What's the deal with tier list?


pig's gotta fly
I have played many competitive games where the community had produced a tier list. Whether it was Pokemon or Street Fighter, there were always people that took the tier list as gospel and others that thought tier list were absolute waste of time.

So what do you think about tier list? Are they useful or just the produce of the geek's nature to classify and quantify things.


resident remnant robot relic
This is a tough one to bite off and chew on such an abstract level. I would think it really depends on the game.

As a general proposition it's predicated on the notion that you can transform/weight variable advantages/disadvantages into a common measurement of value (or against each other in some kind of equivalence). And for anything particularly complex with an audience of differing contexts (ie what is easy for a beginner to grasp and improve with vs. what may be highly advantageous to someone at the peak level of mastery, or what is best in one match up or even most match ups on average, may be a bit more problematic in another), this is impossible in an absolute sense. You can however develop tiers for all sorts of games that have a definite relative truth.

I think it does have some meaning in Street Fighter for example, even if someone can come along and upset conventional wisdom from time to time. A novice isn't going to win a fight because they chose Sagat and the professional chose Dan, but at the same time it's impossible to perfectly balance such a wide cast of characters. Some are likely to prove stronger at a given level of play at least on average (by becoming too popular however, a character may become better studied and countered by opponents - meta games can shift).

I was thinking about this in relation to Fire Emblem lately. A series I just got into this year, and that from the games I've been playing (only two so far) - there are very definite tiers, but one has to rank with some qualifications or at least explanation. There is first of all the difficulty of weighing the value of one class with a distinct set of abilities against another without knowing the map/chapter or overall context of team composition. It's certainly easier to rank amongst characters within a class, but even here there are the averages at which a character 's stats will tend to max out through the RNG (and this is objectively measurable, even if it doesn't always provide a definite answer), and then there are other factors such as what point in the game and at what level you acquire them, and what is involved in having them reach their potential. This impacts their usefulness and in specific Fire Emblem games where XP is a bit more scarce and therefore zero-sum in how it is allocated, or for those looking to press through efficiently without grinding or arena abuse, this also has to be weighed against those abstract potentials. Even so, I do think tiers have relative value in ranking Fire Emblem characters.

At the end of the day, as a broad proposition, if applicable at all to a given game we're likely talking about rough guidelines that could even shift with a meta game in the context of some broad competitive communities, not a strict taxonomy grounded in a single reducible metric.


pig's gotta fly
Yeah, I agree with you on many of the points you made.

While different games generate different tier list, they are all based on the idea of two players of equal skill. That works in theory but is very hard to quantify skill in the real world. So we do the next best thing and we base tiers list of the best players.

Any good tier list is based off data. Tier lists can be very abstract and it's important for the community to clearly state what the tier list is showing. For fighting games, a straight tier list is silly, but a match up list is helpful. Match up list usually revolve around the advantages and disadvantages of a particular match up and gives the odds of winning. This is quite different from Pokemon, where the list are made up purely on usage.

Data can only do so much by itself, eventually it has to be analyzed. Not everyone is going to agree on an analysis. One thing I think is important when dealing with tier list as that not everyone agrees. I know in street fighter, there have been great tournament players that main the same character, but disagree on how matches are ranked. So like you said, you can't take tier list as gospel.

Another thing you mentioned about tier list is that meta games change, which can influence the tier list. I am always amused by people making tier list for games that just released. Some games, like Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo, have been around so long that players can pretty much figured the game out. No big changes to the metagame are going to happen. This is the case for most games assuming they have a community that plays them long enough; eventually players totally figure the game out.


Active Member
Me being someone who has been playing fighting games since I was 11 years old, I have realised that tier lists is something, you shouldn't take too seriously. Take them as a grain of salt. Some games like for example, fighting games like Tekken and SF5, might need a tier list. But I have noticed for years, that other games like Virtua Fighter, make tier lists look obsolete.

PS: Wow, I wasn't expecting to see a discussion, about tier lists here. Nice.:)
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