A tier list is a list of playable characters or other elements of a video game, subjectively ranked by their respective viability in high-level competitive settings. Characters listed high on a tier list of a specific game are considered to be powerful characters compared to lower-scoring characters, and are therefore more likely to be used during tournaments. Tier lists are popular in fighting games such as the Street Fighter and Super Smash Bros. series, and multiplayer online battle arena titles such as League of Legends and Dota 2, in addition to hero shooter titles such as Overwatch and Paladins.
When a competitive game gets an update, a question that arises is how the changes in the game will affect the tier list. Even when no balancing changes actually took place, the inclusion of new characters or new systems can affect tier lists. In fighting games, the strength of a character is always held relative to that of other characters, meaning that something that is strong in one fighting game does not necessarily have to be strong in another. The metagame may shift over time as dominant strategies get overturned using less popular characters.
Tier rankings may be listed using letter gradings. The competitive community surrounding Guilty Gear Xrd, for instance, ranks characters as 'S', 'S-', 'A+', and 'A', where 'S tiers' are particularly powerful and 'A tiers' less so. Major video game news websites such as The Daily Dot and Kotaku may publish their own tier lists for popular games. 'S' tier may mean "Superb" or "Super" and may originate from academic grading in Japan.
For a game like Super Smash Bros. Melee, which was released in 2001 and has not been updated since, but is still popular in tournament settings, characters originally overpowered remain that way, due to their inability to receive character balancing updates. Different versions of the game may have different tier lists as well. The website Smashboards bases its yearly tier lists for the Super Smash Bros. series on polling results.
Writing for Kotaku, Maddy Myers noted that characters that are considered low-tier have an advantage over higher-tiered characters, as players have less experience dealing with low-tier characters and often underestimate them. Myers stated that "the element of surprise can only get you so far, but it's still an undeniable asset. And one that the bottom third of every tier list enjoys." Already popular characters may also rise in tier lists because high-level players establish and iterate on their combos and techniques. Myers also noted that tier lists are less useful in team-based games, because character roles and team composition introduce a complex set of variables.
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- Lingle, Samuel (2016-06-02). "The definitive Overwatch hero tier list". The Daily Dot. Archived from the original on 2016-06-05. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
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- Khan, Imad (2015-12-13). "The Smash Bros. Melee 2015 tier list has some interesting changes". The Daily Dot. Archived from the original on 2016-10-11. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
- Myers, Maddy (2017-12-21). "Tier Lists Are Garbage". Kotaku.