In a quiet room in Gund Residence Hall, Ren Stone ’26 is preparing for the 2022 Classic Tetris World Championship (CTWC), scheduled to take place October 14-16 in Portland, Oregon. Though his path to the championship has not been without its challenges, the support of the Tetris community has kept Stone invested in the game.
The game of Tetris originated in the Soviet Union in 1984 and requires clearing rows by stacking differently shaped blocks. The annual championship tournament involves a qualifying round and a main event in which the top 32 players participate in a single elimination bracket. Participants play the 1989 iteration of the game on Nintendo Entertainment System consoles and Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) televisions, with the final rounds streamed online for dedicated fans to spectate. Sponsored by the Portland Retro Gaming Expo, the tournament is in its 12th year and will be hosted in person for the first time since the pandemic began.
Stone discovered the Tetris community in 2018 when a Tetris video appeared in his YouTube recommended feed, but as he expressed to the Collegian, his familiarity with the game goes much further back. “I’ve always watched my dad play Tetris on Facebook, so when I watched that video I thought ‘I could do that.’ Watching them play was just so mesmerizing, and it made me want to get better at it,” he said.
YouTube has proven to be a gold mine for Tetris-related content (the CTWC has a channel devoted to gameplay from previous competitions), but many Tetris players, including Stone, have made use of the online platform Twitch. The live streaming service, which caters to gamers and often broadcasts competitions as well as creative content, lends itself to Tetris gameplay, Stone explained. “Twitch is extremely fundamental to the online community because Tetris is a single-player game on a 30-year-old console — the only way you can play with someone else is by streaming,” he explained. Another benefit of streaming via Twitch is the ability to engage with an audience, something Stone values about the community at large.
Preparing for the championship from a dorm room hasn’t been easy, but Stone has employed numerous strategies to succeed. “I have my whole setup in my room, and then I study and do all of my homework at Chalmers so I have that separation of spaces. Whenever I sit down at my desk, it’s Tetris time.” The setup that Stone refers to is quite remarkable, with his very own CRT television perched atop his desk and a designated camcorder used for streaming. Having a “separate space” for Tetris has allowed Stone to experiment with strategies for the upcoming tournament as well. “I’ve switched my grip to something more secure, and I’ve been playing as much as I can on the faster speeds. As I get closer to the tournament, I’ll slow down and focus more on the actual gameplay.”
Also critical for Stone is the support he has found from other players. He wasn’t always aware of the greater Tetris community; rather, it was something he discovered along the way. “My theory is that Tetris attracts a specific group of people who are disciplined and thoughtful, and that generally leads to a community full of kind and interesting people.” With regard to the upcoming championship, Stone feels similarly amicable toward his fellow players and event organizers. “I’m really just trying to qualify in the championship, and the organizers who have been running the online tournaments every month are incredibly good at their jobs. I’ve been to three in-person tournaments in addition to the online ones, and all of them have been so much fun.”
Though he enjoys the competition, Stone is truly uplifted by the people who share his passion and play alongside him. “There’s really nothing I don’t like about the community.”