Tetris for the NES is over 30 years old at this point, and now it has a new world champ who’s been alive for less than half that time. In a spectacular grand finals match-up this past Sunday, 13-year-old player Dog a.k.a. dogplayingtetris became the youngest-ever winner of the Classic Tetris World Championship (CTWC), emerging as the one to beat in a new generation of laser-focused line clearers.
The best part? Dog triumphed in the finals over his brother, 15-year-old PixelAndy, who was also playing some of the best Tetris ever just over in another room of their house.
Having switched to an online format this year, the annual championships opened up to a massive influx of new (and, as in the case of Dog and PixelAndy, often very young) talent from around the globe. Once a competition dominated by the likes of seven-time champion Jonas Neubauer, who has Tetris experience stretching back decades, NES Tetris now has a much wider and younger field of top competitors than it did a few short years ago. The oldest competitor in the 2020 CTWC’s top 8, Indonesian player ZefanyaNenu, is just 23.
Joseph “JdMfX_” Saelee, the 18-year-old player who dethroned Neubauer in 2018 and then won the tournament for a second time last year, lost in his 2020 top 8 match against fellow 18-year-old Huff a.k.a. Huffulufugus_ by way of a perilous early top-out in round 5. Earlier in this year’s tournament Huff also knocked out Neubauer—still, taking out two former champs wasn’t enough for Huff to best Dog in the semi-finals, leading to the sibling rivalry that played out before thousands of live viewers on Twitch.
Both Dog and PixelAndy cite the video of the 2018 Saelee v. Neubauer grand finals as one reason they got interested in playing NES Tetris. Even between these teenage brothers, a difference in playstyle mimicking the generational differences in NES Tetris emerged: as CTWC commentators James Chen and Chris Tang explained on stream, PixelAndy began playing by relying on the delayed auto scroll (DAS) behavior in NES Tetris to quickly move pieces left or right. When Dog started playing, he learned how to hyper-tap, a style of mashing out individual directional inputs with near frame-perfect accuracy to shift pieces faster than DAS. Where Saelee v. Neubauer was a hyper-tapper against DAS match-up, PixelAndy ended up learning how to hyper-tap just to keep up with his younger brother.
If Saelee’s two-year reign as champ has taught us anything, it’s that a well-earned win like Dog’s was only a matter of time. Hopefully the CTWC will find a way to continue the more open and global nature of this 2020’s competition even if it returns to its home at Portland, Oregon’s Retro Gaming Expo next year, but it seems like going online only slightly accelerated the ongoing boom in interest for NES Tetris. With Tetris Effect: Connected now boasting a game mode that’s quite similar to the CTWC format (and that’s more accessible to new players without NES hardware), it’s very possible that the likes of Dog, PixelAndy, and Huff will be struggling to hold their own yet another new wave of players in next year’s tournament.