at what we do know:

  • Every player is given an MMR ranking ELO number, and a division rank.
  • When you queue up for a ranked match you’re likely to get a mix of players in divisions both above and below your current rank. Example: a Gold player will get a mix of Silver, Gold & Platinum players, all who may be rising or falling in MMR.
  • The two teams MMR totals should average out to roughly the same level. This means sometimes you’ll technically be the worst player on your team in terms of MMR, and sometimes you’ll be the best player, and sometimes you’ll fall somewhere in the middle.
  • Autofill still happens, and players sometimes get filled into a role they’re not very good with.

That’s a lot of variability! Throw in picks and bans, first bloods, first towers, and map objectives and you can have quite the swing in experience from game to game. 

So does ELO Hell exist?

Most players insisting on the existence of ELO Hell will say the majority of their games they are playing at their best and their opponents are at their worst. Even in those games where their MMR is technically middle of the pack or even the worst, they’ll insist they’re a better player than all of their teammates. They explain because they’re constantly stuck with poorer players, they’ll always be losing and hard stuck in their rank.

I believe this way of thinking is rooted in people's unwillingness to take a hard look inwards at their own play. Being able to blame ones problems on the world around them is a bit of a scapegoat approach and a defense mechanism to protect us from the truth: we are not as good as we would like to believe we are. Looking outwards instead of inwards is a wrong way of thinking and approaching the game, and this truth carries all the way up to challenger rank, and probably goes triple as it relates to solo-queue.  At the end of the day we’re only in control of our own play and decision making, and that focus inwards on our own play and improving is truly our only path forward. But believing in an ELO Hell is the opposite of that: it’s blaming our losing games completely on teammates and taking no responsibility for - or learning from - the mistakes we make every game.

Consider this: two players at Gold and Bronze respectively. Both are stuck and struggling at the area they’re at. If we give the Gold player the Bronze account and have them play ranked, the account will no doubt shoot up in rank to mid-Silver in no time. Similarly if you give the Gold account to a Platinum or Diamond player you’ll see immediate gains. Why is this? It’s because the truth of the matter is: we are exactly where we should be in ELO rankings given our current skill and understanding of the game, and the only way to gain rank is to improve ourselves.


We’re experimenting with a coaching service around the shop - talk to myself or Sage about what our program involves. As for myself I’ve been spending a lot of time watching my own replays and studying mobalytics, as well as going to Sage or Slooze with concepts and ideas I’m trying to improve on. There is absolutely value in having another set of eyes (or multiple sets of eyes!) into your play.
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