Tier Lists: When And How To Use Them

While browsing around today, bored out of my mind, I came across a Kotaku article talking about tier lists. In it the writer (Maddy Myers) talks about Street Fighter tier lists and how they relate to her personal experience with Blanka. Namely, she likes and does well enough with Blanka, but Blanka is low tier, therefore tiers are bullshit she concludes. And I think she has a bit of a point. Tier lists are relatively pointless for the vast majority of players; many differences in character tiers in any game only become apparent at the highest levels of skill your average player will never reach. Indeed at low levels of skill, many high tier characters may seem underpowered, as they rely on the flawless execution of complex chains of moves or intimate knowledge of the framing and priority of any given attack.

Still, tier lists are a useful tool and are not entirely based on “bad science” as she states. Most commonly in my experience, they are based around competitive win rates, not theorycrafting of ability or combo effectiveness. Were that the case most fighting games would form tier lists before the game had a proper tournament, which is not generally the case (or they fluctuate wildly from person to person). A lot of weird picks usually do come out close to a game’s release, with the meta becoming apparent after a few major tournaments and “mold breakers” (like Yoshi in Super Smash Brothers 4) only appearing rarely. There is some merit in mid-tier characters being useful in high-level play as an option many have little practice countering, but generally once someone mold-breaks a character (like the aforementioned Yoshi player, aMSa) counters can usually be developed, and it’s there a character proves their longevity and whether they warrant moving up a tier list. Usually this does not happen; given equal skill higher tier characters generally, have an advantage for multiple mechanical reasons over lower ones.


I spent so much time learning the combos for this guy. He was countered by a lot of stuff, unfortunately. Still sad he wasn’t in Soul Calibur V though.

I’ll share her sentiment in another respect though: “Fuck tier lists”…as a hard and fast rule for what you supposedly should play. As we’ve already established, I’m a bit of a video game masochist. Low-mid tier characters in any type of game are my bread and butter. But understanding where you fall on the list and accepting it is useful. It means you’re aware you have an uphill battle against certain characters (particularly if you’re a character that’s only lower tier because another common pick is a hard counter to them) and can work to shore up those weaknesses. Knowing you’re underpowered and winning anyway is the ultimate catharsis in a fighting game; indisputable proof you’re simply better than the other player.

Especially if you dominate them so hard you can suicide for a kill and still come out ahead.

This doesn’t apply simply to fighting games, mind. Most games with a competitive element will have some kind of formal or informal tier list for characters or weapons or ability trees. Many single player games or cooperative ones, for that matter, though tiers are arranged differently in those. They remain a useful tool for, if nothing else, determining what is popular so we contrarians can pick something less popular that seems neat and see how we do.

I’m interested to hear other thoughts on the matter though. I thought Maddy’s was a well thought out article for the most part, even if I disagreed with the train of thought on some. Any third or fourth opinions on tiers out there?

What do you think? Let us know down below

#Tier Lists: When And How To Use Them