Maybe It's Not The Payouts

Alright, it’s Monday and I’m up for a game of Global Thermonuclear Hot Take.

In back to back weekends, Pinburgh/WIPT and Evolution 2018 (Evo) happened. For those who don’t know, Evo is THE fighting game major and similar to Pinburgh and PAPA in community reception. Hundreds of thousands of people watch from around the world online and on TV. They pack the Mandalay Bay (12,000 seats), home to 31 UFCs and the Las Vegas Aces (previously the San Antonio Stars).

Tons of high profile matches in high profile games. Both Smash Bros games, Street Fighter V, Tekken 7, and the new darling Dragon Ball FighterZ all eclipsed 1200 players.

And then, there’s this tweet from Super Smash Bros. Melee champion Leffen:

$135 for 7th/8th. What the what?

Looking up the Evo pot splits, there’s a questionable 60/20/10/4/2/2/1/1 split. That’s not the point here, though.

This huge, important tournament watched by hundreds of thousands of people, with all of the production and hype and media attention, paid out $13,530. Elwin just pocketed a larger paycheck than the prize pools of all but 3 Evo tournaments:

(Edit - Evo pools are generated at $10/person. SFV had multiple “pot bonuses,” or external pot additions, from fundraising and sponsorships. No other tournament got pot bonuses.)

  1. Pinburgh - $100,000+ prize pool
  2. Street Fighter V - $84,990, $40,994 to winner (different pot structure)
  3. Pinburgh A - $50,100, $15,000 to winner
  4. Dragonball FighterZ - $25,790, $15,474 to winner
  5. Pinburgh B - $22,500, $4,000 to winner
  6. PAPA 20 A - $16,200, $7,000 to winner
  7. Tekken 7 - $15,470, $9,282 to winner
  8. Pinburgh C - $15,300, $2,000 to winner
    ~-~Keith Elwin - $15,000~-~
  9. Current IFPA NACS pool - $14,934*, $5,000 to winner
  10. Injustice 2 - $13,610, $8,150 to winner
  11. Super Smash Bros. 4 - $13,580, $8,150 to winner
  12. Super Smash Bros. Melee - $13,530, $8,150 to winner
  13. BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle - $11,810, $7,086 to winner
  14. W.I.P.T. - $10,000*, $5,000 to winner
  • denotes a machine prize, valued at $5,000

The fact that IFPAPA (let alone B/C divisions and the inagural WIPT) are on par with a well known fighting game tournament on payouts means we have some other things to work on as well as the money issue. I’m not counting other major tournaments for the sake of brevity.

I think the money we’re seeing tossed around at tournaments plus the sponsor leverage we’re starting to see can be a catalyst very soon if not right now. “Building the spectacle” is another thing I’m happy to see with more tournaments getting better production value in person and online.

I saw the numbers, put my facts out there, and would like to see a good discussion now that we’re a good part of the way through the year.


Your forgetting the most important thing that helps drive popularity, ease of adoption.

Every game you mentioned is easy to access and easy to play with a very low entry price point.

Pinball was popular when arcades were everywhere and access was as simple as .50 cents.

Since that is never going to happen again Pinball will never see the popularity these games see for that simple reason.


I can agree with the generality of it, but competitively these games are reaching peak complexity.

You need to know the combos, mix-ups (where someone can go one of X ways to hit you and you need to guess it properly), setups, etc of every character in the game, let alone the one(s) you play. At the next level are move properties such as total frames, +/- frames and any link combos possible on hit/block, any armor properties in the move, and so on. There’s combo scaling, knowing how to spend resources on positioning/kill/combo finishing, team compositions in team fighters…

In both communities you can buy the game or walk up to a cabinet and play. To play well in both, you need to know a lot more.

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I needed a mental break after merely reading that. :wink:


Could you clarify the nature of your post?

Are you implying that because the biggest pinball tournament has a larger purse for the winner than the largest e-sports tournament does for its winner that pinball tournaments should attract as many spectators as e-sports? And that maybe payouts aren’t the reason for pinball’s lack of viewers?

I think you’re focusing on the wrong point.

Pinball costs $500 minimum for a working machine, or costs 50c per play (at best) and exists in places that exclude people under 21. Video games are in 80% of homes and played by 155M Americans (according to the ESA).

I recognize those metrics aren’t equivalent, but I think it gets the point across.

I’ve watched EVO for years (not necessarily live) and never knew the payouts until your post. They’re not generally talked about (or so it seems to me), but I liked seeing how other communities did commentary, and some of the matches are pretty entertaining, particularly the SF matches. I’m not even a fighting game fan, and I enjoy EVO coverage, generally.

