Heads-Up Pinball Championship . . . 2018? 2019?


Focusing just on the format itself, outside of commentary/streaming things, here were my random chicken scratch notes I took during it:

  1. Early matches were a slog. Perhaps adding a 5 minute challenge clock will speed things along. If neither player hits the challenge then you start a fresh “2 minute drill”. That will make it max 7 minutes per game . . . under 30 minutes for a match guaranteed.

  2. 1-day event? Handling 36 players in 6 hours worked great time wise. Is the vibe of this event supported by the ‘practice evening hanging out the night before’, followed by the ‘one day of crazy action’.

  3. Tied to BBH WC moving forward? Tied to SPC as the ‘other’ event that weekend? Random stand alone event in Chicago? What’s the best future for this moving forward? Helping give the BBH vibe certainly helps being the same room, may be a Raw Thrills/Stern question going forward.

  4. Loser’s bracket 2 out of 3 slog. Do we switch to single game matches in the loser’s bracket? Certainly that turns up the intensity, but it also makes it far more volatile (not necessary a bad thing?). Much of this is timing. If it gets to a 70-80 player event then this is must for a 1-day event.

  5. Longer Championship match, it went too fast. Best of 3 on all three games.

  6. Is 3 titles good enough? Question for Stern or potential other manufacturers being able to sponsor the event. Anything more than that helps move matches through faster, but increase the logistical challenges.

  7. “Nuanced” challenges . . . are they good, are they not? The 3-ball versus 5-ball decision brings those intentional drains into play far more often to execute a quicker path to certain objectives. I found the breakdown of the rules to that crazy detailed level very

  8. Do we continue trying to make sure we break at least one playfield glass every year? :slight_smile:

  9. Can we put Dave Snipes in a sound proof box?


I watched a lot of the broadcast with my wife, while we worked on Halloween preparations. Random thoughts.

  • Objectives with a lot of playfield state were the best. Aerosmith X and toybox being the best. Since you had to follow 2 people, dmd info was too hard to follow. The X challenge was also great due to the stress and failures once it was actually lit.

  • If you had a full broadcast crew, having an overlay with the missing state and someone on each side updating as they go. Like tracking number of elevators qualified, number of ghosts (hard since DMD), number of tie fighters. Maybe just a generic progress slider and some idea of how to map for each objective.

  • My wife really liked Karl’s rules explanation segments. But still didn’t really follow what was happening. Her favourite part was when we started making “Dave’s not here” jokes (sorry to both Raymonds)

  • If Stern is really going to get behind these types of events, someone should convince them to make things easier. Like add high contrast mode to Aerosmith so the score can be seen. Support for stream integration should be even better, but little things first.

  • I like the idea of a 5 min time limit for a challenge. I think that was a failing of this format that it was not accessable. Did the players that played Star Wars for an hour have a good time?

  • Karl, Johnny, Fred and others involved did a great job. However, to make this work as a broadcastable format, you need a bigger and dedicated team. Runners, people keeping state, etc. And the stream needs to drive the pacing. It will take longer, but instead of broadcaster joining in progress games and not knowing what is happening. They cue the start of the match. They announce the players. They know the objective. The stream was secondary to the tournament.


I totally agree with this. The action moves so fast when things are down to the best players, there’s definitely an opportunity to milk the moment and slow the pacing down a ton. BBH is great at this part.


First off, congrats to Raymond for an awesome comeback from the losers bracket to win it all. Very exciting stuff for sure! Huge shoutout to Karl for generously dragging his rig out to Vegas and for the INCREDIBLE production work that went into making that stream as good as it was. Sure, there were some things we all would’ve loved to have seen, but even the simple things such as adding text, adding cameras, etc… add a lot of work to the production process that require more help and resources than Karl has. Overall, 9.9/10. Big props to The Plague for ruining the broadcast at a really clutch point as well. Other +1’s go out to Doug Polka for smashing glass, Elizabeth Cromwell for being awesome in general, Stern, the competitors, and those who were helping officiate throughout the day.

Josh, your scratch notes and my scratch notes are essentially the same, and I’d thought a lot about it during the stream.

  1. We had discussed this before, and this seemed to be something a lot of folks in the chatroom agreed on as well. This will help primarily in earlier rounds where lower seeded players may have a more difficult time reaching the objectives, as we saw. This and point number 4 go hand in hand; if the event gets bigger, we HAVE to have something in place to limit delays as much as possible. Its not a knock to the less skilled players at all, its totally a logistic thing.

