For anyone in an area that started without much of a scene: how did you go about growing it to the point where tournaments and league-style play felt natural?
I moved to Philly earlier this year, and was really surprised at how dry it was around here. There’s a great scene outside the city at Pincrossing and the Pinball Gallery in Malvern, but the hour+ drives out there during rush hour are a tough sell.
There’s so much potential here, and after a ton of great conversations at Pinburgh, I’m thinking it’s high time we got something going.
I’m most excited about the idea of attracting completely new players and focusing on fun and inclusivity first. I’ve been really inspired by the stuff I’ve seen in the Bay Area like Belles and Chimes,The Gentleperson’s Pinball Society and Mission Pinball Club, and especially the idea of fostering a club rather than a league dynamic.
I’ve got a good location in mind and a decent local contact list, and I’ve been thinking about organizing and promoting a few casual, semi-weekly meetups to test the waters.
For anyone with experience here, how did you get it going in your town? Does any of this sound off base? Any pro tips or things to definitely avoid? If you’ve got any advice at all, I’d love to hear it.
Oh, and if you’re in the Philly area, let’s meet up and flip sometime!
Do it! Take the initiative and start something. The Pittsburgh Pinball League started out with 7 players. Now we regularly have over 150 people every season.
Shameless plug but Nick and I talked about how we built up Buffalo Pinball in episode 1 of our podcast: http://www.podcastgarden.com/episode/e01-ghostbusters-big-buck-hunter-review-and-building-a-pinball-community_73427
Quick and dirty version: find the current players/enthusiasts and promote in any way you can to reach new players. Consider all skill levels when creating tournaments/leagues/etc. And once you have a community built up, throw a bunch of support at locations with machines.
I think it’s very important too that the location owner is enthusiastic about this venture too. If you find a location with enough games to get going, but the owner does nothing to keep them running smooth, then that will be hard to spread the bug to others.
Also talk with the owner of the location about the regulars that come in and play. I’m sure most of them would be totally excited about starting something.
Also check the local sub Reddit. That’s how I got a lot of people to find out about my tournaments that I started in Cincinnati.
Thanks! Listened to this whole thing last night — just the kind of stuff I’ve been looking for.
For sure. I’ve been in touch with the operator at the location I’m thinking about, but haven’t talked with the owners yet. Would love to get something good going for them on their least busy days of the week.
Great idea on asking about regulars — never crossed my mind.
Great! Glad it was helpful. Good luck!
Check out the PAPA league guide if you haven’t already.
I live near Pincrossing out in the 'burbs here, but work regularly takes me into Philly. I too am very surprised that there isn’t more within the city limits. Very happy to help support starting up something with the city! There’s also a Philadelphia thread on Pinside that I presume you’ll find some locals who are interested.
If your local scene is really that bad… If you or someone you know can swing it: get on good terms with a location and become your own operator. It’s easier than you might think to talk a location into giving up 50 sq. ft. of space to place a couple pinballs… the locations like the concept of getting coin drop (plus perhaps other revenue like food and drink sales) at nearly no cost to them. Then start hosting casual play nights. Then maybe an occasional tournament. Then you can move to a weekly league. You’ll find that once you get things rolling, they can really snowball. Do pay attention to taxation and licensing laws in your local jurisdiction(s) to make sure this is feasible… some jurisdictions are very easy to deal with, some are terrible.
If your initial attempts don’t get traction, don’t give up… the players ARE out there, you just need to find the right place and the right time.
I’m a huge advocate of leagues, I think they’re the gateway drug of competitive pinball (and as Gottlieb taught us, It’s More Fun To Compete!)… but when you’re getting started, you may be better off focusing on casual play nights and occasional (e.g. monthly) tournaments. A one-off Saturday afternoon tournament seems like much less of a commitment for new folks than signing up for a 10 week season of league play. On the other hand, once players take an interest in competitive pinball, a league is a great way to get them hooked for good… leagues really build the community spirit in a reasonably low-stress way. And locations love seeing gaggles of customers visit week after week for league play.
Best of luck!
Agree, I’m a huge advocate of leagues.
I assumed the “commitment” thing would make it easier for people to do a tournament than a league, but have found the exact opposite. Leagues are a much easier sell to beginner and intermediate players. Only later will they test the waters at a tournament - they assume it’s too competitive.
It rings true in my own life…I’ve happily done leagues for bowling and go-kart racing, but would never have gone to a tournament. Things I did go to tournaments for: ultimate frisbee, soccer, pinball…all of them started for me with league play.
