The secret to success in PVP has always been getting the most “bang for your buck” in matchmaking. You always want the strongest team for the lowest amount of power possible.
What most players didn’t realize was that every single points of power you add to your heroes needs to be optimized since adding 1,000 power to your hero means that enemy teams will also have 1,000 more power on average. In order to maximize your wins you need to make sure that you spend your power in far more useful ways (usually stars) than the large majority of your opponents - and if you stick to that approach the large majority (90%+) of your matches will be easy wins.
Previously people would try to get around this by underleveling skills that were bad or didn’t scale well, but matchmaking accounts for that now so that has led us to two forms of smurfing:
Don’t level your heroes if their abilities scale poorly. Matchmaking won’t punish you for having lower level skills if you keep your heroes low too.
Don’t promote your heroes if their next skill isn’t top-tier.
The problem also gets dramatically worse as the promotions go higher. Most golds are honestly already not worth it, they may be decent but I’d say only 10-15 are truly worth the ~1-2 stars of power you “pay” to gain them. Mandrake, Keel, Phalanx, Caine, Fortress, Heimlock, Heckler, Flatline, Halo, Sentry, and Baron are currently the only “100% worth it” gold skills - for platinum skills I would argue that NONE of the current platinum skills justify the huge power cost.
To illustrate I’ll discuss what happened with my first Plat hero. I reviewed all the plat skills in the game and decided that Phalanx probably had the best overall Platinum skill (it gives bonus health and damage to the entire team as long as everyone is alive). However by promoting from Gold to Plat I ended up increasing Phalanx’s power by over 3,000. Meanwhile, for that same amount of power I could’ve given Phalanx at least THREE MORE STARS, which would easily have boosted the strength of ‘Team Magshield’ to give more of a benefit than the entire plat skill - along with making Phalanx herself much stronger than the promotion to Plat did. I tried again with Caine, another hero with an excellent plat skill (+5% crit and ____ more crit bonus for the entire team) - same story, I gained over 3,000 power on Caine but realized that crits aren’t that strong in Hero Hunters, when I could’ve just given him 3 stars and gotten a much bigger bonus to his bronze/gold skill that would’ve helped his healing/survivability much more.
Some people are even figuring out that it’s smarter to leave heroes like Prophet/Artemis on green because auto-attacking is their biggest strength and they can do tremendous damage while only “costing” as much power as a 4 star gold hero.
I expect plenty of people to come in and say “No way! My Gold/Plat __________ is the best and their Gold/Plat skill has won me so many games!” but it’s a fallacy simply because nobody can compare how those heroes would’ve done if they weren’t promoted and had been fed stars instead - nobody can really compare how a 7-star bronze razorback would compare with a 5-star gold because you can’t experiment with both on the same account. So promoting “good” heroes like Razorback doesn’t suddenly make them trash and their silver/gold/plat skills aren’t USELESS, but the simple fact is that it’s not OPTIMAL - and that’s the problem. The reality is that if two identical teams face off but one has a 5-star plat razorback and the other has a 10-star bronze, despite being similar in power, the 10-star bronze razorback will have a clear advantage.
Of course tournaments still encourage higher power levels but the effect is limited because farming easy wins is more important than getting more points per win - and even then we see players like ‘Jeffmykelldotcom’ able to dominate Panzer tournaments with a bronze panzer (despite missing out on 75,000 points per win compared to plat panzers) because it’s more efficient to stomp people with a 99% win rate at 25k-30k power than it is to score with an 85% win rate at 60k power - and that’s not even accounting for the faster wins or extra crates you get (which is a big deal too).
There are hacky solutions to this like changing crate rewards or PVP gem income to scale with power, but that risks screwing over new players who need them. The smartest solution has always been to refactor how power works so that either (1) nerf stars so that they aren’t superior to promotions or (2) buff skills and promotions so that people don’t have an incentive to ‘avoid’ them.