CTWC 2020: A New World Order

Gallopin’ Gorgons!  This past Sunday’s CTWC Grand Championship matchup was truly a tournament for the ages.  Top-eight, single-elimination, same piece-set, with global participation.  CTWC has been around since 2010 and has always billed itself as the “World Championships.”  But Real Talk for a moment.  As Heather mentions in the Ecstasy of Order documentary, for the longest time, the “W” in “CTWC” was a kind of inside joke– it really was practically restricted to only the people who happened to live around LA.  Then in 2012 once it moved up to Oregon to the Portland Retro Gaming Expo, it then –if we’re being honest here– should’ve been called:  “The-Classic-Tetris-World-Championship-that-only-people-who-can financially-afford-flying-to-Portland-and-staying-in-a-hotel-for-an-entire-weekend-can-attend.”

But then COVID happened this year.

For the first time in CTWC history, money and means would be far less obstacles to participation.  Though, to be fair:  You still needed decently fast internet, an NES, the game cartridge, and some minimum tech savvy to know how to stream on Twitch.  But this, beyond all doubt, was a far lighter lift and one trillion times more democratic than in previous years.  This year the existing Tetris world order was primed for a shaking up.

And boy, were things shook.

Below are several quick highlights of the tournament.  The first surprise:  Huff pulling up a 3v2 upset of two-time defending champion, Joseph Saelee in the opening round of eight!

Sir Huffulufugus would go onto semifinal where he ultimately lost to thirteen-year-old, No 1 seed, Dog, 1 vs 3. But in his final game, he noticeably scored a maxout but still lost to Dog who’d scored ~1.1 million by level 28! No shame, Huff, no shame. That was a match well played!


Finally, after two months and hundreds of contenders… the Grand Final Championship Match saw… Brother versus Brother. You literally couldn’t have scripted a more more cinematic, Hollywood-style final showdown. One day I’ll write up the match specific details, but for now, let’s just jump to the best part:

Down 0 vs 2 against his older brother, 15-year-old P1xelAndy, 13-year-old Dog was faced with that monstrosity of a set up. With his back against the wall, with no where else to turn, Dog then subsequently turned on beast mode and joined the Mount Rushmore of all-time Tetris greats, storming back to win the match in a reverse sweep. Words are inadequate here to describe Dog’s legendary comeback but as Liam Neeson’s character once told Bruce Wayne:

“If you make yourself more than just a man, then you make yourself something else entirely… Legend, Mr. Wayne.”

–Liam Neeson (Batman Begins)

And also:

Despite a misdrop (in the heat of Game 5, the Champion Match DECIDER!) that would’ve ended most people, a few pieces later, Dog manages to fight his way out of it! Good lord, what poise and composure. Tetris is so much about not only playing pixel-perfect, but also being able to think fast on your feet in the heat of a critical moment. Because no matter what, the pieces will just keep raining down! So when things do go wrong (and they always eventually will, if you’ve played long enough), not panicking, keeping calm, and fighting back one piece at a time is absolutely critical. Truly, a big kudos to Dog for battling his way outta that roof on level 24 in Game 5. Well done.

Taking a step back, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the gods who organized CTWC 2020 for us mere mortals: Director Vince Clemente, Keith Didion (vandweller), and Technical Wizard Extraordinaire Trey Harrison. Additionally, the commentating by Chris Tang, James Chen, and Arda Ocal were all also top-notch and superb as well. This year I really appreciated that they aired “Player Interview” videos before the matches that gave the audience a better chance to get to know the players. Many fans don’t closely follow the Classic Tetris scene so those interviews were a terrific “gateway introduction” into the Classic Tetris World. At the height of the stream yesterday, when Joseph was playing against Huff, the viewership reached ~30k on Twitch! Later, after Joseph was eliminated, those viewership numbers did drop though. Moving forward, whether or not the scene can grow and expand will highly depend on whether more players became well known.

So incredibly looking forward to next year! Well done to all players and organizers this time around and thank you for giving us such a great show! 🙏🙏🙏

Seven-Time Classic Tetris World Champion, Jonas Neubauer

Warning: Spoilers Ahead for CTWC 2020’s Group E!

Seven-Time Classic Tetris World Champion, Jonas Neubauer, went out in a blaze of glory this past Sunday during group-stage play (Group E Bracket) of CTWC 2020.  The Reign of Neubauer was long and splendid, stretching from 2010 to 2017 (with only one defeat to rival Harry Hong in 2014) but starting in 2018, 16-year-old Classic Tetris prodigy, Joseph Saelee snatched the crown, handily defeating Neubauer in a 3-0 sweep in that year’s finals.

In 2019, Neubauer exited that year’s tourney early in a shocking and disappointing loss to MegaRetroMan in Round 1; and ever since, all eyes have been on the longtime veteran CTWC champ to see what he’d have up his sleeves for 2020.