I’d recommend that if you start off with a league, keep the league fees as low as possible and have a pay-as-you-go option. Generally low cost implies less competitive and beginner-friendly. If you’re concerned with low turn-out, perhaps do it bi-weekly, that’s how a lot of the Belles & Chimes leagues are run but YMMV.
Oh yes, I forgot to mention that. Mine is $25 (for 7 weeks, all money to prizepool), and I got a sustained 50% bump in players when I made it a standard perk that first time league players get $30 in free credits on Payrange (which lets you credit up machines using yours smartphone).
Our scene sucks but we do have basement leagues and the potential(finally) for a solid location. I went back through old emails and it took 7 years before a league finally stuck. I have to give a lot of credit to Kevin Stone as he told me to just start one no matter how small. We started with 5 players and quickly grew to our cap of 20.
Since then friends and I have done some pop up tournaments and I host a yearly IFPA event and charity tournaments.
I’m hoping the new location finally sticks and we can regularly host events there, not having a real location has been the detriment to growth and I can see it exploding if we have a regular spot.
Connecticut was a barren wasteland when I moved here 6 years ago. None of the collectors really even knew each other. After trying my first competition in NYC (Pinferno) I was hooked on making something happen. Friend Opened the sandy hook free arcade for the kids of newtown. Had a few sterns donated for the short term arcade. I started a league there with his permission. I knew only three people at the time in the hobby who was going to sign up(one was my neighbor and the other was the friend who started the arcade). We had 15 people show up to sign up on night 1. Just posted everywhere I could online and it wasn’t casual arcade people walking in signing up because the arcade was just for kids of the town.
After one season the arcade was done. I had a small group looking for more. We moved to a buddies garage and as a group loaded it with our machines. Once winter rolled around we had to be out of that. Quickly we started looking for a cheap commercial property in an old mill or plant. Found one and the sanctum was born. Along the way we had even more people showing up every week and real friendships were forming. People were so pumped to finally be meeting and hanging out with other local collectors/players. The sanctum is closing out our 2nd year soon and we have an amazing community here now. It’s the same people each week and more show up each time and find a home in this family. We open and meet up every Monday. Some weeks we are hitting over 70 people. It’s crazy how far this state has come in 3 or so short years.
People know when CT rolls into events now
Oh man, thank you all!
@coreyhulse Nice, thanks! I take it you’ll be at the Summer Classic? We should def talk more there.
@joe I would love to become an operator, and definitely wouldn’t rule it out in the future. I’d be on it if I had a collection of my own, but hopefully if we get some traction out here folks might consider putting some of their machines on location. Totally agree with leagues being the best (it’s what got me hooked), but I think you’re right — casual flips are the the way to start if we’re looking to get new folks in the mix.
@ryanwanger Totally agree on the leagues vs tourneys tip. I think once you’ve been playing with the same pool of folks for a while, a tournament between everyone becomes a natural next step.
@TaylorVA Yessss, I love hearing this stuff. Was down in DC before this, and always heard good things about that Richmond crew. Was bummed I couldn’t make it out to Isley last year. Good luck with the new spot!
@JSwain, yall are living the dream out there with the Sanctum. A community-run pinball spot is pretty much the top of the mountain as far as I can tell.
Ok, this is happening. Thanks again for all the great stories and advice. You all rule. I’ll keep you posted as things start to move!
I’m new to the area as well and was very disappointed by the lack of events in Philly. I live closer to Lehigh Valley than I do in Philly. But I am more than happy to tag team this with you and try to build something in Philly. I also think there is an opportunity there. Plus you can’t really complain about something if you don’t try to fix it, right?
If you want any help, please let me know. I’m very interested!
@juanlargo @Casey that’s the attitude! We were worried about our rent cost every month but the community support and donations every month have made it so it’s wasnt a monthly expense for me very shortly after starting it. Just a big time expense but one of the most rewarding things I’ve done so far in my life.
Yes, I will be at the Summer Classic and will be more than happy to talk. And I can vouch for @Casey; we’ve talked about the lack of places to play in Center City and I know he wanted to try to get some events going there.
Hey, I wanted to send a quick update to all the nice folks that offered their advice in this thread
The first season of the Philly Pinball Club kicked off in March, and this Thursday will be our third meetup! Big shout out to @coreyhulse for co-organizing and for generally being the man
We had 15(!!) people come out for night one, and 19(!!) for the second! So, so awesome. Thanks to everyone who encouraged us to JFDI — it’s been way better than I expected so far.
If you’re in the Philly area, come on out and play! Low-pressure, no commitments, and a really great group of people.
Cheers, and long live the PPC!