I will say, the EVO commentators generally know exactly what they’re talking about, getting down to the nitty-gritty of frame-count interrupts. That type of thing seems beyond a casual’s understanding, but maybe it doesn’t matter because their audience is so much bigger and engaged?

Contrast that when we occasionally have people talking about games where they don’t know the rules. I know it’s a different case since there are hundreds or thousands of different games that can come up, and there’s only ~20 characters you may need to know exactly how they work for a version of SF, but it’s always kind of cringeworthy to me trying to drum up casual interest in what we do.


These games are also player vs player and not player vs machine like pinball. I think the real problem is we aren’t playing Joust, Challenger, linked Fast-Break or changing all formats to “heads up”.



On a more constructive note, having an app where player 2 was in control of some sort of feature(maybe via bluetooth app wink wink) could add some more excitement to the competition.

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Nothing better than having commentators wondering how to play a game live on stream.


I watched competitive Madden for a while last year. One interesting thing was that the game itself directed you to the competitions. EASports uses its best players to promote their games and their competitions.


Pinball naturally has a much steeper hill to climb than other eSports when it comes to spectator-appeal due to the issues you guys have mentioned like lack of direct simultaneous competition, vast amount of game-specific knowledge, and the fact that most people can’t play in their own home. These points are unfortunately not really possible to change, but I still think there’s a lot that could be done to make pinball streams more appealing.

IMO the biggest limiting factor right now is lack of clearly visible information when jumping into a stream. I’m a pinball expert but 99% of the time I still have trouble figuring out the answer to these basic questions when I jump into a stream:

  • Who is currently playing?
  • What are the scores? (I’m looking at you Batman 66 and Aerosmith~)

Compare that to a fighting game where health bars and series progress are visible at all times; makes such a big difference to be able to immediately see who is winning and how big the spread is. Same thing goes for a more “sporty” game like Rocket League; the state of the match/series is immediately pretty obvious no matter when you drop in due to info display on the screen at all times (e.g.

I think the best thing we could do for pinball streaming is to focus on developing better technology for integrating live displays of scores/game state into stream overlays. Basic stuff like showing current scores and the active player is most important, but more advanced info displays could really draw people in. e.g. imagine watching someone start a multiball and having an stream overlay appear that displayed live stats as the MB was played out (e.g. running point total for that MB, # of JPs, # of SJPs, current JP value, whether add-a-ball is ready/used, leaderboard showing the other players’ totals for that MB, etc). Between balls you could show some simple charts showing end-of-ball point totals to give a higher level view of how the game is progressing. I realize that this is very difficult to do since machines have to be modded to support outputting info like this but man it would make a world of difference (especially for less knowledgeable spectators).


In my opinion, I don’t think in-depth rules knowledge is as important to commentary as people think. I’d prefer to watch a commentator who is less knowledgeable, but is enthusiastic about the live gameplay over someone who explains the game rules while ignoring the actual playing.


Pinball machine vs viewing device aspect ratio is also a huge obstacle. Perfect for cell phone viewing if there were streams that output in the same format(some youtubers have a portrait output) but not great at a PC or other landscape orientated devices.

Gotta say I agree with the payout descrepancies. 15k for first is great when I tell people that know nothing, “this pin tournament is for 15k!”. Then eventually it wears out because the top 20-40 guys are rediculously good and there’s really no point.

It meant more when I thought of it like being able to play against the best in the world. Which made it easy to justify the expenditures. Can’t do that in any other sport. However there’s just too many legs up, the top tier guys get. Not purposefully I imagine, just is what it is.

If your in the biz, I would think you have access to a game before anyone else always. Chicago expo was good about installing new code at their events when I was there 4-5 yrs ago. Which is one of the reasons I really liked it. Also Pinball as a whole is inviting on the “home gameroom level”, but on the real competitive side it’s far from inviting. Unless! Your a top recognized player that receives accolades from other player at tournaments. There are other things (small stuff), but overall seems like a waste of money to me.

Over the years we’ve been to 20+ big events and if I added all the hotels, travel, etc, etc it would be a good bit. The return on that is minimal. So I’ve been thinking lately it might just be better to hang in state and do local stuff.

Wasn’t feeling strongly about this stuff, it was just convienent that I saw this post, because I rarely post here

-too many legs up, the top tier guys get

Please elaborate. :slight_smile:

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Simplest form of explanation is 80% of people pay for the top players payouts

Change my mind

The advantage that the best players have is that they’re the best players.


Please don’t take this as a whining thing. It wasn’t meant that way.

To think that guys that write code for games we play don’t have a leg up is insane

I don’t disagree with the last comment either