In many competitive games you begin by selecting a character to play. While this isn’t true for all games it certainly is a mainstay for a majority of competitive titles.
Typically the character you select in your game is given a set of tools which separates them from the rest of the characters in the game and makes them unique. It is the unique blend of tools and attributes that allows them to excel in particular roles or aspects of the game they are part of.
In addition many characters in video games have particular visual styles or themes that players may be able to relate to. This adds another side of the coin as to why a character may be selected.
I find character selection in video games to fascinating in that it is a subtle form of expression weather the player realises it or not. In this blog post I am hoping to look into various aspects of character selection in competitive video games and possibly assist others who may be facing the infamous “Character crisis”. I will be using my favourite game Street Fighter as a main reference but I will try to include a couple of other games as examples where I am able. I will also show you why I pick what I chose to play in those games so that hopefully it can give you some confidence and insight into making your own character selection.
NOTE: This is my personal view on character selection. Do not take any of this as gospel, instead use it as a compass to give you a direction that works for you.
Ok so I just explained that character selection is made up of two halves. These two halves function in a very Yin & Yang/Light & Dark Balance. The first half of this is the competitive half.
This half relates to selecting a character purely based on their tools and ability to win over other members of the cast. This is commonly known as “Picking what is strong” or “Picking using your head”.
There is nothing “cheap” about picking a character for these reasons. You have to remember that the aim of the game is to win. By having the best possible tool or advantage in your half of the field you are given an edge over your opponents which, provided you know how to know how to use and capitalize on those advantages will ensure you victory more often than not. However Victory is not guaranteed, picking top tier doesn’t win you the game at the selection screen. You can pick the top tier character or tool and still lose no matter how good you or the character is.
E.g. In Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition 2012 there is a character whom has been considered top tier for a while. This character is Akuma. Very much a glass cannon, one of his greatest strengths was laying down near relentless almost inescapable offense whilst also have some of the best escape and defense tools in the game.
Below are some videos of Akuma vs some other characters in Street Fighter.
Infiltration’s Akuma winning Evo 2012 (Evo is the biggest fighting game tournament in the world).
Surely those who have picked the top tier will have guaranteed victory all the time right?
In summary: Picking competitively skews advantages in your favour for the purpose of winning. This style of picking is tactile and often adopted by those with a primary concern for results. It does not however guarantee victory.
Examples of competitive character pickers include:
Street Fighter IV
Ryan Hart (Vanilla Sagat, AE Yun)
Unfortunately I don’t know enough about other games to know whom the “competitive pickers are”. In addition some other games like Defense of the Ancients and League of Legends utilize a pick and ban system so that the “top tier” cannot always be played. I’ll be honest, it’s not my area of expertise.
Side note: If anyone happens to have more examples of this from other players and games then let me know! Check my blog’s “about” section for contact info.
The other half is the expressive half.
This half relates to selecting a character based on their theme, personality, cosmetics and how fun they are for you to play. This is known as “Picking what is cool” or “Picking using your heart”.
Now in competitive games, winning isn’t just important, it’s core to the game. Yet not everybody that plays their respective game is picking top tier. By not picking top tier you are surely conceding victory by not skewing as much advantage in your favour as possible?
In the “Picking competitively” section I mentioned that victory is not guaranteed. This is absolutely true, however winning may be noticeably more difficult. The payoff is that you get to play a character that you can relate to, a character that you have fun with, a character that you can express yourself with. In addition the character or tool you use will have its own strengths and weaknesses which you can capitalize on to push your own way towards victory.
E.g. In Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition 2012 there is a character called Gen. Gen is unique in the fact that he has two stances which he can switch between at any point in the match. Each stance has its own normals, specials, super and ultra. Naturally Gen is an extremely difficult character to play, with so many moves at his disposal it can be an ordeal in itself to manage them all. Gen also suffers from comparatively low damage when compared to other members of the cast in addition to lower than average health. So much work, for such little reward. Surely Akuma would be the better character to pick in a tournament setting right? On paper yes, however below is a link to the Evo 2013 finals where Xian’s Gen (Expressive) beats Tokido’s Akuma (Competitive).
Sometimes the characters capability doesn’t even factor into expressive selection. A characters costume(s) or aesthetics may be the sole reason you pick them. E.g. In SF4: AE2012 I play Yang because his intro sequence has rollerblades, and rollerblades are badass!
In Defense of the Ancients 2 there are constant shifting tides of what is top tier and what isn’t as the game is patched and balanced fairly often. However there are still those whom play a favourite or signature character.
Admiral Bulldog is renowned for his Lone Druid play. After he was first drafted into the dota team “The Alliance” back when they were called “No Tidehunter” they drafted Lone Druid as a first pick just for AdmiralBulldog and won many matches with impressive fashion.Opposing teams even began to go as far as to ban Lone Druid just so they wouldn’t have to face the wrath of admiral bulldog, however this only opened up opportunities for more effective picks due to the pick and ban system.
