I think the problem with lack of players, and getting unbalanced teams is resulting from these game companies:
"Trying to make things fair for the less skilled".
Hear me out:
When xbox 360 came out, with Gears 1, it was a lobby based system. (That was honestly my most fun online. You got to meet people, and literally gel with the same caliber of players in your lobby.)
Because the only way to play is literally “ranked” or “social”, and it “locking” you into a game, it has resulted in a poor user experience, especially for competitive players (whether that be someone intermediate or advanced; someone wanting a fun, serious match.)
I think a way to resolve this is to keep ranked, remove social playlists, then make the custom games a lobby-based viewing choice.
This way if you want to warm up, you can join a match that isn’t full, or if you’re wanting to practice a map over and over, you can literally stay in that lobby to stay with that map (if the host does not change the map.)
The old system was a lot of fun.
Nowadays, you’re “forced” to play in these ranked situations, with players you don’t know, and there’s no microphone communication at all!
Online console play really lost its online touch.
The lobby based system was a solid way to both meet people, get some fun trash talking in with the other team, and keep playing with your same teammates over and over again.
Where did this “play with bots” come in? Really?
If we wanted bots, we’d either play single player, or create a custom game.
Quit trying to make a game that is catered to the “fun players”. Make a game that is competitive, then allow a ranked option, or a custom lobby option which would result in the user deciding to “warm up”, “play the same map over and over”, or even “play with bots”, if they so choose
Others can see this custom lobby menu, and join.
There’s too many options to choose from.
Cater to the core community, as they’re the ones who have kept the game strong.