Joseph Saelee, the youngest Classic Tetris World Champion ever, just reached level 33 in Tetris, which, until now, was believed to be impossible.
Tetris is one of the easiest games to pick up and one of the most difficult to master.
Everyone can recognize the rules and win condition of the game at first glance. Players are tasked with moving falling pieces (called tetrominoes) and adjusting them until they form a horizontal line. You get points for each line you clear, and if you let the pieces reach the top, then it’s game over.
The concept is simple, but the difficulty comes in the different ways you can make a mistake and ruin your game, or make the right move at the right moment and get a high score. Tetris is a game that rewards good decision making at top speeds.
The classic Nintendo Entertainment System version of Tetris (commonly referred to as Classic Tetris) only has 29 levels. To reach each level, you need to clear 10 lines, and each level jump comes with an increase in drop speed.
Once you reach level 29 — dubbed the “Killscreen” by competitive Tetris fans — the tetrominoes fall way too fast, and it’s impossible for the human mind to read the situation and react fast enough.
Or at least, impossible for most people. The same can’t be said for Joseph Saelee, who not only reached level 30, but also discovered levels 31, 32, and now 33, as documented on his YouTube channel.
Joseph Saelee, 17, is one of only three Classic Tetris World Champions ever, and the first and only one who is younger than the game itself.
As documented in the movie Ecstasy of Order, the Classic Tetris World Championship (CTWC) is a labor of love, designed to determine who the best Tetris player in the world is. The tournament was modeled after the 1990 Nintendo World Championship, which was decided over a Tetris match.
The event has been held every year since 2010. Competitors from all over the world convene in Portland, Oregon, to find out who is the most skilled at the world’s most-played video game.
In the past, the CTWC has been dominated by Jonas Neubauer and Harry Hung, who are both featured in the aforementioned documentary. The two had claimed to be the best in the world, and both lost against Joseph when he won his world title in 2018.
Thor Auckland, the Nintendo World Champion, was the first player to reach level 30, a feat that was believed to be impossible at the time.
His record stood for eight years until Joseph reached level 31 while streaming live on Twitch. Ever since then, the 17-year-old has dedicated his energy to reach as high of a level in Classic Tetris as the game allows, which, for all he knows, could have no definitive cap.
Watch Joseph discover level 33 in the video embedded below.