Underground Esports

In recent years, the popularity of competitive gaming and esports has skyrocketed. People want to take playing video games and push it to that next level with competitions and tournaments popping up all of the place for a wide variety of games. One that I’ve recently delved into is the bizarre underworld of competitive classic Tetris!

If you’ve never heard of Tetris, it’s basically a puzzle stacking game in which the player manipulates pieces to fill up the space and clear lines. The NES version, specifically, came out in 1989 and is one of the most punishing versions out there. Pieces have a very short time frame to slide once hitting the ground, rotations are static and don’t push the pieces around and the increase of speed as you progress through the levels can be severe. This cut-throat gameplay is one of the reasons it’s such a beloved version of the game and why often times competitors for this game don’t play other Tetris versions.

Screen Shot 2019-02-04 at 1.32.22 PM


Given the single-player nature of classic Tetris, how do the players play against each other? Other versions of the game included a multiplayer mode, but the NES version does not. Well, for the Classic Tetris World Championship (CTWC), a special modified version of the NES Tetris cartridge was created that allows the players to receive the same pieces. This means that even though the game is set to randomly drop different pieces, the players will receive them in the same order preventing the randomness from effecting the game. So, using this modified cartridge, they start at the same time on level 18 and play until one or both players ‘top out’ after which the one with the higher score is declared the winner. This sounds very simple, but the games can be extremely intense, often with players stacking very high and nearly topping out, or massive comebacks in score over the course of the game.

On top of that, the game’s mechanics make for some very skillful plays. Things like spins and tucks are possible for experienced players, allowing them to manipulate the pieces in incredible ways. The speed of the game also can be brutal, with the best players pushing the limits of the game often times. After clearing 130 lines at level 18, the players will transition to level 19 and the speed of the game drastically increases from 3 frames per line drop to 2. This might not sound like a lot, but survival at this level is a feat that not many can achieve. At this point, every 10 line clears, the game will increase levels, but the speed will not increase until level 29, also known as the kill screen. At the kill screen, the speed increases to 1 frame per line drop which becomes too fast for players to get a line piece to the edge making beating this level nearly impossible. Games that get played out to the kill screen are incredibly intense and always amazing to watch.

If any of this sounds remotely interesting or at least intriguing, I recommend checking out the CTWC games from the 2018 tournament (Link Here). Jonas Neubauer, the 7 time world champion and often considered the greatest classic Tetris player of all time, is challenged by Joseph Saelee, a 16-year old Tetris prodigy who uses a unique style called hyper-tapping allowing him to conquer the kill screen and beyond! The games are fast paced and fun to watch even if you’re not a Tetris fan!

Do you want to learn how to make games like Tetris? Come make games with me at UAT! More info here.

Posted on Feb 4, 2019 12:40:10 PM by Jordan Brown in Game Studies, in Competitions

Jordan Brown

Written by Jordan Brown

Hi, I'm Jordan! I'm a 22 year old game programmer from Arizona. I've been programming video games since I was 14 and am now majoring in Game Programming and Advancing Computer Science at UAT.


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