For Your Consideration: A Proposed SCS/PCS Format

First off, I was excited to participate in my first SCS this past weekend, so thank you to both the IFPA and all of the state and provincial-level organizers and players who put in a lot of hard work and effort this weekend. It has been very exciting for me personally to have discovered and gotten involved in the competitive scene the past few years.

I have been thinking about the structure of the State/Provincial Championships and want to put forth a proposal to the community on changes to the structure of the event. Even if it doesn’t resonate with the community as a good structure for State/Provincial Finals, I think it would be an interesting format for a limited-qualifying event.

My biggest challenges with the State/Provincial Championship as it currently exists:

  • While there are 16 players in the event, you only directly play against four opponents.
  • Because the seeding is based solely on points earned within the State for the year, you may end up with a lopsided bracket and “monster” match-ups early on, meaning a 15 seed may end up with a better path to the Finals than a 13 seed because the out-of-stater World Champ 4 seed who played a single big event in the state last year decided that they had good reason to play here instead of home (convenience, monetary, or otherwise).

My proposal is as follows. This assumes a 16-person finals, with some additional notes below that for the extended 24-person finals that will take place in some areas.

Opening Round: Best Game
Eight Games out of all available games available are selected, and a best-game competition is played out. Each person plays a single game on each machine, and the results are tallied just like any other Best Game competition. The Top 8 move to the Winners Pool, Bottom 8 move to the Consolation Pool.

  • Game Selection can be Random Draw of available games, or you can reward Seeds #1 to #8 with a Game Selection from the possible games.
  • The Points scale can be a typical PAPA event (100, 90, 85, 84, etc.) or a linear progression (25, 24, 23, 22, etc.)
  • Results are collected but not input and published until all competitors have completed qualifying so as not to provide any advantages or incentives for people to tank.

Finals Round: Group Match Play
For the remaining eight, the initial seeds are taken back into account to seed the remaining players #1 to #8, in the following groups:
A Four-Game Quarter-Final is played with 3-2-1-0 scoring. Top Two from each group move to Finals.
A Four-Game Semi-Final is played with 3-2-1-0 scoring. Top Two move to Finals.
Finals is a head-to-head best-of-seven like which takes place today.

The consolation bracket can be structured similarly, but perhaps with less games. Alternatively, a single-elimination best-of-three could also be considered to play out 9th to 16th.

For new Super-States, the field would be expanded to 24, with 12 making the cut to Finals and top four remaining seeds are provided byes entering the Quarter-Final MatchPlay Round.

Potential Positives of This Format

  • You indirectly compete against all 15 competitors, while directly competing against five of the remaining seven competitors on your way to a championship.
  • You still have to beat someone head-to-head to win your way to Nationals.
  • The indirect portion allows a “sifting of the field” of sorts to see how you did against EVERYONE, and not just the person you happen to match up against in the first round because of the way seeding fell because of qualifying points.
  • The event still falls under IFPA Guidelines of cutting half the field before Finals.
  • TGP is 25+ with this format.
  • Seeding still matters: You’re incentivized not only to make the event, but to jockey for a Top 8 position for extra benefits (potential for game choice and byes).
  • By grouping Finals into Two 4-Player Groups (and then One 4-Player Group), it makes it easier and simpler for the event to focus on one or two games at a time, which has the potential to make Finals a bit more interesting not only to spectators but also to streamers, media, and sponsors.
  • You are guaranteed to play at least eight games of pinball, instead of just four.

Potential Pitfalls of This Format

  • Perhaps the “chaos” of a single elimination event is what is desired?
  • Format is bound to take longer.
  • More moving parts for TDs to successfully execute.
  • Ability to have eight games working properly. A potential solution is to have competitors play specific games twice.
  • What if a qualifying game goes down? Leeway could be given to TDs to pull machines and either sub-in a back-up or pull results for that game.

I would be interested to see a format that is meant to culminate a year of playing pinball within a state/province be a multi-faceted event that challenges you in many of the common formats that we normally see (Best Game, MatchPlay, and Head-to-Head), especially as prize pools grow.

Certainly open to hearing critiques and thoughts on the above.

I’m probably just about qualified in your theoretical Vermont SCS 2018-19 tournament. What’s my motivation for continuing to play?

I don’t like best game qualifying. I think head to head is fine at best of 7.

I could see a best of 5 double elimination. That might take forever though.

Your concern of the seeds in the event being basically meaningless is valid though. Not sure how to fix that.

Basically this format you suggest would take forever. That’s the biggest issue I see.

Yep :slight_smile:

It’s the “magic” of March Madness . . . in pinball form.


THIS. And it’s also why it’s fun to have a traditional fixed bracket that doesn’t re-seed after each round. It makes upsets more momentous.




Speaking of which, I’ve fallen in love with a sweet H2H EM pin called Surf Side. Great carry-over progress that you can steal from your opponent. We had it in TX SCS. Great 2" flipper fun!

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That’s what we do for the upstate NY championships, it doesn’t take that long as long as you have sufficient games that there isn’t a backup.

