Among the Super Smash Bros. community, it is common for distinguished groups (such as the Smashboards Back Room) to create Tier lists, rankings of a character's potential in tournaments. The Smashboards tier list is generally seen as the "official" tier list, though many other groups have created their own. The lower the number on the tier list, the greater the potential for that character to do well in tournaments.
The position/rank of a character in a Tier List is decided by analyzing carefully many factors, such as:
- The character's individual attributes (weight, falling speed, movement, damage output, recovery, etc.), moveset, pros & cons and strategies.
- The character's matchup against other characters and how well they perform.
- Counters are taken in consideration, meaning how much advantage or disvantagege a character has against another. However they are not a deciding factor for the ranking.
- The character's perfomancee on specific stages.
- The character's overall performance on Tournaments.
After a careful study, each character is assigned to a specific branch of the tier list's tree, in categories divided by letters, with "S" being the highest rank (although in Brawl there is a "SS" rank exclusively for Meta Knight). Depending on the number of characters, the amount of categories increase.
Super Smash Bros. Tier List
Super Smash Bros. Melee Tier List
Super Smash Bros. Brawl Tier List
Controversy over the existence of Tiers
Tiers are a point of contention among members of the Smash community. The majority believe tiers exist in every Smash Bros. games as not all characters are perfectly balanced — something which would be extremely difficult achieve in a game with such a diverse cast of characters. However, there are other players in the Smash Bros. community who disagree with the idea of tier lists or who believe they are only relevant to a specific play style. Such people are sometimes known as "anti-tierists".
Several prominent members of the community have performed exhaustive tests on the objective qualities of certain attacks, such as speed, hitbox, duration, priority, etc. Some characters are comparatively more favorably endowed with these qualities than others, providing some degree of evidence to base tier listings. Tournament results are used to reinforce the placements of certain characters on the tier list; for example the winners of Melee tournaments most commonly use Fox, Falco, Sheik, and Marth, and the winners of Brawl tournaments most commonly use Meta Knight, Ice Climbers, Olimar and Diddy Kong.
Many different arguments supporting the belief that tiers do not exist have been presented by anti-tiers. One common argument is that the tier list causes players to only play top tier characters, and that since low tier characters are never used, their metagames will never evolve and the community will never know if they are really just as good as the other characters. However, even low tier characters have tournament representation and their dedicated mains. These players put in just as much effort, if not more, compared to top tier players, to develop their characters and improve their skill, so the metagames of these characters continue to evolve. These players additionally routinely lose to players of top and high tier characters and place lower than top and high tier mains. In addition, if a player of a low tier character does exceptionally well with their character (such as by placing high in a large tournament), the tier list can be changed to raise that character higher, reflecting that the character was better than originally thought.
Another common argument is that since the tier list constantly changes, it can never be accurate and therefore is nonexistent. In response, pro-tiers argue that the tier list reflects the metagame at a certain period of time, and if a new technique is discovered that elevates a certain character's position, since the technique was never used before, it was irrelevant to previous periods of time.
Anti-tiers also argue that since every character can be played differently and every person plays differently, any character can have strategies that make them tournament viable. Although every character has different strategies that can be used, the top-tier characters' strategies are more effective in matches than the strategies of low-tiers, and even the best strategies of low-tier characters are continually defeated.
A frequently presented argument against tiers is that the series' developers did not intend for the characters to be unbalanced, and that tiers make the game "less fun." Although most casual players and even competitive players agree that the Smash series would be better if every character was equal, this does not discredit the existence of tiers; Nintendo once admitted that tier existed in the Smash series.
Anti-tiers additionally attempt to disprove the existence of tiers by defeating top-tier players or CPUs using low-tier characters, saying that since they can defeat top-tiers with a low-tier, tiers must not exist. However, skill level is more important than character choice in the outcome of a match, and a skilled player using a low-tier will be able to defeat a weaker player or a CPU (who, despite their fast reactions, severely underutilize the best tactics of their character and are as good as a poor player at best) using a top-tier.
The tier list is also not based on the outcome of one match and is instead based on repeated, consistent placements of characters in tournaments. The tier list is also focused on 1v1 play with no items, a restricted stage list, and players who understand and use the tactics of their character to their greatest potential, and tiers are not relevant in situations where these qualifications don't apply, like in matches with more than two players, with items, on stages not included on the list, when characters aren't fully utilized, or under any other circumstances that defy these qualifications.
Tier lists have been frowned upon by some people in the Smash Bros. scene as they see tier lists as restrictions on who will be played in tournaments, and many players get upset when they see that their favorite characters are among "the worst in the game." This is not the intention of a tier list. The tier list technically does not restrict the characters played, because the tier list ranks characters based on their potential in tournaments, not who is the "best" character to play. Some also believe that it limits the ability to learn from mistakes caused by players as the failure would be pinpointed on their character that they use rather than the player's own ability. However, competitive players and many casual players would know their character's weaknesses and strengths, and a player would be able to tell when a mistake was their own fault or due to a weakness of their character.