Cook is a UK DotA player who plays the hero Invoker almost religiously. Cook only ever seems to play heroes that aren’t Invoker if his character isn’t picked or banned. Currently part of Team Infused Cook is currently showcasing his Invoker whenever he can. Of course when he can’t, he gets very sad.
One important thing to note is that just beacause a character is considered “Top tier” it doesn’t mean that the character cannot be picked for expressive reasons. JR Rodriguez has been playing Akuma since Street Fighter III: Third Strike. Despite being an entirely different game altogether, he still plays his favourite character.
In summary: While picking expressively does not mean that you have access to the most effective tools that have been tried and tested you will have access to your own tools which you must use to secure your own victory. In addition you may find yourself having a lot more fun playing your favourite character than you would just “Picking the best”.
Those are the two main reasons I feel that a character is picked. This can be represented by a scale with Competitive at one end and Expressive at the other. On this scale the player can visualise themselves and how they like to pick their characters and tools in the game.
This however is two dimensional and need to be supplemented by another spectrum of character selection that is unique to the player. This is Specialist Vs Toolbox. Thankfully this wont require as much explaination as the first two aspects.
Specialist Player VS Toolbox Player
Now when competing players have to make a choice weather they want to pick one character or multiple characters.
By picking one character and learning absolutely everything about that character you are a character specialist. The advantage to being a specialist is that the knowledge you have of your character will allow you to play that one character more effectively than you would a handful of others. The disadvantage is that every character in every game will have a weakness, bad matchup or flaw in their gameplan. By embracing the specialist role you accept that you will have to fight through these bad matchups and stick with your character no matter what.
An example of a specialist would be Dieminion and his Guile.
By picking multiple characters and learning a lot about those characters you are what I call a “toolbox player”. Your characters are certain tools which you use to win and when you know a bad matchup is coming, or if your character strategy is figured out then you can switch to another character/tool which is better suited for the job.
The advantage to being a toolbox style of player is that you will have a selection of weapons with which you can carry out war. Each of these weapons has unique strengths and weaknesses and you can use whichever you need to secure victory.
The disadvantage is that you will not be able to play a single one of your characters as effectively as the specialist. In addition the increased number of characters mean that you will have much more general learning with your multiple selections over the singular refined learning of a specialist.
So condensing all I have just explained into a diagram produces a grid whereby a player can pinpoint themselves in relation and what aspects of a game are important to them. Using this they can know what to look for in a character. This will aid character selection and begin to pave the way out of a character crisis! (Made using: MMCafe Tierchart maker)
Hopefully this helps orient yourself on the path to choosing a character (or characters) to play in your game of choice. On that chart I would place myself in the “Expressive specialist” corner of the field. Where would you place yourself on this chart I wonder? Have a think about it, try things out and don’t overthink it.
BONUS: Ask yourself. Who is your favourite Pokemon? After you have made your choice, aren’t you curious to see what your friend’s favourite pokemon are? Weird right? Ask them! (My favourite is Volcarona!)
Developer: 4A Games
Publisher: Deep Silver
Size: 8.7 GB
Engine: 4A Engine
Metro: Last Light is the eagerly awaited sequel to Metro 2033 by 4A games.
I myself am very familiar with Metro 2033. I have completed the game a total of 8 times across all difficulties. Metro 2033 had a certain magic to it that other games didn’t have. Originally based on a book (Metro 2033), The game was a melting pot full of excellently thought out ingredients that each complimented each other in a way that made it stand out from other AAA FPS game titles.
Now that Metro: Last Light has been released I was only too eager to pick it up and see if the sequel could live up to my expectations set in place by the first game.
The MMO. Probably one of the most ambitious types of games in the world today. An MMO is almost conceptually comparable to an alternate reality; An entirely new world has been created, which you inhabit by playing the game alongside millions of other players.  As a person that has spent 15-16 years of his life almost literally immersed in video games, the concept of a video game where I can completely exercise fantasy escapism within an alternate reality is a concept I get almost too excited over. Unfortunately almost every time I try to play an MMO there seem to be several barriers that prevent me from becoming really invested and involved with the game. I have friends that present me with various MMO titles and I do attempt to play most of them in the hope that maybe I can find a title to become truly invested in. Sadly no MMORPG to date has been able to successfully deliver the all-encompassing virtual escapism that the genre’s name implies. In this series of blog posts I will be investigating the MMO, what aspects make it to inaccessible to me, what MMO’s thus far have done both correctly and incorrectly, and conceptualizing what would make the ideal MMO experience would it have been tailored specifically for me. This is going to be an experience for the both of us as I try to find out why I tend to dislike this genre of games.