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I’m in your camp on this vs. the “madness” espoused by pinwizj and Snailman. The SCS is okay [not great, but okay] at determining the State Champion, but is not good at placing the other 15 participants in order of skill. The format is, as you say, too dependent on seeding that does not correlate highly enough with the skill of all the players. The second-best player could face the best player in round 1, lose 4-3, and the eventual winner take all of their remaining matches 4-0. The player who finished 2nd probably wasn’t the second-best player, they just had an easier path to the finals. And you can’t fix the problem with the current format simply by seeding based on WPPR rank, that would destroy the value of being the top WPPR-earner in the state.

An intriguing alternative would be to allow the #1 seed to choose their opponent from among the #9-#16 seeds, then let the #2 seed choose their opponent and so on, and repeat that process each round. [The “Trent Avoidance Principle”?] Critical Hit does something similar with the cards that let you switch groups or kick player X out of your group. This system still allows for its own kind of madness, but I think it’s a “fairer” madness.


It’s State Finals for f&@$ sake!
It should be grueling, taxing, and a bitch to win.
Head to head, based on seed, keeps players all year trying to pass each other in the rankings.
If you get someone super tough first round and lose, play better. If one loses, maybe that person doesn’t belong at Finals in the first place. There’s no perfect system of course, but the current method is tried and true. Yes, sometimes one person’s path might be easier than another’s. I’ve been on both sides of the bracket on that one. Keep playing, next year one might get “luckier” in one’s seeding. That’s all one can hope for.


Many thoughts to follow, perhaps not in any cohesive order.

I think this sounds like an interesting format, but I don’t like it for SCS.

To me, best game is the opposite of a pinball competition: play a machine alone by yourself and try to get a high score (especially, as you’ve proposed, when you can’t see the other scores). Any person can do that whenever they want. It’s what all non-competitive pinball consists of.

I think the premise that we need to correct for the case where seedings don’t accurately reflect player skill is wrong.

If the goal is to give an award to the person who is truly the best player, then we should just skip the competition and have a vote. I’m sure that in most tournaments, a pretty good consensus can be reached on who the best player is without having to play it out.

Seeding is one of the best parts of the SCS. As the end of the year approaches, you can start looking at the standings and seeing what might happen. Maybe you want to get more points to avoid a certain player? Maybe you want to let someone pass you to get an easier matchup? You might need to plan contingencies in case someone drops out.

Here in Colorado, there was a 30 point gap between 16th and 17th with a month or two to go in the year. If seeding didn’t matter then the last two months of the year would have been completely pointless. (This gap became apparent to me in November, but it’s possible that there was a clear cutoff even a few months earlier). To nerf the seeding, the end of the year loses all the fun. No reason to look at the standings. No reason to squeeze in an extra event. No reason to closely follow tournament results.

The reigning world champion was our 13 seed. Why is that a bad thing? Can you imagine how interesting this made things for the 4/5 and 11/12 seeds? It was troublesome for me as the 2/3 seed…because what if he falls to 14? I saw the 2 seed slipping away from me and had to decide if I needed to get it back and potentially force a father/son matchup, guaranteeing that at least one of the top 3 players would be eliminated in the first round.

Maybe things will change with #dollargate, but for now, to me, it’s a tournament where only first place matters. For normal tournaments, I’m trying to finish as high as possible. 3rd place - great! For the state championship? First is all that matters. You get the title, the trophy, and you get to represent your state at nationals.

If you’ve played 20, 30, 40, 50? events to reach the SCS, are you really going to let an unlucky first round matchup define you for the next year as the 9th best player in your state instead of the 2nd?

If you want to be the State Champion, you need to be willing and able to go through the best players in that tournament, on that day. Last year I got knocked out by the winner in the quarter finals. This year I got knocked out by the winner in the semi-finals. In any other tournament, 4th feels better to me than 6th. But not this one. First is all that matters.

Either you played better than everyone that day and won it all, or you got knocked out somewhere along the way, in whatever round you happened to get matched up against someone who would outplay you. I don’t think there is any reason to try and guarantee this happens as late as possible in the bracket because that would be the most “fair”.

The proposed format, which again, I think sounds fun, is just a mashup of all the other formats you’re probably already playing throughout the year. Bleh.

A Best of 7, single elimination bracket, is awesome. You can gameplan against your opponent. Use what you’ve learned about them over dozens of events over the last year. Ask your friends for advice on the best games to pick. You can look ahead in the bracket and think about what games you will pick in future rounds.

I mapped out what I would pick against my first round opponent, and both of my possible second round opponents. I went to our venue the night before, specifically to play Space Time over and over and over until I could reliably lock in 5k and hit the skill shot, for the sole purpose of picking it against @Adam in the semi-finals. I knew he’d be my opponent. I planned for it. And I planned for DNO or Escher in the finals. This is the only tournament of the year I’d rather get knocked out early for over-looking a first or second round opponent than find myself unprepared with a chance to beat the best in the semis or finals.

