Visit any fighting game related web site and you will be sure to see threads about tier lists. In these threads you will usually see people arguing and attacking each other as they try to rank the characters in a particular game in order of best to worst.
There are few better examples of the way in which fighting game community members like to fritter away their precious hours of life than these threads.
The sheer amount of ignorance, stupidity and subjective bigotry illustrated in these threads is enough to make one want to set fire to the entire human race and start all over again.
Before we go any further, one thing should be pointed out:
All characters in most fighting video games are inherently equal
By the end of this article, this will be explained.
So what is a tier list?
Well according to some random person on the Internet posting on the tournament scrub’s favourite site – SRK,
Tier lists are subjective and evolve over time.” Source
This is a fairly common belief of what a tier list is. In fact, it’s total rubbish and provably wrong.
In explaining the line in red above, let’s construct what a tier list actually is and thus get a better understanding of why they are so useless.
As the SRK description above says, the main belief is that a tier list determines how good a character is based on match ups. But as the red line above states, most characters in a game are inherently equal. (There are exceptions). In reality, in most games, every character is 0-0 with every other character.
What is meant by this? It’s very simple.
Let us imagine a game that has what is perceived to be a top tier, broken character and a bottom tier, weak character. The acknowledged match up is 8-2.
Let us match these characters up by starting a game between them. Once the characters have been picked, the controllers are put down and the game starts.
No one is controlling them.
They just stand there.
Video game characters aren’t sentient. They have no ability to do anything themselves.
“Oh very clever, JTF“, I hear you say.
“You went to all this trouble to write this article to make the point video game characters need someone to play them. You are that desperate to make a technically correct, but facile point?”
No and if you stop interrupting me, I’ll explain further.
This point may seem obvious, but it is the crux of why tier lists are so pointless.
Let’s go on…
Let us now suppose we restart the game and this time, each character is controlled by a super computer. Each computer will only attack when it’s 100% safe to do so as it knows if there is even a 1% chance the opponent can counter it will do it every time.
The supposedly top tier character starts doing his moves – spamming safe projectiles for example. The ‘weaker’ character avoids every one of them – he’s being controlled by a super computer. So long as there is just a fraction of a second to avoid a projectile, he will never get hit.
If he has no safe moves of his own to fight back with, he can just keep dancing round the other character who will never do anything other than moves which are 100% safe to make sure he never takes any damage.
Clock runs down – draw every time.
This is the REAL ‘highest level of play’. The 2 characters are being controlled by computers with brains that can calculate in fractions of a second. Neither computer will ever get tired or make a human error.
A supposedly low tier character can dance around a million fire-balls all day and never, ever get hit. He can react immediately to an ultra-quick teleport and always punish. Nothing bothers a character controlled by a super computer.
The point being made here is that the supposedly high tier character is suddenly not high tier any more. All the ‘cheap’ and ‘broken’ stuff it has isn’t a worry to a computer opponent who can think in fractions of a second.
You must understand this point – concepts like ‘cheap’ and ‘broken’ only bother humans with their limited brains and reactions. They don’t natively exist in characters. If you have a fast enough brain to see anything in an instance, then nothing is ‘cheap’ or ‘broken’ to you.
The exception to all of this would be a game where at some point you simply cannot avoid taking damage. For example, you take chip damage and the top tier character can do his broken moves in such a way that the weaker character doesn’t even have a fraction of a second to avoid them and cannot help but take damage. Or perhaps you can build meter and do super type moves which do unavoidable full-screen damage.
In a game like this, where there is literally 0% chance of avoiding damage you could obviously have some characters better than others.
But for all other games, the concept of a tier list is rendered meaningless when the characters are controlled by a computer.
Hopefully this point is understood because it brings us to the heart of what a tier list actually is.
We humans class a character as top tier if it has broken things like safe, spammable, fast projectiles and multiple resets and infinites etc. But these things don’t define the character. Like I said, if the character is controlled by a computer, these things are harmless.
