By Contributing Writer Michael J. Kilbride III
Autumn, a beautiful time of year. Sit back, sip some tea, watch the leaves change, and tune into the Classic Tetris World Championship! It is here, in Portland Orgon, where the annual wave of nostalgia has been reaching the hearts of adults and children alike since 2010. All around the world, viewers and enthusiasts of the original 1984 NES game, tuned into Twitch this past weekend as the competition was streamed live for a head-to-head experience.
Any loyal viewer of this e-sport will tell you that the 2019 championship was not one to miss. It was full of surprises, constant tension, and the most pure and most raw passion for the game.
Starting with the quarterfinals around the world, the ambitious Tetris players hit the ground running as they battle through a bracket of equally as competitive players. The competition will quickly diminish, however, as they enter the semi-finals. The journey does not end here, the finals will ultimately decide the placement of 32 skilled individuals who will then travel to Oregon to decide once and for all who the Classic Tetris World Champion truly is.
Inside the Portland Retro Gaming Expo on Sunday, October 20th, the air was thick with competition. The 32 world championship qualifiers were randomly arranged on a bracket of one-on-one matches. In true Classic Tetris fashion, the players take the stage, equip their NES controllers and began to compete on retro CRT televisions as a crowd of onlookers cheer them on. For many rookies of the competition, this starting round is life or death as they go up against seasoned veterans such as Harry Hong, Jonas Neubauer, and Joseph Saelee.
Jonas Neubauer, 7-time world champion, is a force to be reckoned with. Participating in the annual competition since its debut in 2010, Jonas has only lost two championships in his career. The first of which being 2014 when Harry Hong finally put an end to his complete domination in a nail-biting head-to-head finish. His second career elimination being just last year when 16-year-old rookie Joseph Saelee faced Neubauer in the final round and was crowned the 2018 champion.
While many look to the final one-on-one matchup for excitement, the true heart-pounding moments began as early as round one. Consisting of the first 16 head-to-head matches, round 1 is where blood began to spill. The audience fell silent in utter amazement as Neubauer fell to his opponent first-year Mega Retroman, the earliest ever Tetris elimination in Jonas’s career.
There was not a soul in that expo center that could have predicted the history being made before them. The fall of past champions, however, did not end with Neubauer. Harry Hong was next to fall surprisingly early in round 1 to another first-year entry Matt Martin. It was right then and there, with 2 of the 3 past champions eliminated incredibly early in the competition, that it was clear: this year was going to be unlike any other.
An honorable mention goes out to Tetris finalist Green Tea who went up against current world champion Joseph Saelee for the most impressive Tetris playing seen that night. It was the first time in CTWC history where both players reached “Kill Screen”, a term given to level 29 in classic Tetris where the game speed is so incredibly fast that no human player can survive for long. As if this wasn’t impressive enough, it was also the first time in CTWC history where a player reached “max out” which is a term given to a score larger than 999,999 points; the maximum amount of points possible to be registered by the game, achieved by world champion Saelee.
At long last, the moment we’ve all been waiting for, the final match. Current world champion Saelee versus the man who inspired him to start playing competitively in the first place, the last of the old guard generation, Koryan. The final match was, without a doubt, one that will forever be cemented into e-sports history.
In a battle of first-to-three, to nobody’s surprise, it all came down to game five; the victor of the 2019 Classic Tetris World Championship for the second year in a row, Joseph Saelee. Ultimately winning the prize of $10,000 along with an iconic t-block trophy handed to him personally by the creator of the game, none other than Mr. Tetris himself, Alexey Pajitnov.