Guilty Gear -Strive- is primed for a massive summer. Last month saw the biggest offline tournament in the game's young history, the massive 1,059-entrant bracket at COMBO BREAKER, won by TempestNYC's vicious Leo Whitefang. A new balance patch just came out on June 10th, promising to shake up the metagame just as more major tournaments like next weekend's CEO 2022 and the tournament of the summer, Evo 2022, approach.
Before Season 2 hits in earnest, let's make use of the newly-established Guilty Gear -Strive- player stats database at PGstats.com to survey -Strive-'s first season. Who came out on top, and who was left unpicked, forced to reflect upon themselves?
Our database is not a complete record of every Guilty Gear -Strive- tournament ever hosted — it only includes tournaments hosted on start.gg — but even if we limit it to just tournaments of at least 24 players, we still have over 800 tournaments from which we can pull data. Data was pulled after COMBO BREAKER, including all but the final 10 days of the Season 1 patch. First, let's take a look at the characters with the most appearances in Top 4s of these brackets.
Four clear tiers emerge. At the top, we have the four characters who have ruled the meta since the game came out: Sol Badguy, Nagoriyuki, Leo Whitefang and Ramlethal Valentine. While Sol has a significant lead over the next three, these four together clearly stand out among the cast.
Next is the group accounting for between 4-8% of results: Axl Low, Ky Kiske, Chipp Zanuff, Giovanna, Millia Rage, May, Potemkin and Happy Chaos. These characters are hardly made equal. Some were extremely prevalent in the game's first major patch, pre-October 15th, and others were more prevalent after, including the one DLC inclusion, Happy Chaos. Some of these characters have a few players piloting them at high level; others have a more varied player base. But none have managed to break through and dominate the meta like anybody in the first group...
...other than Happy Chaos. But more on that later.
The next tier is the smallest, with just Zato-1 and I-no. These are characters whose bracket fates can heavily depend on the matchups they face along the way. Zato-1, however, had been increasing in popularity towards the end of the most recent patch, to the point of becoming the second-most common character in Top 48 at COMBO BREAKER last month.
Finally, we have the meta non-factors. There's the final two base-cast characters, Faust and Anji, as well as the remaining DLC, Goldlewis Dickinson, Jack-O Valentine, Baiken and Testament, the latter of which had very little time to gather results before data was collected. Neither Baiken nor Testament appear in the data unless you expand to Top 8 or Top 16 placements respectively. While the June 10th patch may have given some of these characters some new tools to compete, they simply lacked the tools to be major forces in the Season 1 meta.
Top 4s are one thing, but who's coming out on top at the ends of brackets? Do we see any huge shifts in the tiers?
While nobody jumps up from the bottom to challenge our original top 4, there are two major shakeups. First, Sol drops from an easy first place to third, behind Leo Whitefang and Nagoriyuki. Second, Happy Chaos makes a huge leap, from the bottom of our second tier to the top of it. Happy Chaos made just 4.4% of Top 4s and had a win rate nearly double that. This is one of the biggest reasons why Happy Chaos was perceived as a meta menace despite the fact that there weren't that many of them in bigger brackets: when he was there, and when he made it to Top 4, he was often winning.
We can graph this effect.
Naturally, there is a strong correlation between Top 4 Finishes and Wins; after all, you can't win without getting the top 4 finish first. As such, you can think of the correlation line (in blue) as reflecting the number of wins we would expect from a character given their share of top 4 finishes. Sol's dot, appearing well below the line, tells you that despite the fact that this character was a beast in early bracket, he underperforms in Top 4 settings. On the other hand, Happy Chaos hovers well above the line, reflecting that fact that his performances within top 4 were extremely strong, and that his low share of top 4 finishes is a function of his late release date and relatively small player base more than anything else.
Most other characters hover pretty close to the line. Only two others particularly stand out: Giovanna appeared in a relatively solid 5.3% of Top 4s, but struggled to close it, dropping to just 2.4% of wins. Leo, meanwhile, was the best performer of the top tiers in top fours, going from a 10.8% top-4 share to a game-high 15.1% win share. This might suggest that characters like Giovanna and Sol are better bets in earlier matches against weaker players, but might not maintain their advantages as players get stronger later in bracket.
This data is a top-level summary of a very long season, a season in which people had to learn how to play Guilty Gear -Strive- and then adapt to multiple changes, from large scale balance changes in the October patch to the addition of six DLC characters along the way. There still remain some questions for us to answer, and over the next week we'll tackle these three:
1) On October 15th, a major patch was released that included some universal gameplay changes as well as significant balance changes to some characters. How did these changes affect the data shown in this post? We'll break down the two halves of Season 1 and take a look at who were the big winners and losers of the October patch. Read more here.
2) DLC. And specifically, Happy Chaos. The data here suggests that he was a problem, but not a problem on the level that he was at COMBO BREAKER, where he made up two of the Top 3 and inspired multiple tweets waiting for the savior that would be the June patch. We'll dive deeper into the DLC-specific data to talk about just what the deal was with Happy Chaos.
3) COMBO BREAKER was by a wide margin the biggest and most stacked offline -Strive- event in the game's first year. We'll break down the data from COMBO BREAKER and take a look at some of the outliers (was Zato-1 already a top tier? does Baiken actually exist?) from Season 1's sendoff event, and see if there are any conclusions we can make heading into CEO and Season 2.
Stay tuned for more from PG Stats and Red Bull Gaming.