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Tiers and You: The Survivor’s Guide

September 26th, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

Today i’d like explore a phenomenon that has become something of an alarming fascination among the fighting game community: tiering and ranking characters. When a new game comes out, everyone picks their favorite character and arrives at a certain style of play which seems to produce competitive success. Then someone hosts a gathering or tournament, and these differing styles clash. Immediately everyone witnesses the crowning of a particular approach as “the way the game is supposed to be played.”

Based on this information (and countless contests of Forum Theory Fighter), the community drafts a list of character rankings grouped by dominance. These tiers are built from the top down, starting from the character who best embodies “the way the game is supposed to be played.”

If the community decides that the game is based on Low Fierce, then (CvS2) Sagat and Blanka find themselves at the top. If the community decides that the game is based on AHVB, then (MvC2) Cable finds himself at the top. If the community decides that the game is based on Back+Fierce, then (3S) Chun Li finds herself at the top. Everyone else’s worth is determined by how well they can cope with the kings (or queens) of the hill.

Now it’s very easy to get tricked into a desperate situation where conventional wisdom forces you to give up on your perferred character. The trouble is, if that character speaks to you then you could be giving up on a massive opportunity to carve out your own niche. Why downgrade to conventional knowledge when it goes against your play style and your instincts? It’s always going to feel slightly awkward.

The bigger problem is, nobody can tell when a game is done evolving. Did anybody see Yun or Makoto coming? Not in those days! In fact, more people chose Yang to fight against Chun. I remember when CvS1 Guile was considered mid-tier. Then we heard Daigo was using him and everything changed. Oddly enough, CvS2 rolled around and again Guile was considered mid-tier. Then we heard Daigo was using him and everything changed. Now he’s considered top tier or slightly below at worst.

The moral of the story is, don’t be so quick to buy into what the crowd thinks. All they’re offering is a shortcut, but it could be a shortcut heading into the wrong destination or a shortcut that gets you lost.

Of course the biggest challenge is finding a way to overcome those daunting 7-3 matchups against popular characters. But more often than not, it can be done if you spend a little time in training mode searching for answers. Misconceptions can circulate for unbelievable amounts of time through conventional knowledge. All it takes is one person quoting a “reliable” source and everyone instantly embraces it as vital truth. Then nine months passes by and suddenly people can’t even remember how they used to lose to Doom/Blackheart.

Obviously if tier lists are built from the top down, then demoting one character from the top drastically alters the roster landscape. Suddenly characters who never got played because they couldn’t beat that one character are instantly lucrative. And the sad thing is, if you’d stuck with her from the beginning, you’d find yourself miles ahead of the curve.

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  1. Kareeeeem
    September 29th, 2009 at 11:46 | #1

    It’s kind of silly sticking with a low tier because she ‘might’ be good in a next iteration but sticking with a character that works for YOU is gonna bring you more fun and succes than running after the top tier.

    It can get frustrating though :(

  2. September 29th, 2009 at 13:13 | #2

    Oh it can definitely get frustrating. But all it takes is one move to turn the tide – one move that counters an important poke or solves an abusable mixup.

    I’m not saying it’s a good idea to play a character hoping for someone else to hand you a breakthrough. I’m just saying that if a character seems strong to you while everyone else is saying they suck, it’s not always a good idea to listen. Especially when a game is new, there’s a lot that can change and you might actually know your way around important matchups that the community at large doesn’t.

  3. onreload
    September 29th, 2009 at 18:22 | #3

    …and yes, people are already talking about ‘overpowered’, ‘broken’, etc. about SSFIV. Doesn’t bother me, I’m sticking with Gief and gonna try T.Hawk ’cause I love me some 360 action.

    I think the worst thing people can do to their game is fall back on an easy character. A lot of the time when I play 3s online, someone might try one or two unique characters, then when they lose, they end up using Ken over and over…I don’t think it’s bad to use multiple characters, but if you’ve got a main who’s losing a lot, you gotta fight it out and figure out why.

  4. Ryukenden
    February 2nd, 2010 at 14:42 | #4

    Top players play all characters in the game, well, at least more than 50% of characters. So they can’t “miss” their best. Tier list simply showed them what they already would know.

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