Former Nintendo World Champ Jeff Hansen On Teaming Up With Nintendo Again, 30 Years Later 1
Image: Jeff Hansen / Nintendo

The recent announcement of Nintendo World Championships: NES Edition for the Switch came as a welcome surprise, but what was perhaps even more of a shock was the fact that Nintendo featured Jeff Hansen in the trailer for the game.

For those of you who aren't aware, Hansen was Nintendo World Champion in the 1990s and has the distinction of not only beating Japan's best Nintendo player back in the day, but also being the first Western player (outside of Nintendo) to complete Zelda: Link's Awakening on the Game Boy.

Hansen walked away from competitive gaming in the early '90s and was the subject of a feature-length documentary by our friends over at Nintendo Life. Seeing him once again linked with Nintendo is, therefore, a heartwarming experience, and we were lucky enough to catch up with him to speak about his involvement with Nintendo World Championships: NES Edition.

"Nintendo emailed me a little over a month before they wanted to shoot the commercial," replies Hansen when we asked him how it all happened. "It was intentionally very vague, basically just asking if I was interested in a filming opportunity with Nintendo of America. I’d never said no to Nintendo before and don’t plan to, either, so of course, I quickly replied that I was in. I then entered into an NDA with Nintendo, which I had never done before. We then discussed some of the details of the trip up to Seattle, but Nintendo continued intentionally keeping things very vague, only telling me that I would be playing a new video game title. When I got there, I met the other previous contestants for the first time, and we all became good friends. It was really fun to discuss everyone’s lives and aspirations outside of Nintendo, and to confirm that we’re all just regular, everyday people that have each had unique experiences."

Hansen says that the Nintendo of 2024 is a different beast when compared to the one he worked so closely with when he was a child. "In my previous interactions with Nintendo, it has generally been with Golin Harris employees, which was the marketing arm of Nintendo back in the 90s. Since then, Nintendo has heavily invested in their own internal marketing team which produces Nintendo Direct and much of the marketing content for all of their upcoming titles. I met with several employees, many of whom I would argue know much more about Nintendo culture than I ever will, who are directly responsible for creating the content, including recording the gameplay that is shown directly in their commercials. It was fun to discuss how the videos are made, and how important it is to have a minimum level of capability when recording gameplay, as well as how difficult it is to just hold the controller properly when shooting someone playing Nintendo."

As you might imagine, Hansen has had special hands-on time with Nintendo World Championships: NES Edition, and says he's looking forward to playing the final version. "We were able to play it for a couple of hours, and it was a blast. Even though they’re all games from my era, I can’t really say that I would want to officially compete with any of these younger players without many more days of practice. I am definitely looking forward to getting the collector set when it comes out. It’s basically Mario Party NWC style, which I can definitely get into."

On that topic, it's tempting to ask Hansen how he sees the evolution of "professional gaming", given that he was there right at the very beginning. "It’s obviously a completely different world today," he replies. "The amount of fans that attend events is orders of magnitude higher than when I played, and with the ability to stream events real-time worldwide, the audience is innumerable. I would say the pressure is likely proportionately amplified as a result for anyone that is competing in these events today."

He even has some choice words for anyone who wishes to step into the world of competitive gaming. "Any time anyone tells me that they want to play competitive video games for a living, I emphasize the importance of working extremely hard, but also how critical it is to have a balanced lifestyle. My parents always made sure that my homework, chores, and practising the piano were done before I played any video games. Also, eSports is very similar to physical sports in that you probably have as good of a shot breaking into it as someone who wants to play in the NBA or NFL. You need to have a long-term game plan as you age to let the younger generation replace you when your own skills decline. Even with that, I will say that I’ve met many great influences within the gaming community, regular people who happen to be very good at video games and have learned the value of hard work, whether that is applied to gaming or computer programming or investing in my family."

Could we see Hansen getting involved with other Nintendo-related stuff in the future? "Time will tell," he says. "Like I said, I’m always up for anything that deals with Nintendo. I’ve always been pretty loyal to them because of their focus on family-friendly content and titles that stand the test of time. The Metroid Prime series is my favourite of all time, and I cannot wait for Metroid Prime 4 when it comes out!"