Is Tetris Still Popular In The 21st Century?

In Tetris, the block pieces (known as Tetrominoes) fall one by one from the top of the screen and the player has to make those blocks disappear by arranging them in horizontal rows. The game ended once the stack reached the top of the screen (known as topping out). Although the game looks simple, it can actually be difficult to play as the pieces move faster.

The game uses seven different Tetrominoes, which are listed in the image below. Even though it’s not true, Jeopardy! mentions that the blocks have names like Orange Ricky, Hero, and Smashboy.

In 1984, Alexey Pajitnov invented this game in hopes that him and his friends would have fun playing it, which he mentions when introducing the finals of the 2017 Classic Tetris World Championship.  He originally created this game on the Electronika 60 while working as a computer programmer at the Academy of Science of the USSR. Alexey came up with the name of the game by combining the words Tetra-, which means four in Greek, and Tennis, which was his favorite sport.

Alexey Pajitnov at the 2019 Classic Tetris World Championship
Alexey Pajitnov, the creator of Tetris, makes his first appearance at the Classic Tetris World Championship. Source: Twitter

Can Nintendo make Tetris Popular?

In 1988, Henk Rogers, a Dutch Gaming Publisher, found the game at a Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show. Once he played it, he found that this simple game very addictive as he played it again and again. He then worked on an agreement with Nintendo to distribute the game along with the Game Boy. But before Nintendo could sell Tetris, Rogers had to get licensing rights from the Soviet Union (which owned the game at the time). The entire history of Pajitnov’s creation and the fight to obtain a valuable licensing deal to the game can be found in Dan Ackerman’s Book, The Tetris Effect and Gaming Historian’s YouTube Documentary, The Story of Tetris.

In 1989, Nintendo released the Game Boy version of the game. They ended up selling more than 35 million copies of the game. Nintendo also released a console version for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). The 1990 Nintendo World Championship featured Super Mario Bros, Rad Racer, and NES Tetris.

Nintendo made the game popular by selling 35 million copies of the Game Boy version. But would Tetris remain popular in the 21st century?

NES Tetris Gameplay
Gameplay of NES Tetris

The Beginning of a Tournament

In 2009, Harry Hong recorded the first maxout on NES Tetris, by getting the highest possible score of 999,999. Adam Cornelius decided to hold a fundraiser to create a documentary to honor Harry’s achievement, which led to other top scoring players to emerge to the public including Jonas Neubauer who also recorded a maxout. Robin Mihara joined Adam Cornelius to interview different Tetris Masters. In 2010, Robin set up the first Classic Tetris World Championship (CTWC) to determine who the best player is. These interviews as well as the first ever CTWC are featured in the documentary, Ecstasy of Order. Viewers in the United States can watch it for free on Tubi.

The Classic Tetris World Championship has since been held every August at the Portland Retro Gaming Expo where players from all over the world compete head to head for the championship. You can find past tournaments on their YouTube channel, Classic Tetris. Learn more about the competition and when the next one will happen on their website. Follow them on Twitch where the CTWC broadcast their tournaments live.

Is Tetris still popular in the 21st Century?

Tetris remains popular today with modern versions of the game released. One of those games was Tetris Effect for the PlayStation 4, which uses Virtual Reality to allow a player to immerse themselves with this fascinating game. It has also won the Games Critics Awards for Best VR/AR Game. The game was also played at the 2019 Summer Games Done Quick.

Another game that came out was Tetris 99 for the Nintendo Switch. This is a battle royale game that consist of up to 99 players. This game is one of many games to compete with other battle royale games such as Fortnite. For more information on the gameplay, check out this GDQx run. While HardDrop shows off his skills, Jonas Neubauer (7 time CTWC champion) and his wife Heather Ito (Dr. Mario Champion) does a good job, as couch commentators, explaining how the game works.

Some of the Classic Tetris World Championship videos that have over 10 million views including 2016 Finals of the Tournament, which was known for the announcer repeatedly shouting “Boom! Tetris for Jeff“.  The competition has helped make this game popular by having a competition where players can show off their skills.  The CTWC uses the NES version which is different than some of the modern versions that came out. There were new mechanics that were introduced over the years that changed how the game is played.

Tetris is still popular today. The CTWC has helped create interest in the game. New generations have entered the competition, with a 16-year old who became a champion in 2018.