How is Elo calculated in League of Legends? : Detailed Guide (2023)

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Richard James
Richard James
17 Min Read
Image via West Studio

Whether you are a hard-stuck Iron or someone who has just climbed out of the grasps of Gold and have finally hit Platinum, there’s a lot more to the Elo system than you might have initially thought. You’ll need to be quite adept with your role in League of Legends before you hop on to Ranked though!

In hindsight, the Elo system is meant to quantify your skill relative to other players in your region. However, is it really all that accurate? To answer that, one needs to take a deep dive into how your Elo is calculated in the first place.

What is Elo in League of Legends?

Contrary to popular belief, the Elo system is not exclusive to League. In fact, it is heavily inspired by the way players are rated with their Elos in Chess. Even the name Elo is taken from the inventor of the system, Arpad Elo, a Hungarian-American professor and chess player.

In League of Legends though, the system is used to quantify one’s prowess in Ranked matches. As of yet, the system is not used for both custom and Co-Op vs. AI games. While not explicitly mentioned, an aspect of hidden MMR is known to exist for Unranked matches as well where players are matched with others that are more-or-less in the same skill group.

Seasonal Ratings

Credits: Mobafire

Under the hood, Riot Games uses a 4-digit number in its arithmetic process just like Chess. However, in order to make the entire system more accessible and readable, rank names with further sub-divisions have been included, these are:

RankRank Distribution
Silver32.0% (Average)
Rank Distribution of the NA Region (2023)

Note: On average, you can expect a difference of about ~1-10% depending on the region in terms of their overall Rank Distribution.

What is Elo in LoL?

Everyone who creates a new account starts with the same Elo. Winning or losing a match dictates whether you will gain or lose Elo. If you are matched up with a team that you were expected to not have won against, you will gain a larger amount of Elo. On the other hand, if your team was met with an unexpected loss against a weaker team, you will lose a larger amount of Elo.

Over a large period of time, your solo rank will eventually be an accurate representation of your skill. While the amount of matches or the period of time it takes for that to happen is debatable, generally, you will reach your actual rank in 50-100 matches regardless of what happens in them.

How Is Elo Calculated?

How Elo is calculated in League of Legends - Jace splash art.
Image via West Studio

While the exact implementation of what League of Legends Elo remains unknown, as mentioned earlier, it takes heavy inspiration from the game of Chess. As such, we can expect the arithmetic that is being used to stay the same amongst both games.

Surprisingly, the overall calculation of one’s Elo is done through the usage of an extremely simple formula which is still being used in Chess.

You don’t need to know everything about this particular formula to get an idea of how Elo is calculated. We’ll keep things simple. Rb and Ra are the expected outcomes of you winning as compared to the other team. In essence, the Elo system is designed to place your correct rank as quickly as possible. In order to do so, a player’s overall Elo gain is controlled by their K rating. The rating is higher for players who have played fewer matches as compared to ones who have multiple matches.

This is done so that your Elo isn’t decreased dramatically if you are met with toxic teammates, have a slew of bad matches, or just aren’t feeling it. Therefore, your overall rank gain is increased in a dramatic fashion depending on your previous performance.

Calculating Team Performance

Ever wondered why you are always matched with a team that is almost as good as you? (Except the occasional smurf of course.) Well, the answer is simple, the algorithm mentioned above is used by Riot games to place you in nail-biting fun matches and are generally meant to have a win probability of about 50% for either side.

Related: How to Calculate Combat Score in Valorant

Unlike Chess though, League of Legends is a team game. Therefore, the Elo system assesses your personal skill within the context of your team. For example, if you played exceptionally well while your team fed or if you had a lackluster performance while your team carried you, you will see a difference in the amount of Elo / MMR you gain or lose accordingly.

What Are Elo Resets in League of Legends?

League of Legends screenshot

Riot is changing how it performs Elo resets in 2023. In an effort to make the Ranked experience more enjoyable for beginners and experienced players alike, there will now be two resets and ranked seasons per year, instead of one. The first reset is in January, with the second coming sometime in the summer.

The promotion series between ranks is getting a change, too. Previously, you used to have to win a best-of-five series to advance rank tiers. After these changes, that will be changed to a best-of-three, instead.

Twice per year, when a reset comes around, your MMR will be increased or decreased depending on how close you are to the average Elo of the game.

For example, if you had 2300 Elo (fairly high), you might be dropped down to as low as 1700. However, if you had a rating of 1500 originally, your rating might drop by just a few points. With ranked calibration games, you will notice an increased amount of overall MMR gain or loss which should bring you back to your actual Elo level in 30-40 games.

How Do Placement / Calibration Matches Work in LoL?

If you’ve ever wondered as to how many matches you need to play to get calibrated at a higher rank, the answer can never be the same for two players. However, as a general rule, winning your first few calibration games will net you a higher rank as compared to if you were winning one and then losing them in succession.

Is Elo / MMR in League of Legends Fair?

As mentioned earlier, Riot tries to create engaging and competitive matches for all players regardless of their rank. However, a disparity still exists. On average, you will win about 55% of your games regardless of your rank. Therefore, in the long run, you will end up gaining MMR and Elo.

