Even Tetris players are unsure about the future of competitive Tetris

Even Tetris players are unsure about the future of competitive Tetris

Tetris is probably not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of esports. Not to mention NES Tetris on original hardware. Nonetheless, a new Classic Tetris World Champion (CTWC) will be crowned this weekend at the Portland Retro Gaming Expo, and it’s likely to be the most hotly contested, highest-viewed tournament in the game’s nearly 35-year history.

Classic Tetris has seen a surge in popularity in recent years, but it is at a crossroads. It must either professionalize or accept its fate as an intriguing, albeit cozy, corner of the gaming world.

The annual event in Portland remains the game’s most prestigious tournament, but Classic Tetris fans can be found at CTM – Classic Tetris Monthly – a more informal, but arguably more important, competition for the game during the rest of the year.

CTM has grown from barely gathering enough players for a bracket to hundreds of players competing in multiple skill levels every month since then. The original plan was for a single 16-player tournament, which meant that anyone who wasn’t good enough would never get to play. “When I took over, my pledge to the community was that everyone who submitted a qualifier would get to play,” Didion explained.

Both CTWC and CTM have prize pools, but they are small in comparison to the seven-figure worlds of Fortnite. If you win CTWC outright, you’ll receive $3,000, with the remaining $10,000 purse divided among the next 15 places. CTM, on the other hand, typically rewards the top eight positions, but because the purse is entirely user-contributed, it varies from month to month. Typically, the pool tops $3,500, with half of that going to the overall winner.

The fact that CTM’s purse is dependent on donations may pose a problem in the long run: “We have someone named ShallBeSatisfied who contributes $1,000 – $2,000 per month. So you have this other person dogwatchingtetris, which is the same thing. ScottGray76 contributes a significant amount on a monthly basis.” Didion stated. In short, the financial incentive to participate in CTM is concentrated in the hands of a few individuals.

CTM is currently operating at a loss. Didion does not work for a living. There is some revenue from Twitch and YouTube, but it is used to compensate community members for restreaming games and other contributions.

CTWC strives for complete realism: all games are played in person (except during the pandemic years) on original NES consoles plugged into CRT televisions. The game is played exactly as it was on the day it was released.

Didion’s unwavering commitment to making the game accessible means that he doesn’t have the luxury of ensuring that everyone has their own NES, CRT, and copy of the game with CTM. Because the tournament is entirely online, he must allow competitors to play with whatever they have. Standardization would be prohibitively expensive.

In addition, When NES Tetris was released in 1989, level 29 was most likely intended to be the game’s conclusion. The speed increases to the point where it is unplayable, earning it the moniker “kill screen.” Today’s players have mastered techniques that allow them to progress past level 29, which necessitates minor changes to the game in order for the score to display correctly, as the original never expected anyone to accumulate more than 999,999 and thus cannot display a number higher than that.

Similarly, many world records are broken at CTM. According to Fractal, with players now able to go on almost indefinitely and new records becoming more difficult to achieve, not all spectators are enjoying the marathon matches.

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