Jonas did not disappoint.

I know I’d already written about CTWC 2020 last month as qualifiers kicked off, but with the first half of group-stage play finished, I thought I’d write another entry more specifically about Jonas today.  First, more generally, as a CTWC fan for several years now, these past few weeks of non-stop Classic Tetris have been an absolutely phenomenal treat.  It is so glorious to be able to tune in every weekend and watch the best Classic Tetris players in the world show their mettle.  Truly, what a time to be alive.

Also, some results have been surprising!  I also follow Classic Tetris Monthly (hosted by God’s Gift to Man, vandweller) and from that scene, some “new kids on the block” were expected to make a big splash this year at their inaugural CTWC debuts.  Let me say, these young guns (and emphasis on ‘young’) were heavily hyped.  The Canadian, Jake B, posted an impressive 5x maxouts during quals and was seeded 8.  And the American, Eric, who posted an astonishing 7x maxouts during quals, was seeded 2.  Both of these players shockingly flamed out early in their respective brackets though and didn’t even make the final rounds.  Maybe it was the pressure and heat of the moment?  Bad RNG?  Or maybe just a bad day.  In any case, we’re looking forward to seeing them again in the future!  Needless to say, they’re still young and have time on their side! 👍

Back to Jonas though.

I don’t know exactly how old he is (though he is married; that, my friend, means more than all those T-Piece trophies combined.  Hi, Heather! 👋) but one thing I really give Jonas props for is despite being several decades older than the new youngblood on the scene, and for being a DAS player, the old dinosaur still had some fight left in him.  As someone who is older myself, I really appreciate the old guard showing these young whippersnappers that age, experience, and wisdom do count for something.  And while that something maybe wasn’t quite enough to see Jonas through to absolute victory this time around, it was still certainly a valiant and magnificent effort.

Here’s a quick play-by-play highlighting some great moments this past Sunday:


Jonas did not have an auspicious start in Round 1 on Sunday, ultimately losing Game 5 to the newcomer, RedShurt.  Upon beating Jonas in Round 1, here’s RedShurt making the happiest anatomically possible face for a human to make– he’s just beaten the SEVEN-time world champ!!  This was, and might quite possibly be, the greatest moment of RedShurt’s life.

Continue reading “Seven-Time Classic Tetris World Champion, Jonas Neubauer”

Classic Tetris World Championships

Joseph Saelee: TWELVE maxouts in two hours. Legendary.

November is going to be lit.  People who know me will know that I’ve been a diehard Tetris fan my entire life.  Back in the day, it was Tetris on the TI-83 Plus.  Then at some point I got a Nintendo DS and Tetris DS probably remains my favorite handheld version to this day (though Tetris Ultimate on the 3DS is a close second).  However, my absolutely favorite version is, by far, Tetris on the NES.  Though the game was released back in 1989, I only discovered it a few years ago when the (now famous) “Boom! Tetris for Jeff!” 2016 CTWC video landed in my YouTube recommendations.  It was mesmerizing.  That same week, I remember running to my local pawn shop and getting both an NES and a copy of the game.  I was instantly hooked.

This year, because of COVID-19, the CTWC organizers did something very special.  Normally, the event happens in person at the Portland Retro Gaming Expo in Oregon every October but this year because of the virus, they organized an online tournament!

Since 2012, CTWC has been a 32-person tournament and happens single-elimination-style over the course of a single weekend.  The shindig starts on Friday and by Sunday, a champion is crowned.

This year’s online tournament is wild though.  They expanded participation to become a 64-person tournament and qualifying rounds lasted an entire week, Oct 12-18. The extended format also now allows for double-elimination in the “group stage” play during the first two weekends of November. 

Last week, I literally had their Twitch channel up every single day on my second monitor and was watching hours of Classic Tetris each day. Since folks were attempting qualifying runs from all around the world from Finland to Japan to Spain to here, the good ol’ USA, there was nearly always some Classic Tetris on, ready to watch.  It was amazing.

Converting a meat-space event into a virtual one is no easy feat. And while I didn’t participate in the tourney (am nowhere near good enough!) I did read through the rules that they posted online. In particular, I found this section (specifically, Rule 9) impressive about how a judge verifies a player’s authenticity:

Since everything is streamed over Twitch, they needed to be thoughtful about how they would suss out bad actors who were trying to cheat. This verification system, while simple, I feel is a reasonable deterrent.

In this age of COVID-19, everything has changed. It’s unclear, at the moment, if things will ever return to normal. But personally, I am really enjoying CTWC 2020 this year. It’s a genuinely remarkable logistical accomplishment and, importantly, really gives folks, especially those far away and who are younger, a chance to participate who otherwise never could. Not everyone can fly to Portland and stay in hotels for a weekend every year! This year’s online tourney has truly democratized the competition– hooray for technology! 😊😀😁