Date: 11th & 12th February, 2017
Each year, a single tournament in each of fifteen different European countries is selected as that country's qualifying tournament for the IFPA European Championship Series (ECS). The WPPR points earned by players from each tournament are totalled and a ranking table produced.
Once all the qualifying tournaments have been played, the top 32 players automatically qualify for the ECS finals which - wherever possible - are held in a different country each year. For the final of the 2016 season we were in Germany at Pinball Universe in the snowy town of Bünde, 90km west of Hanover.
Pinball Universe has several locations across Germany, but this custom-built building is their main base, and it's an impressive operation. From the outset it is clear that brand recognition is an important part of the business.
Their main showroom is up a flight of stairs, and this was where the free play practice area was located.
Inside the showroom visitors get to see the latest Stern Pinball machines, which on this trip included Batman 66 Premium and Aerosmith Pro. Everything in the showroom is very clean, with a counter for drinks and a seating area.
The free play area extended into a side room where a selection of Pinball Universe's restored games were set up along with a few more interesting new games such as Pabst Can Crusher, Spider-Man home edition, Rob Zombie's Spookshow International and Scoregasm Master.
From the balcony overlooking the ground floor you get to see some of the boxes from the Stern games in the showroom.
But you need to head to the ground level for a much better idea of the sheer number of new games Pinball Universe must have in stock.
Since we are now on the lower level, let's take a look at some of the other rooms.
A dining area was set up which initially contained fruit, snacks and a stocked refrigerator with fruit juices, water, soft drinks and beer.
This room would be where the daily meal was served on both Saturday and Sunday.
Next door was the machine preparation area where Pinball Universe take new-in-box pinball machines and undertake their own pre-delivery checks, mods and protectors.
In the room was a Batman Limited Edition which needed some protectors added to stop the ball breaking some of them plastics.
Pinball Universe cut their own plastics in another part of the building, so it shouldn't take long create a set of protectors for a new game.
Then we come to the two tournament areas.
The main ECS area contained 35 dot-matrix pinballs from 1991 to the present.
Out in the warehouse, another twelve recent Stern Pinball machines were set up. These would be used for the side tournament on Saturday and then for Sunday's tournament.
The machines were:
And so to the tournaments themselves.
The main ECS took place on Saturday starting at 1pm. It was scheduled to finish between midnight and 1am, but everyone suspected it might take a few hours longer.
Entry to the whole weekend cost €120 ($128/£102) which included both main tournaments, the side-tournament (if available), access to the free play areas, unlimited drinks and a buffet meal each day. Everyone taking part had to register on the ground floor in order to get their player badge and to also receive a Pinball Universe goody bag.
This goodie bag included paper pads and a pen for running tournaments, packs of mints, hair tonic, a collapsible ruler, post cards, flyers, stickers and a Millennium Falcon model kit - all items made by firms local to Pinball Universe in Bünde.
IFPA Country Director for Germany, Tobias Wagemann explained the rules to players in the showroom before everyone trooped downstairs to begin.
The format pitched pairs of players against each in a best-of-seven match. The highest-seeded player had choice of machine or position for the first game, with the loser having choice after that.
Match pairings were pre-selected and shown on a paper chart.
Once a match had been decided, the winner continued to the next stage of the chart, while the loser entered the loser bracket for a second chance at making it to the final.
Once players were relegated to the loser bracket they played a best-of-five head-to-head match to continue. The loser from the pair was out of the ECS.
All was not over though, as there was a separate side tournament for those who were eliminated and for non-ECS players who wanted to take part.
This side tournament was held on the twelve machines on the warehouse floor.
The format for the side tournament gave each player sixteen entries which they could play over and of the twelve machines, although no single machine could be played more than twice.
All the scores on each machine were ranked and ranking points awarded, with 100 for the top score, 99 for second and so on. The total points for a player's sixteen entries gave them their overall points score, with the top eight players going into the semi-finals.