These things define US as humans and that is what a tier list actually attempts to do.
A tier list does NOT, as Internet SRK man above says,
“rank and group characters based on who has the most/least advantaged matches“.
A tier list ranks a human being’s ability to beat a specific character with another character according to the limited skills and ability that particular human being has.
“OK JTF“, you chime in again. “Another great semantic point. Yes, technically that’s right of course, but aren’t you just playing with words? I mean, we all knew that was what SRK man meant anyway…”
Well a lot of people don’t know that but anyway, if you carry on listening, I’ll explain why understanding that particular point about humans is so important.
Let’s use a genuine, real life example now to really hammer home the point.
Let’s use the game Street Fighter IV in this example.
Now I personally have dabbled in Street Fighter IV over the years. You may have seen my super, elite, top class online Zangief on my YouTube channel. (If anyone needs advice about how to mash lariat, feel free to message me).
Anyway, in Street Fighter IV there is a character called C. Viper. This character, in an early iteration of Street Fighter IV was thought to be nothing special until certain ‘high level’ players picked her up and started winning with her. However, on the Internet and at a lower level she continued to be thought of as nothing special.
C. Viper was not a character with brain-dead, broken moves. She required people with good execution skills to win. But, when someone with those skills used her, they were able to win well.
Do we understand the associated point being made here?
Where she was on the tier list had nothing to do with how good ‘she’ was as a character. It had everything to do with what skills the people had who played her.
Thus, at a low level, like Xbox Live, where people have limited skills, a character like C. Viper would never amount to much.
In a environment full of advanced humans with great reflexes and execution skills who can take advantage of her moves, suddenly she shoots up the tier list.
Immediately one of the reasons why tier lists are pointless becomes clear.
If a tier list for a particular game could ever be useful, it could only be useful for people of one specific skill level.
Thus a tier list for Xbox Live players would look nothing like a tier list for Evo top 8 players.
In fact, for a tier list to be useful for you personally, it should only take into account matches played between people of precisely your skill level. Thus every person would need their own tier list.
Are we disgusted with tier lists yet and see why they are futile and pointless?
OK, let’s move on…
Mr. SRK above says,
“Tier lists are subjective and evolve over time.”
Well if they are subjective then what’s the point? Like I just said, everyone would have their own list. How does that help anyone in a community? Surely, a tier list must ultimately be objective otherwise what’s the point of arguing and debating about it and trying to create a community tier list?
(Because that’s what a tier list is REALLY about – it gives argumentative keyboard warriors the chance to try and force their uninformed opinions onto everyone else.)
Of course tier lists are subjective. This is one of the reasons why they are pointless. If the only information you have is that which you have gathered yourself then you are woefully short on information.
People only know what they know. They don’t know what they don’t know. So people make their lists based on their limited experiences, missing out all the information they don’t know. A conclusion based on limited information is always going to be incorrect.
Which brings us to the second point above about tier lists evolving over time.
That’s a lovely, almost scientific sounding phrases isn’t it?
‘Evolves over time…’
Sounds a lot better than, ‘It will be wrong all the time until the very end’.
But that’s what it means, (even assuming it’s right at the end which it won’t be unless you’ve somehow managed to tabulate every eventuality and taken every consideration and every possibility into account).
So basically, when a fighting game community sits down to write a tier list, it’s based on woefully lacking subjective information with the full realisation that what is being written is wrong and will change in the future, (ignoring the added headache of patches and balance-changes etc. which throw everything out and make what is being written even more wrong).
The reality is, that talking to tier-list enthusiasts is a very similar experience to talking to a religious person.
“Look JTF. You don’t understand about them evolving. People make tier lists with the information they have AT A PARTICULAR MOMENT IN TIME”
That’s just another way of saying they are wrong.
“No JTF, it’s not wrong, it’s just what’s right with the limited information available to players at a particular point in time.”
That’s still just using other words to say ‘wrong’.
“NO! It’s not… OK, look. We need to make lists to show people where the characters are with the knowledge we have, as the game evolves.”