  2. I think a one day event as it stands is pretty solid. I was convinced it was going to take way longer, but 6 hours for 36 competitors in this format wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be. Again, more competitors would present a different scenario, I’m sure, but if a template for rules were to be made, recommended changes could be made for an event anticipating greater than ‘x’ number of competitors (3-ball only, challenge clocks, lower number of best-of-x matches, etc…).

  3. The only reason I knew BBH was tied to this was because of the way it was advertised, and because their MC was screaming his brains out the entire time. From a spectator side, this was incredibly annoying. I get it and why it might be good for them, but it was a distraction at best from the perspective of the tournament. With those things missing, I probably wouldn’t know, and probably wouldn’t care. Did having it run simultaneously with BBH seem to have a positive impact on this event? Whats the end game running it simultaneously with the H-U tournament? Like you said, there may be some benefit between the Stern and Raw Thrills teams, but I don’t think it has any material impact on the event, and it would likely succeed as a stand alone event.

  4. Yes.

  5. Yes. This was probably one of the more disappointing aspects of the tournament, aside from Johnny not broadcasting it. =)

  6. Short answer: 3 isn’t enough. Watching the same three games over and over again for 6 hours was slightly boring, especially toward the end. With this particular event being sponsored by Stern, I can see why only their games were used and I appreciate the issues posted to the sponsors about using extra games for a bigger event. However, moving forward, do you think they would be willing to allow you to use games from other eras as well? I think having EM’s and early SS games in the mix would have added another layer of strategy and complexity to the mix. This does present a logistical challenge though; how can we get two of the same games and how are we getting them to (insert location here)?

  7. The Bonus X challenge on Aerosmith was the best and most exciting challenge to watch out of all of the possible challenges, hands down. I think giving the players multiple options between that quick and easy objective (SJP on Ghostbusters) vs the detailed nuanced challenge (Aerosmith) was really nice. I think the 2-minute drill challenge would likely stay as a standard challenge, so I’m thinking that leaving it at 5-ball would make more sense, especially for those challenges that may be a bit more difficult. I wouldn’t want to watch people continually botch tougher objectives on 3 ball and force a 2-minute drill.

  8. Yes.

  9. I’ll pay for the box.

I’d like to see this format succeed in the future. It was nice to see people of various skill playing, and it seemed like was a more intense, but relaxed environment for the players, not to mention the opportunity for some upsets as well. To that end, I think I’m going to generate a wiki page with suggested objectives for people to add to for various games should people want to run one of these locally.


The issue with this is that you don’t know who’s going to be there that would be able to help, so finding a dedicated team of people to be there that know the systems, that know what buttons to push, that know and understand the software, that know the rules, that know the players, that is also good on a mic and can help run a smooth production is incredibly difficult. Oftentimes, you’re left with volunteers that are doing their best to keep things going. Thats not to say that Fred, Johnny, Ffej, and everyone else that contributed didn’t do well, because they did. They worked well with what they had.

Working with the PAPA TV crew a couple years ago, I was able to jump in and help Karl out in Vegas a couple of years ago at nationals and pin-masters. I’m sure he could’ve made it work, but had someone not been there that knew his system, it likely would’ve been a lot choppier broadcast, especially since Karl plays as well as produces; he can’t do it all (or can he?).

With that in mind, your point is well taken, and maybe some more time and consideration to organizing those kinds of things can be done before the event takes place to line those folks up and maybe offer a chance to lightly train people on what to do should Karl (or anyone that produces a stream) not be available. We could do an entirely different thread on various improvements that could work for this (and many other) broadcast.


I’ll disagree here. My wife eventually started actually understanding the rules to Aerosmith because it was repeatedly being taught to you through the action.

As pinball people it might be boring to only have three games (you should have been around for the old Flip Out tournaments). If you look at BBH it’s been one game for 10 years … shoot bucks, not does.

Pinball has to get easier to understand IMO and three games seems at one time could even be pushing it.

I can actually see a path forward where Stern works with upcoming licensors to sponsor the event. For $10k or $25k or ‘whatever’ we bring in 6 or 8 Game of Thrones and the event is sponsored by HBO.

Plenty of avenues worth exploring for sure … and it’s an event that’s unique enough to lend itself to some out of the box thinking.


Thanks for all the hard work to those involved and I hope this becomes an annual event. I can’t provide any additional “constructive criticism” that hasn’t already been addressed. Ill share a picture of us streaming the broadcast at our monthly tournament at Abari Game Bar in Charlotte, NC where we have 20 pins.


