The communities around competitive video games have been creating tier lists long before the ranking system went viral. Gamers use the color-coated, “Top, Mid, and Bottom Tier” format to order the strength of playable characters, and these rankings are typically based on each character’s performance at the highest level of play.
Tier lists are meant to give some semblance of order in games with enormous character rosters, like League of Legends or Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. But much like their fast food counterparts, the exact order of any gaming tier lists is ultimately subjective, making these rankings a flashpoint in the video game community.
Through the years, gamers’ obsession with tier lists bled into other forms of media but have still kept their multi-colored, unifying visual style. There are now tier lists about everything from Marvel superhero power rankings to YouTube channel TierZoo, which ranks real-life animals (it’s just as awesome as it sounds). But none of these would have ever existed if it wasn’t for fighting game fans.
The origin of tier lists
Capcom’s 1991 release of Street Fighter 2 is widely considered to have popularized one-versus-one, tournament-level video game competitions. The fighting game was first released as an arcade cabinet and then re-released on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System in 1992, eventually selling 6.3 million copies on the early home console.
The game’s massive player base and lively competitive community began conversations about which one of SF2’s characters is objectively the best. But another decade would pass before the tier list format the internet has come to love was created.