Tetris 99 – let’s make it esports ™

99 players enter an arena and only one may leave a winner. That is the standard formula of the battle royale genre that’s gripped the esports world in the past few years. Am I talking about Fortnite in this instance? Or maybe I’m talking about recent esports up-and-comer Apex Legends? Fools. I’m not talking about shooters. Battle royales don’t necessarily have to be shooters and recent newcomer Tetris 99 proves that.

Tetris 99 is a recently introduced Tetris spin-off available for free exclusively on the Nintendo Switch. In that game, you play a game of Tetris alongside 98 other people in hopes of being the last one standing. As you play, you can target other players so that when you clear a line, you can drop debris on their playing field and prevent people targeting you from building debris against you. As more people drop out, the game becomes faster and people are more likely to target you (especially if you’ve got kills under your belt), turning it into the game of fast reflexes and thinking that competitive Tetris players can appreciate.

Tetris 99 has been well-received on release. On Twitch, the game enjoys a healthy viewership in the thousands. However, can Tetris 99 spin-off into something bigger?

Tetris on its own already enjoys a moderate competitive scene, being one of the oldest games there is. Small local tournaments can be found for the various versions of Tetris, from score competitions for the original Nintendo Entertainment System to head-to-head matches of Puyo Puyo Tetris.

In 2010, a bigger, more formal tournament popped up. The first Classic Tetris World Championship (CTWC) was held, with professional players competing in the original version of Tetris. The tournament’s foundations is interesting, as the tournament was originally devised alongside a documentary called Ecstasy of Order: The Tetris Masters, which focused on the history of Tetris, its pro-players and the tournament to see who was the best out of all of them.

Since then however, CTWC has stuck around with yearly tournaments. More than 10,000 people watched the 2018 finals live, its YouTube video sitting at a healthy 3.6 million views. With the interest generated by Tetris 99 and the 2018 release of Tetris Effect, viewership for the next CTWC will likely top those numbers.

So, Tetris 99 has a base as a spectator sport. However, while it has the base, what it currently lacks is the means.

What Tetris 99 needs is a lobby system. As it currently stands, people that play Tetris 99 are sent into random lobbies. A method of creating private lobbies would greatly benefit the game. Not only would it make organizing tournament play possible, but it can help casual play in that it can let friends play together; datamining of the game revealed that a mode with computer players will be added, so computer players could take up the blank spaces if need be.

If tournaments only want the cream of the crop to participate, tournament organizers could limit participation based on player level. Players of Tetris 99 can level up, but as it currently stands, it’s there as bragging rights, acting as an indicator to show off who has spent a lot of time playing the game. Player level can be put to practical use to filter in top players (or at least, ones with a lot of experience) to participate in tournaments.

An improved way of spectating would also make the game more suitable for watching. On the sides of the playing field, players can see miniaturized versions of other players’ games and the shots crossing between them from successful line clears. Upon death, a player gets a live feed which players are forced out, allowing spectators to see who lives on and ultimately wins the game. However, spectators don’t know who’s who until they’re out, which makes it difficult to gauge how a match progresses. A way to switch between the views of different players could fix this.

Tetris continues to be a competitive darling decades on. As the 35th anniversary of the original Tetris approaches, Tetris 99 presents new possibilities for people to engage in the series’ competitive scene and could potentially be something more serious.

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