I’ve got feedback


I was counting on it :wink:


In best 2 out of 3, having the top seed choose the objective 1st every time was too big of an advantage. The low seed would choose objective once at best. I played as top seed in 3 matches and then had to play as bottom seed for the next 4 matches. I chose objective in 7 games of 18 Heads-Up games I played. I think I won all 7 of those 7. Won 7 of the 11 i didn’t pick.

I think you could help fix this by going to a best of 5 or 7 at some point deep in the tournament when the matches were going super quick. Using randomized goals for the first match in the losers bracket or something might help (we were already using randomized games)

Having more balls was absolutely necessary. I was officiating an objective that took the two players over a half hour when they had 3 balls and stopped it mid match to go to 5 ball. After that it was much easier. I think it’s worth establishing a point in the tournament where you allow matches to go longer and have the goals be more difficult.

Should do an LE, Premium, Pro, Spider-Man home, for 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th next year :slight_smile:

The time was just so whacky. Went from a crawl to lightning fast at the end.


Totally agree. Between the time I lost the winners Backer and had to play Ray I didn’t even have time to do the 12 steps required to order dinner there


Here’s the wiki. If you’re interested in becoming a contributor, shoot me an email at wvapinball@gmail.com


The stream was pretty interesting. I was at a pinball party last night where one person (who regularly participates in competitive pinball events) said that they thought watching pinball streams was lame…found themselves getting caught up in in the Heads Up Championship and found it really exciting.

Along with the other things mentioned about commentary (make sure they know what the goal is, hold matches until commentators are ready, etc)…regardless of who is doing the commentary, I think it would be best for this event to have two commentators: one doing play by play of one competitor, and the other doing play by play on the other. There were a lot of times where you weren’t sure who they were talking about, and once you did figure it out, then you were almost forced to watch that person (since no information was being given about the other).

“Wow, Player X is really having trouble hitting the right ramp over here”.

“Well, Player X in trouble then because Player Y only needs two more shots to finish this task”

Also by splitting the voices, you can know which side is being talked about, without needing to quantify each comment with the name of the competitor being spoken about.

Even when someone is way behind, it would have been awesome to hear things like “Wow, what a nice outlane save” said about them. But instead I found myself giving up on the trailing player whenever the commentary had also.

I didn’t watch the early rounds, but at some point, it seems like it would be feasible (especially if a per game time cap was implemented) to not have any overlapping play happening at all. If there are two matches ready to be played, only play one of them, and make the others wait. (Not feasible in early play when there are lots of people still alive).

Agreed the finals should have been longer.

I will also say that this event sounded really cool when it was announced and I was considering going. Then I spent a night (mostly alone) trying to practice on the GB tasks, and came away thinking “this isn’t fun”. (After timing myself two dozen times trying to get a SJP, amongst other things).

However, watching it did embolden me to play next year. While practicing for something like this, it’s easy to see all your flaws and believe that you wouldn’t be competitive. But the reality is that all the top players are missing shots, and under pressure, and on unfamiliar games, etc.

I would be particularly interested in competing next year if there was also another pinball tournament held in Vegas that same weekend (with more guaranteed playtime)…and in fact probably would have come this year if that were the case. It’s a little scary thinking about flying out there for what could be four minutes of pinball (which was theoretically possible if you went 0-4 and your opponents played well).


If this ends up moving around with BBH, it’s going to be a new city every year.

The other path is it ends up in Chicago and is tied into the SPC or as part of Pinball Expo weekend.

Totally agree it’s a tough sell as a stand alone event.


that is a good proposition, kinda double win for both event where standalone would be hard to get many people to travel for it.


I thought it was all pretty cool.

Watching the BBH champs drove home that pinball is so much a cooler thing to play than BBH. :smiley:

Thanks to Stern (always good to see my old buddy Gary) Zach, Jody, and Doug and Elizabeth for coming to Vegas. And Karl of course.

The machines were set up well, and paired as closely as you could expect 2 machines to be.

Some thoughts:

  • the move to 5 balls was a must. Pleased to see it changed mid Comp.

  • Doug and I were watching one of the first rounds, I think the goal was SJP on GB. It was pretty obvious that neither guy knew how to do it. So I agree, 5 min max time for a goal, or else it automatically changes to 2 minute showdown (hey, that sounds snappier than drill!).

  • agree, Quarter finals onward could be best of 5, grand final best of 7?

  • the BBH stage announcer sure cursed a lot haha

I enjoyed the format a lot. Really put you into panic mode. It was awesome to see fist pumps and high fives when someone smashed a goal.