If you end up having a win rate higher than 54% over a month or two, it shows personal improvement rather than just the skewness of the system. Moreover, you’ll also be able to match up against players who are slightly higher-skilled than you which you have a chance of winning against. Plus, this helps reduce overall queue times by a significant margin.

How Elo is calculated in League of Legends - Caitlyn splash art.
Image via West Studio

Moreover, if you play with a stack, each of your individual’s MMR will be slightly inflated (by up to 5%) depending on the number of people you are queuing with. This is because Riot theorizes that five players who belong to the same stack will be more coordinated than five randoms, therefore they’ll end up performing better.

So, if you want to play a higher quality match than normal, you can stack up with players who have almost the same rank as you in order to be matched against players that have a higher average Elo than your usual matches.

In short, the League of Legends rating system tries its best to remain fair. However, due to lower player counts at specific times, the randomness of players disconnecting, a player not performing to their usual caliber (or overperforming), you might not always be on the right end of the spectrum. However, given enough matches, all players ultimately end up reaching their actual rank.

The Smurf Queue Explained

Smurfs are the bane of many a League player’s existence. The idea of high-skilled players making new accounts to stomp on beginners is hardly new – every competitive game has that problem. How Riot deals with these smurfs, though, is incredibly innovative.

How Elo is calculated in League of Legends - Bewitching Morgana splash art.
Image via West Studio

When a smurf makes a fresh account, they’re obviously going to dominate their first several games. They’re being put up against newer players that have just installed the game. Meanwhile, their main is Diamond and they have 1000 hours on record.

This ruins the experience for new and experienced players alike, which is why Riot developed a solution to stop this from happening.

If League of Legends detects unusual results for your playtime on your account – going 30 / 0 on a brand new account, for example, it’s going to be flagged. If you continue to far outperform your rank / time investment bracket, your account will be labeled a smurf.

When this happens, you’ll be put into games with other smurf accounts and kept out of general matchmaking. So, if you’re thinking about smurfing, that should dissuade you. It should also give you the confidence to know that the enemy smashing your team is having a good game. They’re not smurfing, most of the time.

What is the Loser Queue?

The Loser Queue has been a community myth that’s not just plagued League, but practically every competitive Esports game on the market.

There are a few versions of the myth. One claims that in a ranked competitive game mode, going on a win strike will result in you being placed with teammates that have all lost their recent games. Another claim is that losing games repeatedly results in the same thing.

This first statement, that going on a win streak gets you put in a loser queue, is based on the idea of win percentage-based matchmaking. If you win a lot of games in a row, your win percentage climbs. According to this theory, the game will try to balance your team with the enemy by calculating and matching the average win percentage of each team.

How Elo is calculated in League of Legends - Divine Phoenix Anivia splash art.
Image via West Studio

If you have a win percentage of 80, you’ll get matched with teammates who have low win percentages to balance that out. Whereas your opponents may all have a regular 50% win percentage, your team may consist of you, and four players with a 30% win percentage. Due to your outlier figure, the average of the two teams will still add up.

This version of the loser queue is plausible and based on data. It assumes that the matchmaking system is based on win percentage, though, which has never been confirmed.

The second loser queue myth is much more troublesome, and the more popular theory of the two. It claims that when you lose games, you’ll be paired with teammates that are also on a losing streak. Why? According to the stats and figures, this keeps players engaged. Players on a losing streak tend to play more, and that looks good to investors.

Does the Loser Queue Exist?

There are a few bits of circumstantial evidence backing up the existence of a loser queue. First, Riot does have a patent on its matchmaking systems, so we know there’s some substantial and unique code in there. What’s more, this type of matchmaking has been employed by developers in the past – Call of Duty is notorious for it.

There are countless community reports of players finding out that they’re in a loser queue by asking their teammates about their records, too.

That being said, Riot has constantly denied the existence of a losers queue, and there’s nothing but community speculation backing up the idea that it’s real. So, does it exist? Officially, no, but you can make up your own mind.

The Final Take – Ratings and Elo

Your actual rank (Gold V, Iron I, etc) is not used for matchmaking. Instead, your Elo rating is. Here’s a quick comparison between both:

Winning / Losing A Game ChangesChanges
Dodging A MatchSameChanges
Not Playing For Extended Durations (MMR Decay)ChangesSame

A few other takeaways that you should be aware of regarding the differences between Elo and Rank in League of Legends:

  • Since your Rank is not used for matchmaking, you might end up being matched with players who have the same Elo as you but have a different rank. (For example, a Bronze IV dodging all his promotion matches and ending up in a Diamond lobby.)
  • You will experience lesser gain in Elo as you move up a Division. While this isn’t an explicit rule per se, the consensus primarily is that Riot feels that it should be harder for players to move up a division.

If you’ve ever felt like your rank was holding you down, it probably isn’t. While there are a few factors that can sway your rank, you will ultimately get the rank you deserve in 30-50 matches.

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If he isn't sleeping, Richard is probably spending his time goofing around in Elden Ring or getting his sweats on in Valorant. With a keen passion for everything FPS, you won't be winning a 1v1 off him anytime soon!
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