Jan 09

Rest in Peace Jonas Neubauer

If you don’t know the name “Jonas Neubauer”, I’m frankly a little unsure how you found this. But a brief primer: Jonas, or “NubbinsGoody” as his Twitch stream was known, was a pillar, maybe the pillar, of the Classic Tetris community, specifically NES Tetris and its Classic Tetris World Championship.

Let’s start there. The Classic Tetris World Championship has been in existence for just over ten years, since 2010. In each of the eleven editions of the CTWC that have been held so far, here were Jonas’s results:

  • 2010: 1st
  • 2011: 1st
  • 2012: 1st
  • 2013: 1st
  • 2014: 2nd
  • 2015: 1st
  • 2016: 1st
  • 2017: 1st
  • 2018: 2nd
  • 2019: Top 32
  • 2020: Top 16

So in each of the first nine editions of the tournament, Jonas took 7 firsts and 2 seconds. Obviously, 7 titles is the record, one not likely to be broken for a long time (If ever) for reasons I’ll get into later. And even in 2018, Jonas played better than he’d ever played before, especially in the finals. It just so happened that his opponent in that final, Joseph Saelee (Who is currently second all-time in CTWC titles with….2), played even better. And Joseph got into NES Tetris because of Jonas, and learned a lot from him too. More on that later as well.

In 2020, despite only making the top 16, Jonas again probably played even better than he had prior to that. While numerous players had passed him in terms of sheer physical ability (Yes, this is absolutely a thing in NES Tetris. Oversimplifying to the point that Classic Tetris aficionados would be justified in calling me out on it, the quicker you can tap left and right, the more options you have in deciding where to place your pieces, and the longer you can afford to wait for the precious longbars you need to make Tetrises), his mental command of the game was still unmatched in my opinion–he made moves, tucks, adjustments, etc. I had never seen from anyone before or since. The thing is that the community exploded between about 2017 and 2020, in large part thanks to Jonas himself.

As for 2019, yes, that was a shocking result. But talking about it some time after the fact, Jonas noted that sooner or later, a Tetris player, even a world-class one, is going to have a bad tournament. To him, the actual shock was that he managed to hold out for almost ten years before the “bad tournament” debt finally came due for him.

Which brings me to the main reason I’ll miss Jonas: His humility.

During, especially, the later stages of his 2010-2017 reign, as streaming and the like really took off, Jonas shared his Tetris knowledge with the world in the form of various “Tetris 101” videos, and his livestreams. He wanted people to know how he played the game, and as mentioned earlier, people like Joseph used those videos to improve their own game (And elevate NES Tetris to an even higher place). On the rare occasions he lost a match, he seemed genuinely happy for his opponent to beat him.

After his elimination from the 2020 tournament, the first thing Jonas said in his interview was “Great commentary today!” The second was “[Let’s] keep this short; this is my opponent’s day today.” That, to me, speaks to who Jonas was–always humble, always full of positivity.

Allow me a digression. I promise this will relate back to Jonas and Tetris, although Tetris now seems like the least important part of his legacy.

If you ask me who I think the greatest golfer of all-time is, I’ll give you one of two answers depending on my mood that day. They’re the same two answers most would give to that question, I imagine. If I’m prioritizing sustained career excellence, I’ll answer “Jack Nicklaus”. If I’m going for sheer “This is not even fair” level of domination at the person’s peak, I’ll answer “Tiger Woods”.

Now, if you ask me who the most important golfer of all-time is, that’s a lot simpler: I answer “Arnold Palmer, and you’re stupid if you think otherwise”.

Palmer was the golfer who brought golf to the masses for the first time. Golf on television, and arguably sports on television, is a thing that happened primarily due to Arnold Palmer. There is no Nicklaus, Woods, etc. without Arnold Palmer. And his influence extended off the golf-course too–he was the highest-paid athlete in the US in terms of endorsement money for nearly 30 straight years until Michael Jordan finally overtook him in the early 1990s.

Currently, if Jonas isn’t thought of as the greatest NES Tetris player of all-time, he’s certainly in the conversation, especially if “sustained career excellence” is your metric (Again, 7 victories in 11 tournaments. No one else has more than 2; Joseph Saelee and 1-time champion Harry Hong are the only other people to even make multiple finals). As the years pass, I expect people to eventually raise the bar in NES Tetris high enough that that is no longer the case. But to me, he’ll always be the Arnold Palmer, the reason for the community’s growth. As I mentioned earlier, Joseph Saelee was inspired to play NESTris because of Jonas. And that’s true of pretty much the entire community. Much like with Arnold Palmer (Or, to move to another field, The Beatles), if a person isn’t into NES Tetris because of Jonas, they’re into it because of someone inspired by Jonas.

But again, that’s the least important part now. The world lost a great Tetris player. But more importantly, it lost a great human.

Rest in Peace, Jonas.

-EE

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