Top Tip - don’t fk up the skillshot on Ghostbusters when you have a 2 minute drill. You’re insta-fked! :slight_smile:



Watching the stream I thought the overall production was solid. As always Karl set up this for success with another great stream. I would have liked to see the following format.

Random Game Selection
Create three solid objectives for each game cannot pick 2 minute round, this is used for the third game tiebreaker.

Game 1: Top Seed picks objective
Game 2: Bottom Seed picks objective
Game 3: 2 Minute speed round

Thanks for pulling this off wish I would have made the trip looked like a fun format.


This is a long post [even for me :wink:]. But you want detail; you’ve got it! [And I have my flack jacket ready to wear if needed.]

General comments

  1. Thanks for giving this a shot. We all knew going in that this was an experiment whose goal was a proof-of-concept and that there would be some bugs to fix. That it came off as well as it did is a testament to all the organizers and players involved. Thanks to Stern for doing this and kudos to everybody. Please regard all that follows as constructive feedback rather than criticism [well, except for that one item at the end].
  2. The rules needed to be clearer and more detailed. I was under the impression before the event that the matches could be played across all three titles, not on just one. Same impression that the higher seed would have choice of goal across all three titles for game one of the match, not “play the first title that’s free” with no choice of title. Unwelcome last-minute changes. I didn’t bitch about it, just went with it since I figured it wouldn’t make that much difference to me, but whether future events do go with “choose your title” or “play first open,” that should be put in the rules beforehand. I would say that the “play first open” can negate the higher seed advantage in many cases, so this could be a good or bad thing depending upon how one views higher seed benefits.
  3. Follow-up to that, better clarity was needed for the “player choice” re which 2X multiplier and which SW mode multiball - - player choice as in “your goal is to light a 2X multiplier, for which each player can go for any of them of their own choosing, or it’s goal-choosers-choice as in the goal is this specific multiplier that must be lit. It turned out it was the latter, but again this was not initially clear.
  4. There should be a spare of each game present in case of shattered glass, major malfunction, etc. If one of the GBs had gone down instead of one of the Aerosmiths, you’d have only had two titles left.

“Referee” comments

  1. I was happy to volunteer, as were my fellow player refs, but it would clearly be preferable to have them lined up in advance, whether drawn from the ranks of players or not. Thanks to everybody who pitched in.
  2. While keeping track of some goals was easy, others were more challenging. You had to be pretty close or at a good angle to see the 20 ghost insert on both GBs at once. If two players with wide stances, say Lyman and Roger, had been playing a match, this would have been quite difficult. You’ll need to figure out how to deal with this for the future.
  3. Since reffing was ad-hoc, it was harder to make the changes or clarifications in rules known to everybody. For instance, in some other events, you can play the same game twice if a different player picks it the second time, so some people did that with goals early on since whomever was the ref didn’t know that the intent was to not permit this.

Venue comments

  1. I had planned to be an announcer for much of the tournament [said so online long ago], but the atmosphere with all of the noise from the BBH event totally turned me off doing that. Pinball crowd noise would have been okay, but getting the PA blasts from BBH, the excessively loud music and later on the light show glare, too, was bad. On the drive back right afterwards, I noticed that I had the car radio turned up way above normal to be able to hear it - - I was half-deaf from being in the building with BBH all day. Having the two events at the same place at the same time would be okay if they were simply far enough apart in whatever building was used.
  2. Machine setup was fine - - no playfield glare, no sunlight issues, good separation between games, etc.
  3. Could have used more chairs in the area at times; something to keep in mind.
  4. Having a water tap available was a good move.

Format comments

  1. Much about the change from 3 balls to 5 has already been posted, and I agree with the move and most of the comments, I just would have done it sooner. But at least this issue should now be largely behind us.
  2. Yes, early rounds were slow and later rounds too fast. Longer matches [best 3 of 5] is one option, but I like another idea, too: a second tier of goals for later rounds [say, final 4 or final 8 level]. Lots of other skill games use “progressively harder” goals, why couldn’t we? But to keep things from getting too hard for the casual audience to follow, they should be parallel to the first tier goals, just “more,” e.g. 40 ghosts vs. 20, 3-minute drill rather than 2 minutes, Toy Box 6 only [vs. 3-6], get a GB superjackpot worth at least X points vs. just any SJ, etc. I think that having harder goals impresses on people that we’ve now reached the “big time” more than longer matches does.

