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So, the Tetris Cash Show Was a Thing

Tetris Primetime was a daily competition on the mobile Tetris app that gave you a chance at cash prizes if you survived and/or played well enough. The catch was, you had to play with the mobile app's awkward touch/swipe controls. And I did this for 6 months, and it slowly rewarded me. Then it vanished very quietly. Some days I'd be unsure it actually existed if it wasn't for the Paypal records. Yet, it was real, and it created some very amazing moments.

In July of 2020, I read an article about a new show-competition-thingy on the mobile Tetris app called Tetris Primetime. It seemed odd, but it did make me curious, and I tried my luck at it a few days later. It was less annoying than I thought it would be. There was a video presentation and a Tetris host guy (that kind of became endearing after a while), but after he said his piece he hecked off and you just played Tetris for the remainder, attempting to survive progressively harder speed levels.

If you survived to certain rounds, you and everybody else that survived to that point were entered into a drawing for a small prize, where a small number of people would be randomly chosen. For the most competitive, 10 of the top 100 scoring players would be randomly selected to win a $100 prize, and 1 of the top 3 scoring players would be randomly selected to win a $500 prize (this ended up being Wumbo a huge amount of the time). I was still skeptical until the moment I won a $5 drawing a couple weeks in, and a couple days later it was in my Paypal account. That itself was a pretty cool feeling, getting some cash just for playing Tetris, and it inspired me to catch nearly every show from then on.

The tap and swipe controls... worked? I suppose?? Much like trying to sleep on a hard floor, it was doable, but also left me very uncomfortable. (Tap to rotate, drag to move, swipe up to hold, swipe down to hard drop.) As somebody that's played with controllers most of my life, it was one hell of a learning curve and I was much slower at playing Tetris this way than on any other version. (There was also a control scheme with on-screen buttons, but I'd argue that's worse. Imagine driving a car and putting your foot on circles on the floor instead of gas and brake pedals.) At least on this version, everyone was playing with the same set of tools, EXCEPT THOSE THAT OBVIOUSLY WERE NOT. I constantly checked my scores against the top scores, and even though I recognized those players from other leaderboards like Tetris Effect and my scores would still be lower, they would be WAY closer than whatever happened after each Primetime competition where I sometimes wouldn't even have a quarter of the top score. The app did not support any kind of external controllers or keyboards, but yet it seemed clear the top players were playing with something other than their thumbs. Most likely, it was some app that mapped certain inputs to touching the positions of the on-screen buttons, which you had to fully root your phone/tablet/device to do in the first place. I got very annoyed at this clear unfairness, but I still kept playing for the smaller prizes and to see if I could at least get fast enough with my thumbs to get into the top 100.

Over time, I did manage to adjust and got a little bit faster, although still not anywhere near controller speed. With those adjustments, I got progressively closer and closer to that top 100 each day, until one magical Sunday where it happened for the first time. That game is captured in this video:

I was really looking forward to checking my inbox the next day, even though there was a 90% chance I wouldn't be drawn. Even if my inbox lit up for a prize, it might have only been the $1 prize. The next afternoon, I opened the app, looked at my messages, and...

I lost my mind. This was incredibly cool. It was probably the best feeling gaming moment of my 2020, and is right up there with the greatest moments in general. I was hooked and was ready to try and do this again. Unfortunately, just a bit later, that wouldn't be possible.

At first, the prize pool was $5,000 per day and gave you a chance at winning $5 prizes for surviving, although you had to be quite lucky to roll one. Then, the prize pools became $10,000 per day. The top prizes remained the same, but now there was a *much* higher chance at winning $1, $2, or $3 prizes, and I often rolled more than one in the same night. However, 10 days after my $100 bink (my timing turned out to be excellent), the prizes were suddenly all slashed by 90% and the total become just $1,000 per day. It became as hard as it used to be to win the $5 survival prizes at the start, except now they were $1 prizes. The top 3 prize and the top 100 prizes got slashed to $50 and $10 respectively. This was when most people dropped out, and I almost did too, but interestingly enough, it was now way easier to place into the top 100. About a month after the nerfs, I managed to place almost every day, and I hit that top 100 prize 8 more times (at $10) before the app said that Primetime was "taking a break" at the end of January 2021.

The mobile Tetris app still runs on, but has not said when or if Primetime will return, and doesn't acknowledge anywhere that it even existed. (Microtransactions for its other modes are up and running, though.) My (100% speculation only) guess is that somebody higher up in the company determined that the large prizes weren't sustainable for their long term strategy of hooking in newer players, and then at some point even with the tiny prizes, it was pointless setting up the logistics and paying players and Mr Host Guy. I once saw a tweet from the Tetris Mobile account saying they were going to raise the prizes back up from $1,000, and the next day I looked back and it had been deleted, further pushing me towards the above theory.

Regardless, Tetris Primetime was a pretty cool thing to attend each day, regardless of the stakes. I often streamed my attempts and had some cool chats with people that also played. I wish it could have gone on longer, but I also find it weird they managed to sustain giving out so much cash for so long in the first place. The game rewarded me a grand total of exactly $250, far more than I've earned from other similar mobile "shows", and also more than I've ever earned from any (non-poker) gaming competition. It was a really cool time while it lasted, and I'm very happy my devotion to Tetris actually rewarded me in some form.

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