Maybe It's Not The Payouts


When we discussed ways to attract people to pinball, there never was a counterpoint to the “if you pay it, sponsors/people/notoriety would come” argument that found a major tournament with the clout that our majors have… without the prize pool but with much, much more to offer.

The most viewed Evo event of all time with 250,000 concurrent viewers and played in an NBA stadium paid worse than Pinburgh A and the winner went home with the same money.

There’s a few other things going on here, and given the facts and some time to digest 2018 so far I wanted to see if there were any new ideas.


There are 2 people in the top 25 of ifpa that work at Stern, only one of which has influence over design if I’m reading things correctly.

So… were you meaning that 4% of the top tier of pinball players get too many legs up? The wider we expand the net for top tier players, the lower that percentage gets… Not sure I understand what all these perks the top guys get.

p.s. There has been some kind of error. I haven’t received my perks. Can someone please send me my GOB perk package for this month?


Your right



I think another interesting point to analyze would be the payouts between organizers of these events. I cant say for sure, but im assuming that you dont staff an event at an nba stadium with volunteers. I wonder if this discrepancy in pay is accounted for by paying staff to organize, stream, etc…

maybe it is the payouts, in the way that no one gets payed to promote pinball, therefore our events are sometimes poorly marketed or not at all. no one gets paid to run tournaments, therefore theres less people hosting then playing. and so on…

I really dont know anything about e-sports so im kinda just throwin ideas out there. I wouldnt mind something like say, the bat city open taking five from the pool for each player to pay for shirts, posters, or even going directly to the organizers.


I ran a double-check on the numbers: 100% of the entry fees (+ any pot bonus money) go to prize pools. The sponsors, venue fees, spectator tickets, etc. go to running the show.


I don’t question papa payout pools ever. The distribution is what gets me


So @sk8ball had a leg up on his Pinburgh opponents on Star Pool, Pinbot, and Harlem becuase he designs rules for games? :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:


I’m firmly in the “accessibility is the biggest problem” camp. In the vast majority of markets, the only way to initially experience a functional pinball machine is via simulation (Pinball Arcade, etc) or having a relatively wealthy friend or two who have pins in their basement. If you want to get involved with league, that often means bouncing between the basements of multiple relatively wealthy friends and acquaintances. Even if everyone involved is well intentioned and friendly, it’s really really easy to feel out of place in those situations, and walk away with a less than stellar impression of competitive pinball.

I think if a bigger deal were made of location tournaments – the places where you can catch the interest of folks who have no clue competitive pinball exists and everyone stands on fairly even footing, then we might be able to see the sort of excitement and viewer appeal that console/pc (and even arcades like Big Buck Hunter) have seen.


What distribution would you prefer? There are a lot of options, but in building the payout pool for Pinburgh the first general question is what % of the prize pool should each division receive:


As for the home-field advantage of manufacturers, it’s not zero, especially with the current crop of games with significant rules and scoring rebalancing. However, it’s not like it was 20 years ago, where Chicago-area players had months more experience on machines than anyone else, and tournaments were frequently conducted on only the newest machines.


Here’s a drop that wasn’t there before! Hey, the diverter just moved on that ramp! Oh crap, the in-lane’s now an out-lane!


I assumed the payouts for eSports were much larger. Maybe not in the above example, but I’m pretty confident that there are at least a few hundred gamers who make a full time living playing. Aren’t there?

I do think that larger prizepools, especially for things like the SCS will help generate media hits…but that’s not going to take us from 250 viewers to 250,000 viewers. I don’t think there is anything we can do to make that happen (pinball just isn’t accessible enough, and it’s too unforgiving for new players), but I’d love to be proven wrong.

I’ll propose a huge reason why pinball will never be huge like that: it’s all nuance. To a casual observer, most shots in a pinball game appear equal. You need to have a really good understanding of the rules of that particular game, the current state of the game, and the current state of the competition to piece together the importance of any one shot. Looping center ramps on GOT has wildly different significance if you’re not in a mode vs playing Stark mode vs playing HOTK vs playing the Stark free shooting round in HOTK vs playing the Stark free shooting round in HOTK with 5x playfield vs playing the Stark free shooting round in HOTK with playfield multipliers running before Stern fixed the insane scoring bug.

Compare this to a fighting game. There could be a dozen tiny nuances at play in terms of what each player is doing (people above mentioned frame rates, combos, etc), but I don’t need to know about any of that to plainly see who is getting their butt kicked.

