Pinball is all about competing. Whether you're playing to beat your friends, your highest score, the leader in the ToPS tournament on your nearest location, you are also battling against the machine to stave off the inevitable.

But competing in tournaments is also a significant part of the pinball scene and one that is becoming increasingly popular in recent times.

There have been a number of well-established and well-supported pinball tournaments around the world for many years, including those supported by former pinball manufacturers and arcades, but when the sport's fortunes took a turn for the worse in the mid to late '90s, some of those faltered and competitive pinball contracted to the bigger events.

Now though, more and more shows want to have tournaments and the level of play has risen to match the increased prizes values.

Much of this growth can be attributed to the establishing of the new IFPA by Josh Sharpe, Roger Sharpe and Steve Epstein. By both promoting and running tournaments they have increased the number of competitive events in the pinball calendar, while the creation of the WPPR points system gives players something long-term to compete for in addition to the prizes.

Last year, the WPPR website tracked players at 52 tournaments and awarded points at them all, which led to Keith Elwin being crowned as 2006 champion.

This year is looking to be just as busy if not more so with new WPPR-scoring events planned at several shows.

One such is the ASI show in Las Vegas at the end of March. The IFPA ran a tournament at the AMOA show in Las Vegas last year and this year the ASI show is also host to an IFPA event with The ASI-IFPA Pinball Tournament. There will be "open" and "industry" divisions to remind those in the industry how pinball can play an important role in their machine mix and how many dedicated players there are who will seek out good places to play.

But the ASI show is going one better with the ASI-IFPA Video Pinball Tournament sponsored by Global VR and played out on their UltraPin machines with the chance for the winner to take home one of the UltraPin machines valued at more than $6,000.

The IFPA are not alone in expanding their tournaments into events previously lacking any competitive play.

This year, P3Tournament have picked up the mantle and are expanding from a single fun tournament in 2004 designed as an extension of a local pinball league, to host of tournaments at the Pinball Wizards Convention in Allentown and - new for this year - also at the Rochester Gameroom Show at the end of March.

P3Tournament's President Brian Smith told Pinball News: "We never planned on any of this happening. Our goal at first was just to run a small tournament for fun". But the event's popularity soon demanded a larger location. "We then approached the Allentown show about hosting our tournament
during the convention. To our delight they were more then happy to host. That year we had almost 60 players from over 12 different states."

This year, when the Rochester show contacted the P3 team, they felt ready to take on the challenge and organise a tournament for the event. Brian said "We are trying to bring pinball and competitive pinball back into the mindset of the general public. The more that competitive pinball can grow, the more press it can accumulate which will only be beneficial in helping the pinball hobby in general. We also are already talking to some more shows and conventions in regards to running future tournaments."

In the UK, competitive play is also on the rise. The UK Pinball Show in September will feature a new format two day tournament - the Pinball News UK Pinball Open. Qualifying will take place on the first day with the final rounds played out between the qualifiers on the second. There will also be the Pinball News UK Pinball Team Tournament for groups of four players from around the UK and the rest of the world.

Tournament Director Martin Ayub also thinks getting players to compete helps bring pinball to the attention of the media. He told Pinball News: "In the first two years of the show we wanted to gradually introduce the idea of competing by creating a friendly and simple format to appeal to new players and those who think they won't do well in a full-blown tournament. We've done that, so now it's time to ramp up to a more recognisable and competitive format so we can use the tournaments to grow the show, attract more media attention and encourage international players to attend."

Meanwhile, a UK-wide league is just getting underway with regional meetings in the South West, London & the South East and the Midlands taking place in the past few weeks and a schedule of meetings established, with the top players qualifying for the UK Pinball Open tournament later in the year.

League organiser Edwin Mole explained to Pinball News how the league came about and what he wants to achieve with it. "The UK Pinball League is one of the end products of a conversation between Greg Mott, Martin Ayub and myself, that took place after the European Championships in Germany. I was on a high and in awe at some of the skills I'd seen there. We discussed how we could organise something to raise skill levels and interest in pinball in the UK. It's a chance to play new games, meet friends, talk pinball and have fun. It's also a chance for inexperienced and young players to learn from the more experienced."

All this builds on the success of the European Pinball Championships which relaunched in 2005 and was held in The Netherlands that year, Germany last year and will be in Sweden this year. Beyond that, there are several contries wanting to hold future EPCs so the tournament has a bright future as the centrepiece of European competitive pinball.

The enthusiasm of players to pit their skills against fellow players is nothing new, but the growth in the number and scope of tournaments around the world brings those players into the media spotlight and shows how there is a dedicated fanbase who support and promote the sport.

Setting up a tournament is not a simple task but it has been shown time and again how adding one to a show provides the organisers with a way to grow the stature and profile of their event. With organisations such as IFPA and P3Tournaments taking on the responsibility of running the event to a professional standard, why would any amusement or gameroom show not want to have competitive pinball as part of the mix?


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© Pinball News 2007