Date: 18th - 20th March, 2011
2011 was the year for France to host the European Pinball Championship. Having built up their Flip-Expo event at the same location over the past few years, the Silverball team volunteered to hold the event in 2009 and used last year's show as a dry run.
The EPC was held at the Salle Serge Reggiani on the Avenue des Canadiens in the coastal town of Le Tréport.
The town sits on France's northern coast, about an hour's drive from the Belgian border and the ferries/tunnel to the UK. There are several hotels close to the venue and plenty of bars and restaurants, such as the Café du Stade just across the road, which became an unofficial retreat from the show when the noise and competition became too much. Plus they had a mostly-working Jokerz pinball for that last minute practice.
We arrived at the venue on Friday afternoon while the show was still being set up and machines were being brought into the hall through the pouring rain. If last year was the dry run, this year was the wet run.
Entry to the hall was included in the EPC registration, or cost €2 per day for non-competitors.
The hall was split into three main areas.
On the right of the picture above were two rows of free play machines, back-to-back. The right-hand bank hosted the Country Competition on Friday night, but these machines were then available for general play - along with the left-hand bank - on Saturday and Sunday.
We made a list of the machines set up in the public area of the hall on Sunday morning. A few machines had been removed and others had arrived, while others had been moved in and out of the tournaments, but these were the 61 non-tournament games set up in the hall on Sunday:
The main central area and the right of the hall accommodated numerous vendors selling games, parts, accessories and assorted amusement bric-a-brac.
These were: Silverball, Acrept/Pascal Janin, Cederman Gameparts (Carl Jacob), The Coin-Op Collector, Eric Rousseau, Rastermania, PinLED, Le Casino du Tréport, Chineur Brocante, Jeufa, Fred & Sylvie Collet, Highclasspinballs.com, Albert Médaillon, Lorenz, Patrick & André, Pascal Payet and Danny 60.
Some of the machines on vendors' stands were for sale, some were set on free play, others on coin play and others weren't available for play at all.
On the right side of the hall next to the stand above was a kitchen area which served hot and cold food and beverages throughout the show.
Because the kitchen was staffed by volunteers and not a professional catering company, prices were very reasonable, such as €1 for a bottle of water and under €3 for a large pate baguette. Pizza, cakes, cookies and bottles of beer were also available at different times of the day for similarly attractive prices.
The far end of the hall was where the EPC individual tournament was held on Saturday and Sunday. There was no separate Classics Tournament planned, so this was hosted by the Swedes three weeks earlier in Borås. That left the main individual EPC tournament, the Country Competition and two Kids Tournaments.
So the first of these tournaments to get under way was the Country Competition. This involved 16 teams from 10 different countries - France, Spain, Italy, Hungary, The Netherlands, Finland, Sweden, United Kingdom, Belgium and Switzerland.
Before play began, the town's Mayor opened the event with a short speech.
The 16 teams were divided into 4 groups of 4 and each team played a match against the other 3 teams in their group. Each match consisted of 2 players from each team playing a 4-player game on one machine while the other 2 players from both teams did the same on a different machine.
Points were awarded for the positions in each game and totaled to give a points score for the match. The total from the 3 matches gave the team their final total which was then ranked with all 15 other teams. The top 6 teams then went into a final.
Each match was played on a pair of machines - typically, one older game paired up with one newer one. The 12 machines used were:
Although the rest of the show wasn't fully set up or officially open on Friday evening, spectators were welcome to watch the Country Competition and those machines not used in the tournament or set up for the EPC individual tournament could also be played. Some 'early-bird' deals could also be found on those vendor stands which were set up.
Play was due to begin at 6pm, but with players still arriving and paperwork to complete, it was 6:45pm when the first game started.
As the competition got under way, the NBA Fastbreak soon buckled under the strain and was replaced by a Johnny Mnemonic, while the sensitivity of the tilt on a few of the machines drew comments from some players.
When all 16 teams had completed their qualifying round matches, the top six teams who progressed to the final were: Italia Tecnoplay Team: 69pts, Team Hungary: 60pts, Equipe de France: 59pts, Schweiz: 56pts, Dutch Pinball Team: 55pts & Spainball: 53pts.
These 6 teams then played a series of matches against each other using the same format as the qualifying round only with 5 matches per team this time.
This produced a victory for Team Hungary who beat last year's winners, Dutch Pinball Team into second place, with the Italia Tecnoplay Team in third.
Saturday's action began at 10am when the qualifying round for the EPC individual tournament began.
The format was the same as the 2009 EPC held in the UK. Each player could choose six of the available machines on which to play a single qualifying game. The scores were ranked and ranking points awarded. The total of a player's ranking points determined their overall position amongst the 154 players.
If a player got a single bad game there was a saving grace in the form of the 'joker' which every player could use to replay a game on one of their selected machines in an attempt to improve their score. If they failed, their existing score stood, otherwise their new score replaced their old one.
