Seven-time classic Tetris champion has been bested by a sixteen-year-old newcomer.
This may come as a surprise to you, but there is, in fact, a classic game competitive scene. It’s doesn’t get quite the same viewership as Overwatch or League of Legends, but it exists, and it’s existed for a lot longer than either of those modern esports juggernauts.
Tetris originally came out in 1989, and since then competitive play only existed on 8-bit websites and message forums, with players posting screenshots and videos of their final scores. It’s only since 2010 that classic games have come into their own, with the Classic Game World Championship Tournament being the Mecca where Tetris players congregate every year.
Only this Mecca is in Portland Oregon.
Last weekend, we saw the best of the best play in head-to-head games to see just which Tetris player will reign supreme. Players from as far as China and Japan all sat behind ancient CRT screens to play on original Nintendo game controllers to play in best of 3 matches. The winner would move on to the finals and then be crowned the world’s best Tetris player.
It was no surprise to see Jonas "the goat" Neubauer make it to the final round. The 7-time world champion has been a dominant force in the competitive Tetris scene for nearly a decade. But it was newcomer Joseph Saelee who surprised spectators by defeating world veterans to arrive at the final table.
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In a field where most competitors are well into their 30s or 40s, Saelee is just 16-years-old. And he brings with him a younger style of Tetris play called “hyper tapping” that involves striking the D-pad at least 10 times per second in order to move pieces as fast as possible. It’s a risky playstyle (and hard on the fingers), but it produces impeccable results.
The final game was a best of 5 matches, with Saelee sweeping the former champion in three straight games.
When the final piece fell, Saelee was speechless. “I don’t know how to feel. I’m still recovering. It’s absolutely a dream,” he said. “ I came into this tournament just to qualify, just to meet all these great people, and to win, that’s just amazing, I don’t know what to say.”
Neubauer was graceful in defeat, holding his second-place trophy with pride as he passed the Tetris torch to a younger generation of player.
“The kid played with pure heart, the most clutch Tetris that we’ve seen from anyone,” Neubauer said. “He just really had the ability, had the natural ability, and let it shine as bright as he could in his first tournament. [It’s] truly an honor to pass the torch to the new generation of Tetris players.”