And a round can be over in less time than it takes to find the short plunge on Ghostbusters.


Well I think that’s why the end of pinburgh is always a hoot because it’s like Harlem or something, and it’s a pretty easy-to-digest sequence of tasks for the player. It really boils the pinball down to its kinetic elements.


Crazy idea: Would have been cool to be able to subscribe to full real-time score info from the game, so a broadcast stream could overlay some fancy kaboom-effects when a shot gives a lot of points, or something. Kind of like how some JJP games show shot scores flowing/floating on the display, but in a machine-digestible way.


I don’t feel pinball is fundamentally less understandable than fighting games to the casual viewer. They both have a clear indication of who is winning–score vs. health bars. The nuance applies both ways. Why choose one shot over another? Why choose one attack over another?

That said, there’s a lot of room for improvement in terms of presentation, both in terms of the games themselves and with streams. Good choreography and callouts make it clear that something big is happening. Direct video lets you actually see the scores on the screen. A skilled commentator can succintly explain a subtle choice, and make it interesting! (Evo does a good job of this.)

I don’t think aiming for eSports is realistic (or even desirable)–but that doesn’t mean pinball can’t be entertaining for the uninitiated.


Competitive Pinball needs to be packaged like the Iron Man endurance events, or America Ninja Warrior for casuals. Creating backstories for players and setting up game specific drama would go a long way in reaching a broader audience IMO.


I completely agree. Post production 1/2 hour broadcast of the whole weekend in one show. Make sure it tells a story. At least as a way to get people interested. Then we can transition some of that audience to the live stream, if we ever get that audience.


I actually think it actually helps to have one one commentator representing the average person and asking questions like the viewers at home would. The audience relates to that person.

I watch curling. The broadcast team is always built of former champions, and one experienced sports broadcaster. 20 years ago, I would watch and think wow, Vic Rauter knows nothing about curling. But I now feel differently. After covering the Brier for 20-30 years, he understands curling, a lot. But he plays a role on the broadcast team and I think it is a critical role. Ever broadcast team needs a Vic Rauter as a counter point to the retired athletes.


Quote from Rauter.

“A compliment for me today is when someone asks me if I will ever play the game. Thompson used to ask me prior to the start of every season what I knew about the game. I would say “nothing.’’ He would go “perfect,’’ because he always wanted me to be the eyes and the voice of the person watching at home. That’s why I would ask Linda “what are they doing here?’’ or Cheryl and Russ “why did they do that?’’ I’m more knowledgeable than that because I have played the game. At the same time, I have a gold medallist in Russ and a silver medallist in Cheryl, with all of their experience in the booth. Why would I want to be the expert when they are the experts? That’s the approach we’ve always taken. When someone asks me if I will ever play the game, that’s a compliment and it means I’m doing the right kind of directing.”


This would be awesome…and I’m pretty sure this is being worked on. Or rather, third party hardware that would be capable of something like this is already in the works.


Are we eSports now?

I have so much that I want to say…

I came into pinball from an eSports background. Namely Starcraft. While I was never much of a competitive SC2 player, I’ve followed the Starcraft scene for a very long time. For those of you who aren’t up on your eSports history, Starcraft II was released in 2010 and is unanimously considered to be the game that ushered in the modern era of eSports. It was the #1 game on Twitch from its inception until 2012 or so. Being the early trend setter, Starcraft II had a number of growing pains that ultimately resulted in it losing the top spot and almost folding completely. But it survived, and today it is an active scene with a strong community to support it (and the game is better than ever!). Comparing pinball to the Starcraft scene obviously isn’t a 1:1 comparison, but there are definitely some lessons to be learned from the history of Starcraft as a modern day eSport.

I guess I’ll start with the prize pools. I think pinball is getting the distribution right. I was having a chat with an FGC friend earlier today about those prize distributions from EVO. My premise was mostly: “How can you say that out of a tournament of thousands of people, only the paying the top 8 is okay?” He said something along the lines of “What, do we want to reward people for being bad?” This opinion is wack. My first Tournament was PAPA 19. After watching Robert Gagno win, I looked up the prize pools, and I was shocked to see how little he actually won. Coming from Starcraft, where the prize for the World Champion, whether it be the one crowned at Blizzcon or the IEM World Championships, was basically fixed at $100,000. $10,000 was a typical prize at a small professional tournament. It seemed so weird to me that the winner of PAPA could win such a lowamount. But then I remembered that I won money in D division. My friend won a few hundred dollars for placing near the top of D. I remembered that I just watched @scoutpilgrim win a thousand dollars. It was the first time that had ever won some money from gaming, and my competitive gaming resume is very long. To this day, I have only ever won money from pinball. The prize distributions in pinball go so far down the line, I’ve never seen
anything like it.

