Tier Lists: What They Are and Why They Exist - Vermanubis Blog - www.GameInformer.com
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Tier Lists: What They Are and Why They Exist

Alright. First, let me start off by saying that there are two types of players when it comes to competitive games. There are the casual players who play for the sheer hell of it and don't really dig too deep. Then there are the hardcore players, who study the games to the very last facet to become the very best at what we do.

Now, throughout fighting game history, these two sides have not always seen eye-to-eye on a certain subject. That subject is that of tiers and tier lists. The casuals make the argument that if you're good enough with a character, that it shouldn't matter what tier the other character is. This very argument is one that still pervades the genre to this day, and one I will be dispelling in this... whatever. Blog is just a gay word cyber-hipsters use to describe their memoirs that nobody cares about, lol.

Everyone makes little informal tier lists though. But to make a tier list, the utmost care has to go into the observation of every facet of a given character to determine their worth. Some more casual players find characters like Ike and Ganondorf cheap, when in reality, they're two of the most horrifically disadvantaged characters to ever be created in a game. Instead of looking at superficial traits like "DUR HUR IKE AND GANON ARE STRONG AND CAN KILL ME SUPER EARLY SO THEY MUST BE CHEAP AH HYUCK", we look at factors such as "Well, Ike and Ganon are both horribly sluggish and susceptible to almost every projectile. Their respective strong "cheap" moves also have appalling ending lag, which means if I shield their attack, I get a free hit!". Tier lists represent the in-depth options each character has in a realistic setting with both players utilizing most/all of their options, not how good horrible moves can work assuming the other player is too stupid to press the shield button.

Before I begin though, to those of you that don't know, allow me to move the rock. A tier list is a list of all the characters in any given game's placement or ranking. A top tier character, such as Wario in Smash Bros. Brawl, Sagat in Street Fighter IV or V-13 in BlazBlue is a character that is unanimously considered to have a significant advantage over the rest of the cast. Middle tiers are fairly balanced characters and low tiers are characters that are at a profound disadvantage.

Now, with that out of the way, let me elucidate how tier lists are made,why tier lists are created and why they're to be taken seriously.

First of all, a tier list is created through an arduous process. There are several factors to consider when beginning a tier list. Fighting games are truer to their archetype than any other genre, and with this being said, one can gather that all fighting games share similar mechanics. I'll list those universal mechanics:

----Approaching. In fighting games, you have to get near your opponent to hit them, right? 99.999999% of the Earth's gamer population won't suck enough to lose solely to projectiles, or even get damaged much by them period. An approach is how effectively the character can, as the name implies, approach the opponent. Whether it be through superior range, priority or speed. Having a good approach is paramount in being a good, viable character.

Example: Ganondorf in Brawl. He is the slowest character in the game. He has the slowest aerial speed and second slowest ground speed next to Jigglypuff. He also lacks long-range moves. This means that he has an EXTREMELY difficult time landing hits on the opponent, or even getting near them for that matter. Then we have someone like Marth who has one of the best approaches in the game. Most of his aerials have extremely long range, so he can create a wall with these aerials to force his way near the opponent. He is also incredibly quick in the air and on the ground.

----Projectiles. Yes, I said earlier that you won't lose to projectiles. But they have a lot more uses than just for brute force. They can stop approaches, force approaches and rack up decent damage depending on how good the projectile is. Using Brawl as another example, Falco has the best projectile in the game. It is very quick, spammable and has a lot of knockback, which can make the opponent stagger, which creates an opening for attack. Forcing an approach is using a long range projectile that is difficult to dodge consistently (Falco's laser) to pressure the opponent into attacking to avoid taking too much damage from the projectile.

----Punishing. Punishing is taking advantage of the ending lag of an opponent's failed attack to land your own. Iron Tager in BlazBlue is slower than old people fornicating, but he has several moves that can make an opponent wish they never attacked. Whereas someone like Hakumen can't punish very well, since most of his attacks are extremely slow.

----Priority. In fighting games, there are hitboxes. Hitboxes are invisible bubbles or squares that line whatever you're attacking with that damage your opponent if it meets their damagebox. Priority refers to how disjointed a move is and how well it can cancel out other attacks. Meta Knight's tornado move is considered to be one of the highest priority moves in Brawl. It is almost impossible to hit him while he is using it. Whereas Captain Falcon has next to zero priority, and most moves will out-prioritize his.