“Because it helps to know which characters are more powerful than others.”
How can you know if you don’t have all the knowledge?
“The list EVOLVES and gets more accurate as time goes on.”
We’re back to wrong again.
“Look, people know that tier lists are not accurate while they are being developed. They are just a guide. Over a long period of time, sometimes many years, they evolve to their final form and people then have a fair idea of where the characters are ranked.”
So when people have played the game to death and finally stopped playing it and have moved onto something else then the tier list is likely to be accurate?
What’s the use of that then if people don’t play the game any more? Surely a list would only be useful if it was finished at the height of the game’s popularity?
“LOOK JTF JUST SHUT UP AND LET US MAKE OUR TIER LISTS OK?!!!”
If we take everything said above into consideration we can create a true definition of what a tier list actually is:
A tier list is a collection of information based on the extremely limited subjective experiences of people with differing skill levels who combine their information to make a list which is acknowledged to be consistently wrong due to lack of information and which is inherently flawed as it contains data from people of differing skills and it’s something which keeps changing until people stop playing the game at which point it’s no use to anyone anyway as there’s no one left playing the game.
That sounds so useful… How could any aspiring gamer live without such a precious document to guide his progress through a game…?
The title of this article is ‘Tier Lists Are A Manifestation Of A Mental Disease’ and that’s exactly what they are. They fulfil the need of obsessive people to put things into neat, ordered lists and allow those of a keyboard warrior mentality to argue on Internet message boards.
They aren’t just a waste of time – in many instances they are harmful to a community.
It is often the case that when a tier list is put out by noted and respected members of a community, people dismiss the lower ranked characters and they are left to rot until the day one brave free-thinker picks one of them up and proves they aren’t as bad as they were made out to be.
Of course, one could respond to this by saying that people should not be ‘sheep’ and should not pay attention to what others say and explore characters for themselves.
In that case, why bother making a tier list at all if no one is supposed to pay it any attention?
Aside from giving input into a tier list based on personal experiences, many ‘high level’ players also deliberately don’t tell the truth when ranking certain characters in a game.
I have created the flow-chart below to give an insight into how many of the top ranked players judge where on the tier list a character should be.
Even the rankings used in tier lists are pointless.
If a character is deemed B tier what does that mean? What are the universally recognised characteristics of a B ranked video game character?
There aren’t any. The only use of B is that we know it’s worse than A but better than C.
One man’s B is another man’s A. The letters are meaningless in themselves.
So anyway, back to Internet SRK man and his definition of a tier list. In his definition he talks about match-up charts.
These charts are nothing but people pulling random numbers out of their arse.
People on message boards will argue for days that X character is 6-4 against Y character while others will say no, it is 5-5.
How do they know? It’s all just utter subjective drivel. Especially considering the point above about how lists differ depending on the skill level of the players.
The sheer amount of time that keyboard warriors spend talking utter shit about tier lists is mind-boggling.
What’s worse is that these guys have proof of the rubbish they are talking from previous games yet every new version of a game they still repeat themselves.
Go back to the first 6 months of a game’s release and read the nonsense written about characters. See how ignorant people sounded? Yet every time a game is released, the same old crappy threads on community boards pop up and the same old arguments begin.
For the common sense person, tier lists in their acknowledged form are truly a waste of time.
If you insist on writing character notes to help people new to the community then a better idea than these stupid lists and match-up charts is to write a short, general article.
Perhaps note which characters have cheap, broken moves which the average player can pick up in minutes. Note which characters work best online with moves which can be abused in lag, etc..
For the serious tournament player, highlight the characters which are fully rounded and can compete against rush-down characters and zoning characters.
Highlight generalisations such as a particular character struggles against heavy zoners.
These generalised notes can actually be useful to people looking at choosing characters.
But please, stop with these stupid absolute lists and match-up charts which only serve to highlight the desire for FGC members to spend their whole life talking shit and arguing pointlessly with each other.