Machine choice comments

  1. What have I said about “button bashing”? How anti-climactic was it that the title of a pinball tournament, and prize of a pinball machine depended on how the button-bashing went on SW? [Karl was at 49 tie fighters when he drained, Ray got to 50 while Karl’s ball was cycling.] While SW was the newest title, and I’m sure that fact and its popular theme were why it was chosen for this event, I don’t think it’s a good title to use unless that aspect is removed, i.e. don’t use the tie fighter goal.
  2. Similarly, for the GB 2-minute drill, many players will go video mode on this one; again, that’s not a pinball thing, I’d try to avoid having non-pinball things decide results.
  3. Having 3 titles rather than 1 or 10 was in the right area. Three is a good minimum, and I could see as many as 5, but no more than that. Too many gets too hard to follow, too few is not diverse enough. Personally, 3 seems about right, but I’d have two pairs of each game so that early rounds could move faster and so players could more likely choose which title to play on. Two sets would also mean you’d be able to keep all 3 titles in use even if one of the now 4 machines of each title went down.

Player Comments

  1. It felt less like true pinball - - not nearly as adaptive as a normal game where you may need to adjust your play on the fly, or where multiple strategies may be feasible. This was a much narrower thing; the closest analogy would be a drive, pitch and putt contest rather than a stroke play golf tournament. It’s still a form of pinball, but lacks much of the strategy of the “real thing,” e.g. trying to stack MBs, having a mode or something running before you start MB or something else, avoiding certain shots until the right time, etc.
  2. This format magnifies the consequences of a failed switch hit or a scoop or saucer rejection. For instance, in my first game against Karl, going for Elevator MB, I shot the left orbit early on but it didn’t register. I had the right orbit, but I lost the ball before getting the left one [again]. Progress goes bye-bye, have to start over, never did catch up. If it registers, I have lock 1 early on ball 1 and am in the lead, and maybe get a win that game. Hey, that’s pinball, I played on because that’s the way it goes. But it made me realize that failed switches can be more critical in this format. In a normal game, if a switch fails, you can usually still get another shot at whatever it was later in the ball or later in the game. In heads-up, if a switch fails and your opponent finishes before you, you don’t get that chance to re-make the shot that didn’t register.
  3. There’s much clearer focus on the objective, and greatly simplifies what the player is trying to do. Whether this is better or worse is a matter of opinion.
  4. Some objectives were too complex for novices, e.g. specific mode MB on SW, and even with coaching, some still didn’t get the idea of how to proceed on GB.
  5. Some players said that they “felt the pressure more”; the level of pressure seemed the same to me. [As an aside, the one time I remember really feeling pressure during competition was that 9-way tiebreaker for 2 spots in the Pinburgh A finals.]

Biggest concern
Yo, Stern [and JJP and Spooky]: Display the f-ing scores! I’ve been saying for years that I’m sick of pinball machines where you can’t see at all times what everyone’s scores are. The programmers or design team is so bent on showing off their video display skills that they have to pre-empt having the scores of all players visible at all times, as was true for almost every pin made for several prior decades. There’s no excuse [other than design team ego?] for not having a portion of the display always always always show every player’s score. Just box out the left side of the display to show the scores and use the remaining two thirds of it for whatever showy graphics you want. It’s bad enough you can’t tell whether or not to make that desperation save on ball 3 [“do I have enough bonus to win or not?”]. Now, if you’re playing heads-up, you can’t even tell if you’re winning depending on what the goal is. It’s way too important a thing to not fix if this is to go forward. Both the players and the audience need to be able to tell at all times who is ahead and by how much. Can you imagine last night’s World Series Game 5 if neither team, nor the TV audience, knew who was ahead from inning to inning? The come-from-behind and back-and-forth lead changes were the fundamental excitement of that game. Note this may also require some reprogramming or display changes as respects other goals, or very judicious choice of which goals are to be used [or both].


This is a great idea. Either that, or make it so that two goals need to be completed, rather than just one.


I just gotta say the title of this thread made me laugh, mentioned 2018? 2019?

The fact we were able to go from “Let’s start brainstorming on this” back in July, to already pulling off the 1st event is truly mindblowing. Big thanks to everyone that helped us pull this off so damn quickly. I know outside of Elizabeth, Doug, Zach and Karl, there were a bunch of people helping to officiate matches, help do commentary, etc. My wife certainly brought up the point that things seemed to be “going just fine without me”, which may have just totally f*cked up my future plans to ever organize anything ever again :slight_smile:

I’m very excited moving forward with the concept, and think there’s a bright future for the HUC.