----Speed. Pretty self-explanatory. All-around attack, running and air speed. Meta Knight is the all-around fastest character in the game with the fastest attacks in the game, decent aerial speed, great ground speed and almost zero ending lag. Having no ending lag also means that a move is not punishable, as it leaves no window of vulnerability. Meta Knight's down-smash is the fastest attack in the game at 11 frames. The game runs at 60 FPS, so do the math, that's a sixth of a second from start to finish.

----Match-ups. Match-ups are one of the most important things to know in a fighting game if you want to perform well. Match-ups describe the relationship between two given characters. They incorporate all of the aforementioned facets into a more specific setting. It's best to exemplify this, as it's otherwise difficult to explain. Ganondorf versus Olimar. Considered the worst match-up in the game at a 100:0 disadvantage ratio for Ganondorf. It is considered impossible. The reason being because almost every bit of Olimar's moveset counters Ganondorf's. He is small, thus hard to hit. He has the longest grab range in the game, which means Ganondorf can't approach from the ground. His only option is the air. But in the air, Olimar can still throw Pikmin to knock him back and rack up serious damage. Ganondorf has literally no viable options against Olimar. In a nutshell, match-ups measure the opponent's viable options against each other in relation to the other's options.

These factors are heavily debated for months on end and finally decided upon for each character. And depending on how much of each trait a character possesses, and how well they perform against the rest of the cast, they are assigned a numeric value for every pro or con they possess. V-13 in BlazBlue has a numeric value of 15.00, whereas Iron Tager, being at the very bottom, is -11.00.

Now, with all of that in mind, think about how being incredibly good with a certain character might not be good enough in some situations. I'm not boasting, rather, using it as a point of example, but, I am one of the top 3 Ganondorf users in Europe and North America. But if I go up against even a mediocre Olimar, I'm going to have a very slim chance of winning, since I have almost zero options.

You see, tier lists, match-ups and all the sort are all about options. No matter how good you are, you can't make your character any faster, you can't make your opponent any less quick. You can't make your moves reach farther, etc. Tier lists are born of the analysis of disadvantages.

But there is one thing that is true. Tier lists DO NOT determine outcomes. This is easily the most preposterous and, sadly, commonplace misconception about tier lists. Tier lists, simply put, are charts showcasing the result of thorough character-to-character analysis. What they do determine is how much more player A has to outplay player B by. If I take Ganondorf against Olimar, I'm not going to automatically lose, but I'm going to need to outplay the Olimar by at least five-fold and think three steps ahead.

This same maxim applies to all fighting games and consequently, all tier lists. Tier lists are not random garbage that pros throw around to justify wins/losses. They are in-depth, hard-won analyses through months of observation and documentation. They are created with two characters of equal or similar skill level in mind, as a matter of sheer character superiority. So, at that, I hope everyone learned something about fighting games and tier lists. Because in the fighting game world, nothing irritates people more than being told that tier lists are garbage, when in fact, they contain more information than your mind could handle in one sitting. Tier lists exist, whether your want to accept it or not.

Also, for your viewing pleasure and for the lulz, here's the current Super Smash Bros. Brawl tier list, which is version 3.0, issued by the Smash Back Room (SBR). S tier is for the most elite characters. Characters with very few weaknesses and exploits. A tier contains highly privileged characters whose exploits and weaknesses are few and far between, but still present. B tier holds characters that are all-around good, but have weaknesses that need compensating for. C tier is home to characters that possess equal amounts of strengths and weaknesses. D tier for characters who have more weaknesses than strengths. E is for characters whose strengths are sparse, but still present. F tier is for characters who are profoundly disadvantaged in almost every aspect and possess only a small handful of satisfactory traits.

S: Meta Knight, Snake, Wario, Falco, Diddy Kong, King Dedede

A: Marth, Mr. Game & Watch, Pikachu, Olimar, Ice Climbers, R.O.B., Kirby

B: Lucario, Zero Suit Samus, Toon Link, Pit, Donkey Kong

C: Peach, Luigi, Fox, Wolf, Sonic, Sheik

D: Bowser, Zelda, Pokémon Trainer, Ike

E: Lucas, Mario, Ness, Yoshi, Samus

F: Jigglypuff, Captain Falcon, Link, Ganondorf

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