The Problem of Smurfs in F2P (And How to Fix It)

Bloodline Champions had a smurfing problem, but it wasn’t the only one. Just look at Dota 2, CS:GO, LoL, Starcraft 2, etc. Those communities are constantly complaining about smurfs and how they ruin the game for everyone else. Is it a problem that can be fixed? Maybe.

First, a definition:

A smurf is an experienced player who plays on alternate accounts.

Smurfing exists when there is a competitive environment and players can freely create new accounts to play under. So if a game is F2P and uses some form of ranked matchmaking, then there’s a good chance it will have smurfs.

In this article, we’ll explore why people smurf, why it’s so problematic, and some ideas on how to solve it.

The Many Reasons for Smurfing

Smurfing isn’t always malicious. It can be, but there are also legitimate reasons for playing on a non-main account. To the best of my knowledge, these are the most common reasons for smurfing:

  • Recalibrate MMR. If a player doesn’t think his main account’s MMR is accurate, he’ll play on a new account to get a more “accurate” rating. This depends on how the system itself works, though.
  • Faster queue times. There will always be more newbies than experts in any game that isn’t already dead. The higher one’s rank, the fewer players there are to match against, meaning long waits between matches.
  • Easy tournament rewards. With the in-game tournament system, some players would smurf to play in the amateur tournaments (which had a grade cap restriction) and beat newbies for easy results and rewards.
  • Self-satisfaction. Players may smurf in queues — both ranked and unranked — simply to beat down on weaker players and feel better about themselves. This can be a form of relief after going on a losing streak.
  • Play with friends. What if an expert player wants to play alongside his newbie friend? Either the newbie has to play at the expert’s level or the expert has to play at the newbie’s level. Smurfing is less damaging to the newbie friend’s experience of the game.

It is what it is. Yet even though some of the reasons are valid, the question is whether or not the ability to smurf is a net gain or a net loss to a game’s overall quality. Some people are fine with it, but many argue that it’s detrimental.

Kill the smurfs before the smurfs kill the game.

Why Smurfing Is Such a Problem

In a game like Battlerite, which will presumably have the same in-game tournament system that Bloodline Champions had, the problem actually has two parts — queue smurfs and tournament smurfs — but they have the same roots.

The main problem is that smurfing ruins the newbie experience. Some players hate getting ratings boosts from playing alongside a smurf, but those folks are rare. The real victims are the players who are on the team opposite the smurf, the ones who have to eat the losses.

No matter what game you play, the complaint against smurfing is always the same: it’s simply unfair.

What’s the point in playing against someone who’s way better than you and decimates you with zero effort? The entire idea of matchmaking is that you should be getting matched against players of similar skill. Smurfing destroys the integrity of the queue system, which is why it’s so harmful.

Smurfers usually have a canned response to all of this: “Playing against people who are better than you is how you get better yourself. Suck it up and keep playing. This is all good for you.” But this is just naive at best, disingenuous at worst.

Newbies get better by playing against players who are slightly better than they are, and only if they have some tips or guidance. What can a Bronze learn from getting stomped by a Diamond? Not much. It’s nothing more than abuse and it’s not fun to be in that position.

There’s one more reason why smurfing is so harmful: If you’re a Bronze newbie playing against another “Bronze” smurf and that smurf is absolutely wrecking you, wouldn’t that make you feel like you suck? “If this guy is Bronze and he’s this good, then I must really suck.”

It’s deceptive, but a newbie wouldn’t know that. They might just conclude that “Battlerite is too hard, I’m just bad, and this game isn’t for me” and decide to quit. And that’s how the playerbase hemorrhages until the game one day dies.

The Solution: Verified Accounts

When you boil it down, the problem is that it’s way too easy for players to create multiple accounts. In a game with an upfront price tag, it’s less of an issue because most players aren’t willing to drop another $60 just to smurf.

But in F2P? There’s no limiting force.

Valve recently implemented something called Prime Matchmaking for CS:GO. In short, players can upgrade an account to Prime status by binding the account to a phone number (once a phone number is bound, it cannot be bound to other accounts) and join a separate queue only for Prime accounts.

It’s a brilliant and elegant solution — one that Battlerite should use.

Maybe Battlerite accounts could unlock verified status by binding a phone number or credit card number. Then, only verified accounts could join ranked queue and participate in tournaments. Maybe there could be non-verified tournaments with no rewards.

I prefer the phone number option because everyone has at least one phone number whereas credit card numbers are only for 18+ players. Plus, inputting a credit card number always open the risk for database hackers and what not gaining access to that sensitive data.

