Gamers from the Russian regions spend hours playing Tetris to win international tournaments

Photo by Tom Tang on Unsplash. Used under an Unsplash license.

By Novaya Vkladka

This article was first published in Novaya Vkladka in Russian. A translated and edited version is republished below with permission.

On June 6, 2024, the famous computer game Tetris turned 40 years old. Invented by Soviet programmer Alexey Pajitnov, the game has long transcended amateur status. In 2010, the first Classic Tetris World Championship (CTWC) was held. Today, people around the world play Tetris professionally, and there is also a Tetris community in Russia, members of which I spoke with on the anniversary of the launch of their favorite game. Despite the Russian community being much smaller than its Western counterpart, players manage to participate in international tournaments.

Classic Tetris Russia, an analogy of the American Classic Tetris World Championship, was established in 2020 by 39-year-old Viktor Sergeev, who grew interested in the game after he stumbled upon a video of the championship during a business trip a few years prior. He began studying the rules and downloaded the game, initially dedicating up to four hours a day to practice. He then started streaming his games on Discord, where he met other Tetris fans.

Sergeev longed to participate in competitions but couldn't find any Russian championships, so he decided to organize an online tournament himself. The first participants were his new acquaintances who joined his streams. In 2019, he won the competition himself, with no more than ten people competing. Now, the number of participants has grown to the point where he doubts he can hold his place among the top players.

According to the current organizer of the Russian Classic Tetris Championship, Mikhail Yerukhimovich, the number of participants varies and can reach up to 16 people. He explains this relatively small number of players by the high entry threshold. By the time they participate in the tournament, all players have been “immersed in the game” for more than a year and show high results.

Yerukhimovich notes that new people rarely join their community. “You could say that we don't find them, but we fish them out and invite them to join us. I think this is a problem for any narrowly focused community, especially a gaming one,” he concludes, adding that they still hope to popularize competitive Tetris in Russia.

Sergeev believes the small number of players in Russia can be attributed to the game's complexity, which deters many newcomers from playing professionally: “Tetris is a cunning game. It seems easy, but once you start learning, there are so many nuances. Plus, you need time to practice, and not many can afford that. It's like a sport.”

There are currently 235 members in the Tetris enthusiasts’ group on VKontakte, including students. Sergeev maintains that most Tetris players are men. In all his time playing the game, he has never seen girls participating in either Russian or foreign competitions, and says that any female followers of his group are mostly supporters.

Active players in the group confirm that professional Tetris play can take up a lot of time and requires great perseverance. Maxim, a student from Yakutsk, dedicates about four hours a day to preparation before championships, and at least an hour on regular days to “stay in shape.” He claims there are no more than twenty serious players among the followers of the Classic Tetris Russia group.

Maxim became interested in Tetris in 2022; when he learned that the game is considered an e-sport, he started taking it seriously. He never misses the Russian championship, which is held twice a year, in winter and summer. He also participates in monthly international online tournaments.

Both the Russian and Western Tetris communities use the version of Tetris released by the Japanese company Nintendo in 1989. Few manage to earn money from participating in championships. In Russia, there are no cash prizes at all, while the American Classic Tetris World Championship (CTWC) had a prize pool of just over USD 20,000 in 2023, with each player paying a USD 50 entry fee. Players as young as 13 can qualify for the world tournament, but they need to pass difficult qualifying competitions. Most CTWC winners are participants from the USA.

There is also a European branch of the championship (CTES), with local competitions being held in Finland, Germany, Singapore, and Hong Kong. As players achieve new records, the game becomes more challenging. In 2024 for instance, Blue Scuti, a 13-year-old student from the US, completed Tetris, raising the maximum game level from 29 to 39.

Many Russian players strive to participate in international competitions. One of them, 29-year-old Andrey Kosenko, gained fame in 2023. That year, Kosenko loader from Volgodonsk became the winner of the monthly Classic Tetris Monthly tournament. After numerous media publications calling him the first world champion, Kosenko quickly explained on social media that while he became the first Russian participant to win this tournament, it was “not a global world championship,” but a monthly competition. Kosenko says that “invitations to newspaper and TV interviews are already too much.”

The Russian Tetris enthusiasts’ group attracts followers who don't really play, but occasionally follow online competitions. Andrey from Novosibirsk says he became interested in Tetris thanks to Yuri The Professional‘s videos. “Watching two unknown people from abroad play is difficult without such a commentator,” Andrey explains. Voice actor Yuri Ivanov, who runs the YouTube channel, has been commenting on Tetris championships since 2016.

As a tour guide at the Museum of Computing Technology in Novosibirsk, Andrey's job is also connected to retro video games. Among the exhibits are many consoles from the last century, on which you can also play Tetris. Andrey last played in 2020 in “Tetris 99,” where 99 players can compete simultaneously. Following the tournaments became especially interesting, he says, when the first Russian player appeared in them, for whom Andrey “cheered and worried.”

While other Russian athletes are not allowed to participate in international tournaments due to the war in Ukraine, Russian Tetris players do not face such restrictions: at least eight gamers continue to participate in international competitions and maintain a high level of performance, with some even setting world records. In 2024, a player with the username Portalll won a USD 700 prize at the Mega Masters tournament, organized by the Classic Tetris Monthly (CTM) community. After all, Yerukhimovich notes, it's hard to imagine how tournaments for a game made in Russia would be held with restrictions for Russians.

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