Whatever Happened to Thor Aackerlund: Nintendo’s First Champion?
In Norse mythology, Thor is the god of thunder and wields his mighty hammer Mjölnir. In Nintendo mythology, Thor Aackerlund was the god of Tetris and was the first Nintendo World Champion. Though as quickly as he ascended the ranks of Nintendo players, he quickly fell into obscurity and out of video gaming. Perhaps it is fitting that the first champion’s journey is just as shrouded in myth and legend as his Norse counterpart.
The 1990 Nintendo World Championships was likely the first of its kind; a national touring tournament that found champions in twenty-nine U.S. cities in three age groups (11 & under, 12-17, 18+) who then competed in a national competition in Universal Studios. Each game was the same game, which was a timed 6 minutes and 21 second run in which players had to collect 50 coins in Super Mario Bros., finish the first race in Rad Racer, and then accumulate as many points as possible in Tetris until time expired (essentially this was the real-life version of the competition at the end of The Wizard). Towards the end of this video you can see Thor wield his mighty hammer and some sweet threads + mullet for the MC.
Aackerlund, being from Houston, won the 12-17 age group in the Houston competition. He then obliterated the national competition and was crowned champion. Thor had the highest score of all the competitors with an approximate total of 2.8 million points, beating second place by 100,000 points. He was then thrust into Nintendo celebrity status and became a spokesperson for Camerica, who produced unlicensed NES games, and made appearances on home shopping networks to endorse various Camerica games.
This is where the facts end and Thor’s leap into myth and obscurity begins. Apparently, there was a friendly competition between the national champions of each of the three age groups and Thor won, which made him the “true” champion. According to Thor’s bio on losthammer.com, after winning the championship, he attended the Nintendo Media Event to play NES games alongside such Hollywood heavyweights as Candace Cameron, Sage Stallone, Nell Carter and other celebrities. He was also apparently a frequent visitor to the Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas and was sometimes asked by game companies to preview games and provide feedback. His visits on home shopping networks allegedly featured some prestigious specials guests like Hulk Hogan and Vanna White.
But as his bio on losthammer.com also states that Thor became completely burnt out on video games and left the video game scene, even going so far as giving up video games for almost 20 years. He eventually returned to competition in 2010 and competed at the 2010 Classic Tetris World Championship, taking fifth place. The competition is the subject of the 2011 documentary Ecstasy of Order: The Tetris Masters.
While most of the information available on Thor might be conjecture, it seems only natural that the man named after a Norse god has such a ethereal fame in the Nintendo world. It says he went on to enjoy other activities such as martial arts, Thai boxing, and wrestling. Now it seems he is content with being a dad. His Twitter account has only 11 tweets and just 115 followers. Modern technology allows all video game related feats and accomplishments to be captured and uploaded, but most of what is publicly available of Thor’s reign is in a few seconds of video from a VHS. Nevertheless, 1990 was a magical year for Aackerlund and enough to earn himself a permanent yet mythical spot in Nintendo lore.
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