With the ECS finals also taking place at the same time, only ECS players who had been eliminated from the ECS were allowed to compete in the side tournament. Also, because of the time required to play sixteen games, only those eliminated early could hope to play all their games before the end of qualifying at 8pm.
Before that, around 5pm, food was served to all competitors. Because of the timing of our games, by the time we got to the dining area most of it had already ben consumed, but you get an idea of what was available in the pictures below.
This consisted of soups, salad, bread and a selection of cold meats. The previously seen fruit, chocolate bars and drinks were also available.
Play continued in both tournaments as soon as dinner was over, so now would be a good time to have a look around the amazing Pinball Universe facility in Bünde while Saturday's ECS play-offs and the side tournament were under way.
Returning to the tournament areas, the main ECS tournament was gradually whittling down the number of players in the winner bracket, as more matches were completed.
Those out of the ECS or who never qualified were free to play in the side tournament.
The top eight were:
The eight were split into two groups of four with each group playing a single game to decide which two would go through to the final.
The final four were:
The final was won by Ernö who finished ahead of Gabriele in second, with Peter third and Dirk fourth.
Meanwhile, the number of players left in the main ECS tournament began to dwindle as the night continued.
As we said earlier, the main ECS finals were unlikely to finish on time, and so it proved.
With a fresh tournament to play on Sunday, we stayed until around 1am at which point there was clearly still some way to go. As it turned out, the match above between Franck and Daniele was the semi-final in the winner bracket which Daniele won.
Franck then joined the loser bracket where he played Cayle George. Cayle had had a remarkable run having lost his first round match to Olivier Renders but continuing right through the loser bracket to the final match against Franck, which he also won. That made Franck third, and Taco Wouters - who he beat in the previous winner bracket round - was fourth.
So the final was between Daniele and Cayle. Cayle needed to beat Daniele in the best-of-seven match, and even if he did that, he then had to beat him again in the final best-of-five loser bracket match.
And that's exactly what he did. A narrow 4-3 victory in the first match was followed by a 3-0 win in the second.
Both skill and stamina were needed, since the final didn't actually end until 8am - the latest of any tournament Pinball News has ever reported from.
In order to allow some time to recover, the trophy presentation was deferred until 1pm on Sunday, but even then Daniele was sleeping and not able to attend. The trophies were presented by Tobias in the showroom upstairs.
Sunday's tournament was a 'Swiss-style' format of 16 rounds, where players are drawn against different opponents and play different machines in each round. When all rounds have been played, the eight players with the most wins went into the play-offs to decide the overall winner.
The tournament began at 10am with the announcement of the first round draw.
When a match was over, the winner returned to the computer and selected the winner. Once all matches in a round were over, the next round was drawn.
At 1pm there was a break for lunch. Again, this was included in the cost of the event, but unlike yesterday most of the food was hot. It was generally agreed that players preferred Sunday's hot food over Saturday's cold buffet.
With lunch over, play resumed in Sunday's tournament's qualifying round.
Unfortunately we had an 8pm flight to catch from Hanover which is an hour's drive away from Bünde, so we had to leave at 5:30pm, just after round 14 of 16 had been completed.
By the end of qualifying, the standings looked like this:
The final placings for both the ECS and Sunday's tournament are still being drawn up, so we will update this report with those as soon as we get them..
Holding the ECS at Pinball Universe was undoubtedly a success. Their selection of new and expertly restored games has to be second to none, and they have the space to hold two tournaments simultaneously while still providing an extensive free play area. In fact, the whole facility is very impressive, with around as many new-in-box machines as you are likely to see at the Stern Pinball factory.
Talking to the company owners, they tell us these machines are selling because they are creating a new, untapped market for pinballs in Germany.
That's hugely encouraging in itself, but they are also able to provide players with a world class tournament venue which will receive its next influx of guests at the forthcoming Pinball Universe Battle at the end of March.
© Pinball News 2017