Anyway, the binding of a unique real-life identifier would be enough to stop smurfs from ruining the newbie experience in ranked queues and tournaments. Are there loopholes? I’m sure there’s at least one, but I can’t think of any at the moment. Leave it to Valve to be brilliant when necessary.

On paper, it’s the only idea that really works in F2P.

One common suggestion is to adding a timewall or paywall to new accounts to discourage smurfs — e.g. don’t allow queues until an account is level 25 or only paid accounts can queue — but these are bad because they also harm actual newbies.

Another common suggestion is to restrict accounts based on IP address so that every IP can only play one account — but this is unfair to dorms, Internet cafes, and households with siblings.

So, yeah. If you have any ideas to combat smurfing, please share it below! I’d love to hear your thoughts. Otherwise, answer this: are you okay with smurfing or do you think it’s detrimental to the game?


He is the lead writer at Battlecrank. You can find him on the Battlecrank Discord.

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24 Comments on "The Problem of Smurfs in F2P (And How to Fix It)"

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Holy molly! That CS:GO Prime-account thing was really smart. I hope Battlerite will use it, or find an even better solution 🙂


Good call! As an addition: I personally know a few guys, who used to smurf to gain more free in-game loot/buying more champions to progress faster due to lack of money/Bloodcoin weekly cap etc.


I’m a huge fan of the verified account idea. Let people play ranked only if they bind something like a steam account, phone number, FB account, CC, or PayPal account to it, with only one possible account each.

Not so sure about the FB account, unless this is perfectly anonymous. No other player should be able to track what FB you linked with.

But generally I think a mix between these would be the most powerful. Have somebody link a steam account, plus maybe a phone number.


Hi Zanetski, I have been gone for quite some time due to personal reasons but I’m finally back!
I agree with what you’re saying about smurfs however I believe that you missed one aspect of it and that your solution isn’t the right one.

I have personally found myself smurfing often in MOBA’s simply for the reason that I want an account where I don’t care as much about the result, I play more for fun than to win. The goal of this account isn’t to stomp noobs or recalibrate my MMR it is simply to have fun which means that I actually want to face the same level of opponents that I do on my main account.

The solution that you suggested is a good one but it does make it difficult for people that smurf for non-harmful reasons. Imo the real solution to smurfing is an MMR or ELO system that quickly catches on to smurfs. My experience with smurfing in Smite for example is that I quickly get matched up with other high level opponents and the same applies to Dota.

A system like that minimizes the damage a smurf can do while it still lets people who benefit from a secondary account play a smurf. As long as Battlerite doesn’t have a huge wall of things to be unlocked from in game grinding this would be better imo.


Warning: Long

You forgot one other reason why people smurf, one for which is I created my other account: just to try entirely new champions and playstyles, who you have absolutely no idea about. At the time I didn’t feel like losing my grade and so, there was the solution. Altough I pretty much wrecked the absolute beginners I plateaued out over time at around my main account’s ranking.

Smurfs are a bad thing, for sure, but your propositions aren’t solving the problem that well. Having to bind a phone number is a technological barrier, not to mention a credit card. It’s just recently that I got one so I wouldn’t be able to play in the “balanced” matchmaking for the greater part of my life anyway. So count out any kids and maybe people from less developed countries and people that can’t be bothered to do any extra bullshit (90% of people)

● Regarding queue smurfing
No matter how great a smurf prevention you’d have you could never entirely eliminate smurfing since in the end the players might just play bad on purpose (or drunk :D) just to derank or something. Complicated system would be confusing and likely do more harm than good for the newbies. We could spend weeks thinking about a system but in the end people are smart and they will find a way to abuse it, just by the cumulative brute thinking force of all players.

Personally I’d go for the good ol’ timewall. Having to grind some shit is pretty annoying once you know how to play the game and a new player won’t mind much at all. It’s quite effective and simple, which is an important feat.

● Regarding tournament smurfing
Unlike the former there is no solution to let worse players win, well… anything ever!
Why should a lower diamond never win anything compared to top silver winning every silver tournament?

You can’t artificially restrict tournament attendants just like you can’t forbid birds to fly. There are rules of nature in play here. The best players get the best rewards, the next best players get next best rewards and so on. That is how it works in real life.
If you want mediocre players be given a reward then every single player superior to them should get a better one. That is the only way to keep them from sneaking in the low-skill tournaments. Skill-restricted tournaments are just a no-go.

Sorry it’s so fucking long but I overthink things. Cheers!