There were 20 machines from which to choose the 6 to play. They were:
The outline rules were displayed in French and English versions at the entrance to the tournament area.
Scores were recorded on PDAs which allowed almost instant updating of the scores and positions. A couple of mistakes were noticed but the players sportingly owned up to them and got them corrected. There was also a short period of wireless network congestion, which resulted in a brief outage for the PDAs and a fall back to paper records.
A large screen at the back of the main row of machines cycled through the current standings on each game and the overall rankings. Some of the lower rankings were not easily visible as they disappeared behind the backboxes, and by the end, with so many machine scores to display, the overall ranking positions only came around every minute or so which made for a fraught time for those on the cusp of qualifying who were moving up and down the rankings.
All the machines were set up to be tough to play and minimise game time. Outlanes were set at maximum width and tilts were mostly very sensitive, although there was some variability in the tilt settings across the range of machines.
Some players got their games out the way early in the day while others waited until later in the day to see where they could improve on the existing scores. Ranking points were awarded to the top 45 players on each machine.
The points awarded were fixed, with 100 points for the top scorer, 90 points for second, 75 for third, 60 for fourth, etc. That meant the top points were not affected by the number of players who played the machine but got a lower score, and made the less popular machines more attractive for guaranteed ranking points.
When qualifying ended at 7:30pm these were the overall standings and the 36 qualifiers:
All places below the qualifiers are the final positions.
In addition, there were also two Kids Tournaments held at the event - one on Saturday and the other on Sunday. Saturday's top three were:
With the first Kids Tournament and the individual qualifying places decided, all the machines were rapidly switched off and the hall vacated as everyone departed for a nearby hotel for a special guest dinner which began at 8pm.
The €30 dinner ticket bought guests a welcome cocktail, a 3-course dinner, a raffle ticket for a small selection of prizes and the chance to listen to the evening's guest speaker, Gary Stern.
Before Gary spoke, however, there was a prize raffle. Each table of diners was named after a Stern pinball and everyone on the table got a numbered ticket. A table was drawn followed by a seat number, and that lucky diner won a prize which ranged from a T-shirt and mug to the EPC show banner.
The main prize in the raffle was a signed Avatar 3D translite which was claimed by Olga Petit.
The raffle was followed by the start of dinner which consisted of a choice of smoked salmon tartare or chicken with vegetables, onions and beetroot to start, scallops, duck or rib steak for the entree, and apple pie for desert. As expected, the food was of a high standard, though steak or duck eaters needed to like their meat cooked rare.
Part way through dinner, there was a quiz on Stern pinball with 10 questions about classic or moderns Stern games and a tie-breaker question to guess of the number of flyers Gary had brought with him to give away (60).
Gary then began his speech which was translated into French for the audience by Adeline Eaton.
Gary began by talking about his father's history in pinball and how he and Harry Williams worked together at Williams, before moving on to Stern Pinball today. He stressed how the games are meant to be fun, but he also has to make the business work and pay the staff and the bills.
He talked about steps they are taking to produce a product for all three sectors of the market - home buyers, collectors/enthusiasts and operators/players - and emphasised that although some of the things they are doing now might seem nuts, they are doing them to preserve sales to the home buyer market. He said they cannot make the same game for all three markets and they need all three or there wouldn't be enough sales to maintain the business.
One new area Gary spoke about is getting Stern involved in tournaments, through sponsorship of events or teams. The Italian team was sponsored by Tecnoplay, Stern's distributor in Italy and that was something he wanted to see expanded.
After explaining the philosophy behind the reduction in game features and the increase in randomness, he said operators are telling him this is working to increase revenue from pinball. He continued by saying they are making the premium (LE) model for collectors and will continue to increase what's included in the premium version.
He admitted they are still not sure what to do about the home (lite) versions but are still working on it.
Gary repeated his call to bolster pinball on location by asking bar owners to get pinballs back and guarantee them business with meetings or league nights. If they location can't get someone to supply a pinball, think about operating one there yourself, he said.
The audience were then invited to ask questions. These included (along with the answers):
- Why continue to use a DMD for scoring?
- Why use licensed themes?
- Why The Rolling Stones?
- What is the future for Stern Pinball?
- What will Stern be making next?
- How will Steve Ritchie take Stern to the next level?
- Is it possible to increase the depth of the software in LE versions?
Gary's talk continued for some time and the dinner finally drew to a close a little after midnight.
Fewer than 10 hours later, the hall re-opened and the top-ranked 36 players took part in the next round of the EPC individual tournament.
The organising team had been busy and had taken out several of the qualifying machines and added one new one. The remaining machines were:
In addition, Cactus Canyon was brought in to give a total of 10 machines.
This allowed the newest Stern machines such as The Rolling Stones, and Big Buck Hunter to be put into the free play area for everyone to enjoy.
