Back in March, Jacob Sweet wrote a piece for The New Yorker about the players taking over Tetris and showing the old dogs their new tricks:
In March of 2018, five months after he began playing classic Tetris, Joseph [Saelee] maxed out for the first time. By August, he had set the record for most lines cleared in a single game and posted the fastest times to three hundred thousand points and a hundred lines cleared. A couple weeks before the 2018 Classic Tetris World Championship, he became the first person to reach Level 31 on video, clearing twenty-eight lines after the kill screen. “Oh, my gosh,” he repeated in disbelief, hands on his head, “Level 31.” And Level 32 had been just two lines away. “Someone send this to Jonas,” a commenter wrote.
When Joseph arrived at the C.T.W.C., the top players—nearly all of them in their mid-thirties to early forties—recognized his face from his YouTube clips, but they didn’t know how competitive he’d be. Then the tournament started and Joseph kept advancing. “And it was just, like, ‘What’s happening? Why am I winning?’ ” he said. “It doesn’t make sense.” As he sat beside Jonas for the final match, Joseph displayed transparent emotions: disbelief after winning his first game, head-shaking agony during a long-bar drought, anxiety when fighting a points deficit with the kill screen approaching. When it hit him that he had defeated Jonas, he was left crying and speechless, forced to take a break from his interview as hundreds of attendees rose to give him a standing ovation. “I came into this tournament just to qualify,” Joseph said, tears running down his face. The announcer was stunned: “This may be the first champion we’ve ever seen wearing braces.”