I game planned to win, not just “do my best”, or “finish as high as possible”.

I faced Adam in the semis. I thought I could outplay him on Addams Family. I toured the mansion. I picked Space Time, and I crushed him. It felt awesome. It wasn’t an accident. I practiced Game of Thrones in case he picked it. He did, and I put up my best score on that copy. I developed a new way to handle the feed from the saucer on Wizard specifically for this matchup. I was happy with my 100k, but he outplayed me.

No other tournament the rest of the year gives me these opportunities. I never get to play Best of 7. I don’t get to pick the machines. I never know my opponents in advance. There’s no point in practicing. There is no reason to game plan.

Nearly all professional sports determine championships with single elimination, heads up matches. Because it’s awesome. It’s easy to understand. It’s simple: all you have to do is beat your lone opponent. You might get a walk off plunge, but everything else matters. There are no external factors. No one who is guaranteed to advance, and no one who is already eliminated. And when it’s over, everyone has a story.

“After a year of tournaments, I didn’t score well enough on a bank of 8 games to earn the opportunity to compete for first place” isn’t a compelling story.

“I had to play the best player in the state in the first round. She picked Spider-man, her best game, but I had a great ball 2 to take a nice lead. She came back on ball 3, and turned a double danger into Battle Royale and ended up ahead by 30m. All I needed to do was hit the lock shot and then the orbit, but I missed and then wasn’t able to recover before it went sling sling outlane. I know she hates EMs, so I’ve been practicing Eye of the Tiger because I know it will annoy her and throw her off her game…”

Even if you get swept 4-0 in the first round…this is a story.


Although I was a fan of state rankings for the grinders I think the new limited best 20 tournaments format will even out some of the woefully under-seeded players for the state championship series. This may be more true for Oregon where we don’t have a big circuit event and we have a lot of well attended local events. I think the best-of-seven single elimination bracket is a solid format for determining the best player of the day. It’s even better when the players are seeded in the bracket in a way that more closely represents the player’s true skill level.

I think I really like the best of 7 format (I say think, since I have never passed the first round). It takes a long time, and you need meaningful seeding, so it doesn’t come up much. As others have said it is good for a tournament where 1st place is really all that matters and relative placement of the rest of the players is less important. Maybe next year this will be a less ideal.

Mostly I am replying to hate on the use of the term dollargate. #itwasntwatergategate

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All of this and more! It really is such an exciting day. I went out in the first round this year and last but I took it to 7 games both times. The 7th game was a nail biter in both cases with both my opponent and I playing for our tournament lives. It’s exhilerating and not something I get in a lot of tournaments. First place or you’re just first loser. I love it!

This may be true for the better players whose sole objective is going for the win to become State Champion. However, I would guess that for most States that would only be a max of 3/4 players who could expect to win, the rest are playing to finish as high as possible.

Obviously the higher you finish the more WPPR points you get, but also the more prize money you get. With next years SCS being funded by all of the 1$s through the year there is expected to be a much larger prize pool, therefore a much larger difference between each finishing position.

I’d be p!$$ed if I was the 2nd best player in this scenario.

I like tournaments that seed on the day, whether that’s from a best game league style qualifying (as suggested) or a ladder system, or head to head league. I feel it gives a better level of seeding - especially if it then goes into H2H elimination.

In the original example, there’s no reason why you couldn’t use the best game format to produce seedings for the day (no need for it to be 8 games if pushed for time or machines)and then go straight into best of 7 H2H

I don’t think that the State Finals should be worrying about making sure it’s maxed out for points. There’s plenty of other tournaments which give the opportunity for players to earn points - this is meant to be the pinnacle of the season (or the semi at least) not a chance to point grab.

The Danish hockey league uses this form, 8 teams qualify for playoffs. I’ve seen examples of #7 and #8 seed being avoided because of a really strong finish to the regular season, or historical data of the top seeds doing poorly against a specific low seed

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But the SCS seeding is already the best - it’s seeded over the course of an entire year! A few mediocre games at 10am on Saturday January 20th…sorry about your luck, you’re now the 16 seed?

You busted your ass to attend 30 tournaments, but that guy from out of state who won your circuit event got to Kobayashi Maru on his qualifying game of Star Trek? Sorry, he’s the higher seed. I mean, it’s only fair since he’s better than you. Right?




I do agree with this part though. I don’t think it should be worth any points, but I don’t need to start that debate again.


I wouldn’t say I busted my butt to get the 7 seed in Michigan but I play in tournaments because I like competitive pinball. I play in as much stuff as I can. The SCS is great but the way the seeding worked out I ended up having to play Andy Rosa (13th IFPA overall) first round and took it to 7 games but ultimately lost.

I really like the best of 7 format and just wish I would have played that 7th game a little better. I really like how you have to play out your overall positioning though once (if) you lose. I don’t think the best of 7 should change.


To me there’s a difference between highest qualifier and highest seed.

The highest seed should be the person with the most likelihood only winning on the day- that is not necessarily the highest qualifier.