‘Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’ Tier Lists Don’t Matter

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate isn’t even technically released yet, and fans are already trying to figure out which of the 74 playable characters is the best. Conversations about “tier lists”, a ranking of characters based on how powerful or viable they are assumed to be, have already started to spring up all over the web. Websites like RankedBoost and forums like GameFAQs have weighed in on which Smash character is the strongest. SSBWorld has the tools to allow users to create their own tier lists, and there are now more than 9,000 of these fan made lists. With this many opinions, it’s hard to keep track of which ones matter.  

History of Super Smash Bros. and Tier Lists

When Smash Bros released on the Nintendo 64 in 1999, hardcore players flocked to forum site SmashWorld. When Melee debuted in 2001, the SmashBoards forum became the place to argue about which characters were the best, the worst and the most meme worthy. Conversations quickly grew heated, so a governing body, called the Smash Back Rooms, ranked the characters on an official tier list. Smash Back Rooms was comprised of tournament organizers and pro players who understood the game in and out, and would continue to release lists up until Smash 4 on the Wii U.

super smash bros ultimate incineroar pichu pikachu Incineroar is one of the new fighters in 'Super Smash Bros. Ultimate' Nintendo

According to the SSBWiki, four criteria determine a Smash tier list. The collective meta game (how useful a character is in tournament play), the character’s individual meta game (how a character is used in tournament play), the character’s matchup spread (a character’s strength and weaknesses relative to the opponent they are facing) and the character’s tournament results (how well the character has performed in tournaments).

Players come in and completely reshape the metagame. Jigglypuff was considered a middle-of-the-road fighter, with great speed and an incredible one-hit-kill, but it wasn’t taken seriously until Juan Manuel “HungryBox” DeBiedma started bringing the pink ball to tournaments in 2009. The same can be said for Adam “Armada” Lindgren with his Peach, who showed the world what an umbrella and turnips can really do.  

“Tier lists are just opinions, and can be highly inaccurate, especially early on before a meta develops,” Jason ‘Mew2King” Sheldon Zimmerman told Newsweek. Known for stellar Fox, Sheik and Marth, Mew2King was one of Melee's earliest pro players who helped shape the meta.  

From 2002 to 2015, 12 different tier lists for Super Smash Bros. Melee were accepted by the community. (There are also separate lists from different communities around the globe.) The first list featured Sheik at the top, with Fox and Falco not far behind. As the years went by, Marth, Jigglypuff and even Ice Climbers showed up in the top tiers. As the meta started to evolve and players started to adapt to the strategies of other players, counters were found that completely changed the face and pace of professional Smash. The current tier list has Fox at the top, with Falco Marth and Sheik not far behind.

Melee is the most popular of the current Smash games, but that doesn’t mean it’s not the only one people like to argue about on the internet. SSB Brawl spawned eight tier lists, with the broken Meta Knight dominating the S-tier the whole time. Smash 4 on the Wii U had the shortest time on top, only having four tier lists. These games were slightly patched over the course of their lifetimes, making characters like Diddy Kong in Smash 4 easier to play against. The number of tier lists don’t necessarily correlate with the popularity of the game, but they do give you an idea of how an active fan base can actively change how a game is played. Each version of Smash has a different fan base, but every player shares the common goal of wanting to knock Fox straight off the stage.

meta knight brawl Meta Knight in Brawl is considered "OP" Nintendo

Does Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Need a Tier List?

Smash Ultimate has the most fighters of any Smash game, who will all inevitably be ranked in boxes from S to F. Players don’t want to waste their time with characters that don’t feel viable or strong. Bayonetta dominated Smash 4, and it looks like she’s just as strong in Ultimate. Does that mean if you enjoy playing Yoshi, you should pick her up?

“(Tier lists) are usually based on top-level theoretical potential, which is much different than a meta at lower level play,” Mew2King said. “Fast, agile characters often become ‘better’ as time goes on, where slow, heavy characters tend to drop with time, although Ultimate seems to be slowly breaking this pattern. Just pick a few characters you enjoy playing with is my recommendation.”

Smash games are unique, in that playstyle and preference fluctuates between players. Some people enjoy the risk of edge guarding and playing safe, while others want to risk it all to build up combos and high damage bars. No two players are alike, which means there’s no perfect fit for everyone. Pikachu might seem really strong right now, but all it’s going to take is one no-name player to figure the electric fuzz ball’s counter to dethrone him. If you want to play competitively, that’s fine, but a tier list won’t make you better. Practice, quick hands and a drive for success is all you need to be a Smash pro.

Or you can just play Meta Knight in Brawl, you poser.

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