The 36 players took part in a second qualifying round which worked much like the initial qualifying round, except each player had to choose 4 from the 10 available machines to record a qualifying score, plus there was no joker.
With only 10 machines to play, the qualifiers were split into 3 groups of 12. Qualifiers in positions 36-25 played first from 10am-11am, qualifiers in positions 13-24 played in the following hour and the top qualifiers played in the third hour.
The top 16 qualifiers from this round moved on to the quarter finals. The second round positions were (qualifiers in bold):
After the two qualifying rounds, the format changed to knockout rounds all the way through to the final.
The 16 qualifiers were split into 4 groups of 4 and each group played a single 4-player game on a randomly selected machine, with the top 2 going through to the semi-finals. Those quarter-final results were (qualifiers in bold):
The 8 remaining players then played another knockout round on two randomly machines chosen by the highest qualifiers; Stargate and Creature from the Black Lagoon.
This semi-final round produced the final four:
And so we get to the final of the 2001 EPC - a single 5-ball 4-player game played on Stern's newest game, The Rolling Stones.
The game was removed from the free play area and set up in the tournament area. An overhead video camera was also positioned, so the audience could see the action on the playfield on the big screen. The backboxes of the remaining machines were folded down so everyone could see clearly.
First to play was Daniele who had little luck with his first and second balls before staging a partial recovery on his third to stand at 13.5M, with his last two balls to play.
Timothée played second and had the opposite fortune to Daniele, starting with a strong first ball and building on that success with his second to race ahead with 38M. His third didn't add much to that, but his ball three total of 40.5M was three times that of his nearest challenger, Daniele.
Jörgen was third to play and got off to a reasonable start with a 6M first ball but wasn't able to build on that with the next two balls, standing in third place on 9.6M by the end of ball three.
Franck had the worst start of all four with poor scores on his first two balls before partially recovering to end ball three in last place on 7.2M.
With two balls left to play, these were the scores:
Ball four did little to help either Daniele or Timothée, adding just over a million to both players' scores. Jörgen fared a little better and boosted his score by 6M as he worked towards starting several modes before collecting Rock Star multiball.
But it was Franck who got to grips with the game on ball four, starting Rock Star and Fast Scoring together to end on 22M.
It all came down to the last ball.
Daniele did well on his final ball, starting with a super skill shot and starting Rock Star multiball to nudge ahead of Franck and move into second place with his 23.7M total.
Timothée added another 6M to his total as he looped the centre ramp over and over to build up his bonus multiplier, but couldn't save the ball when it rolled out of the pop bumpers and down the side. Still, with his 47.6M he must have been confident of taking the win.
Jörgen continued with his plan of starting Licks mode with Rock Star multiball, but was thwarted when the ball drained with just one letter of R-O-C-K-S-T-A-R to collect. His 16.8M total put him in fourth place.
Which left just Franck to try to beat Timothée's total.
It looked to be all over when the ball headed for the right outlane with Franck on 26M, but a great nudge popped it into the inlane and set him up to start Album multiball followed by Rock Star multiball.
Rock Star multiball was enough to take Franck's score past Timothée's, at which point he abandoned the game as the audience applauded the new EPC champion.
Straight after the final, the presentation of the trophies to the top four took place, with Gary Stern and Nicolas Linqué handing out the awards.
In addition to his trophy, Franck also picked up €600 in cash, while Timothée earned himself €300, Daniele won €150 and Jörgen €100.
You can watch the final for yourself, straight from the video camera used for the big screen. It is available on YouTube, split into four parts.
This was Franck's second EPC win, having previously triumphed in 1997 when it was held in Valkenburg in The Netherlands, making him the only player to win the Championship twice.
The prize-giving was not over though. Sunday's Kids Tournament was won by Marie Raison who was not present to collect the award. Sunday's top three were:
There were also awards for the best female player which was won by Vallejo Iratxe who received a trophy and €100,
and the best senior player which was won by Pierre Aubert.
These awards brought the 2011 EPC to a close.
The event had been very popular with 154 competitors in the individual EPC tournament and 16 teams in the Country Competition.
There were also around 1,500 paid entries to the show over the weekend which probably accounted for the difficulties finding an available machine to play during most of the show hours.
As with any show and major international tournament there will always be areas for improvement. Comments made to us suggested more scoring displays would be a good idea, so players could easily see their current rankings instead of waiting for them to come round on the main screen.
Given the number of visitors and vendors, a little more space would also have been helpful but otherwise the venue was modern, clean, nicely lit and well ventilated. The area is also very pleasant and the accommodation options (including a camping site just a short walk away) meant most places were within a reasonable walking distance.
So congratulations to the EPC organisational team.
Finally, here's our exclusive Four Minute Tour of the EPC hall.
Get the Flash Player to see this video clip.
Got problems seeing the video? Consult our help page for assistance
The EPC will be back in 2012 when it will be held in Spain. We'll be there, of course, to bring you all the action.
© Pinball News 2011