Starcraft was the exact opposite for a long time. Skipping most of the finer points,
Koreans are generally viewed as superior at Starcraft due to the game’s long history in
South Korea, where it is recognized as a sport by the government and has been a staple of
Korean entertainment since the early 2000’s. People have gone to jail for fixing
Starcraft matches in South Korea. When SC2 exploded in popularity, Korean players began
flying to overseas tournaments en masse. The saturation of good players at every
tournament, coupled with very top heavy prize pools, resulted in a number of the
“foreign” (non-Korean) players basically being crushed out of existence. Because they
could not make ends meet playing the game professionally, they simply fell beind the
Koreans. Blizzard attempted to fix this by making leagues for EU and NA players, but
stupidly didn’t prevent Korean players from choosing to participate in the EU/NA leagues
instead of KR. Eventually, Blizzard got it right, and created a unified league for the
foreign players, with Koreans prevented from entering. Finally having something to play
for and some solid prize money to win, foreign players who were once clawing for peanuts
in the top 32, are now able to take on Koreans, and win! A Finnish player recently won a
Tournament in Korea, beating some of the best players in the game all the way to the
finals. There is serious debate as to whether or not he is the best player in the world

Blizzard invested in the foreign Starcraft scene and planted plenty of seeds, some of
which now cast a massive shadow. Likewise, Pinball prize distributions (around here, at
least) almost universally invest in the up-and-coming players. By giving the newer
players legitimate tournaments to play in, as well as something to play for, interest and
investment in competitive pinball increases. Over the last few years I have seen plenty
of the people that I played with in D divion make increasingly bigger waves in the upper
eschelons of competitive pinball. That’s awesome, and I hope the prize distiributions are
never changed. Keep investing in the next generation of players. I’m all about junior
divions and women’s tournaments. The scene will only grow because of them. This was not
an argument for region-locking IFPA state championships.

Presentation is another aspect of Starcraft eSports that has evolved over the years. If you watched a recent professional SC2 game, it would look completely different from the way the game does when you play it. At first, the playable UI took up too much of the viewing area and information was not easily conveyed to viewers. Eventually, a community member developed a specific UI for use in professional games, called GameHeart, and it was an instant hit. Blizzard had the creator make them an official version of the UI, and decided to keep him on full-time after that. Nowadays, the SC2 observer UI conveys almost the entire game state of both players to the viewer at home, in a way that doesn’t feel overloading. Timers announce when important upgrades are about to complete, and the UI even has convenient spaces for each player’s series score.

Presentation for pinball has historically been a challenge, and I’m not entirely certain how to improve on all of the issues that make the game inherently hard to watch. I do agree with earlier posts, that the current standings of each player, as well as game order, who is currently playing, and current scores, should probably be on screen at all times. I’m not saying what’s currently being done is bad, but that we can probably still
improve in this area. I would also like to see tournament banks include a couple of spectator-friendly games. TRON LE comes to mind. Not only does TRON look nice, I think the way the game flows is also spectator friendly. If you have ideas, please don’t be afraid to share them with the community. When it comes to improved presentation, almost nothing can hurt.

Someone earlier on mentioned the issue of commentators not knowing the game in question
being a problem. While I can see where they’re coming from, Starcraft casters are put in this position all the time, and have developed ways to deal with it. Instead of saying “yeah, I don’t know a thing about this game.” it can be rephrased as something of a self-deprecating joke. “Because I’m bad and don’t do my homework, I don’t know how to play this game at all. I’m excited though, because I’m about to watch Keith Elwin teach us all how to play this game.” KME is the all-knowing pinball deity. Instead of the viewer scoffing at your incompetence, you and the viewer can relate as bad players and are about to discover this game together, by learning from the best player in the world/state/city/tournament. Obvious roadblocks to this always being done well are that commentators are often just eliminated players but hey, it’s never going to be perfect.

This situation can also just be avoided from the start by having @scoutpilgrim cast literally every game of competitive pinball, ever. Problem solved.