The 2019 Classic Tetris World Championship has come to a close and the competitive Tetris scene has never looked more alive. The top Tetris players in the world continue to show their best stuff on the big stage, but now they're also being joined by a new generation of young competitors. Three of the top four players were under the age of 18, remarkable given that NES Tetris itself is 32 years old. While a new generation of Tetris players are coming along, Shacknews met up with one of the game's most influential veterans: the seven-time Classic Tetris World Champion Jonas Neubauer.
Neubauer had entered the weekend hoping to avenge last year's finals loss to young newcomer Joseph Saelee. However, he found a far more stacked field than in past years and Neubauer suffered a stunning loss to Paul "MegaRetroMan" Tesi in the Top 32 round. While Neubauer would not return to the finals stage, he couldn't help but smile over how far competitive Tetris has come over the years.
Neubauer spoke to Shacknews about his loss to MegaRetroMan, his storied career, the future of competitive Tetris, and being part of a one-of-a-kind retro esports marriage. And of course, we'd be remiss if we didn't ask about his surprise appearance on ABC's To Tell the Truth.
Shacknews: You're arguably the face of competitive Tetris. How long have you been playing?
Jonas Neubauer, seven-time Classic Tetris World Champion: I've been playing since I was nine years old.
Shacknews: Wow, all the way back to when NES Tetris first came out?
Neubauer: When it came out, yeah! I bought it with my allowance money and I would play my dad back and forth. So that was probably my first competitive experience with Tetris.
Shacknews: When did you first start competing?
Neubauer: I got contacted after a video uploaded on YouTube with a max out and they contacted me for the first tournament through YouTube. And it was in my hometown of L.A., and so 2010 was that first year.
Shacknews: You've been at the Classic Tetris World Championship since the very beginning. In your view, how has the tournament changed in the last ten years?
Neubauer: So it was going pretty steady until Trey Harrison got involved and upped our video game. His A/V skills made it much more palatable to the random viewer and people started watching more videos on YouTube. After that, the popularity exploded. We're getting a lot of new blood. It's been so great, it makes the tournament very competitive. I got knocked out in the first round this year. It's kind of bittersweet, but ultimately, it's just a great tournament.
Shacknews: You are a seven-time world champion, but as you noted, there's a lot of new blood here. We've had about a dozen max outs on Saturday. Have your preparation methods changed at all when competing againts this new, hungry field?
Neubauer: Absolutely! I've had to come out of my comfort zone a little bit. I used to be known for playing very safely and just kind of pulling kill screens. You have to really start being more aggressive and putting yourself out there. You get a little more vulnerable with your builds. That's kind of what I've been working on.
Shacknews: Do you feel like the pressure to perform well has increased over the years, given your reputation?
Neubauer: A little bit. I'm a full-time Twitch streamer, so a bad result like this can impact my daily life in a lot of ways. I think I cracked a little under the pressure. To be fair, I have a lot of wonderful support, so that'll be nice, but yeah... I'm feeling it.
Shacknews: I'm imagining that this is hardly your first setback after a long and storied career, so I want to ask, how do you regroup after a tough loss like this?
Neubauer: You got to remember that it's a game. And the people that you're playing against are great competitors. There's not a lot of bitter rivalry, so if anybody beats me, I root for them immediately. I just want to see everybody shine bright. It's ultimately been a very wonderful experience for me to play Tetris in this type of high-profile environment, so just knowing what one win meant for me, I just want that feeling for everybody else.
Shacknews: I want to take a moment to ask about your family. You're a multi-time Tetris world champion and your wife just recently won the Dr. Mario World Championship. What's that dynamic like? Do you prepare for your respective games together?
Neubauer: Yeah, so it's a beautiful thing. It's a shared adventure. You always want something like that in a marriage. Heather's been very supportive on stream. She's in television production, so any of our broadcasts, she adds the nice little professionalism and polish that I don't have. But she was part of the culture, she was part of the community, and carved out a wonderful spot for herself and took the whole Dr. Mario tournament and is just a nice ambassador for that game, as well.
Shacknews: And lastly, I want to ask about your appearance on ABC's To Tell The Truth. I thought I recognized you when I was watching, but it was still really fun to hear you introduce yourself on the show. So how did all that come about? Tell the story of how you wound up on prime-time television.
Neubauer: So the nature of the show is that they have one person that's telling the truth and two imposters. So they had originally wanted to do it for Tetris and the tournament was a little too high-profile. Some of the celebrities actually knew about competitive Tetris. So they audibled to LEGO. They figured there was some crossover between Tetris, a game about building, to LEGO, building blocks.
They reached out to me. I had a day to prepare. I had to get a backstory. I had to do mental jousting with Snoop Dogg and all of these celebrities. Ultimately, I was able to fool them in Round 2, so I feel good about that. That's at least one victory this year that I can hang my hat on.
(Disclaimer: Shacknews was one of the sponsors of this year's Classic Tetris World Championship.)