Organization of local competitive scenes

In general, which do you feel represents the healthiest local competitive scene?

  1. One leagues/organizations which runs pretty much all events
    a. with no formal agreement on exlclusivity/rights of first refusal to run tournaments with any larger venues in the area
    b. with formal agreement on exlclusivity/rights of first refusal to run tournaments with at least one of the larger venues in the area

  2. Multiple leagues/organizations covering the local area

  3. Many individual tournament directors each “doing their own thing”

  4. None of the above

Very situational, IMHO.

If your local scene is small to medium, I think it’s beneficial to have most/all events under one umbrella. You don’t want to fragment a small player base – if your town only has a competitive player base of 25 people, you don’t want to make players choose between League A, League B, or Weekly C, because 3 events of ~8 people each probably doesn’t have the energy and excitement of one event of 25 people. It’s also easy for a tiny event to melt down if a couple people are absent. And realistically, many people can’t spare multiple nights a week to go out and play pinball, due to pressures of family / work / etc, so they are likely to be choosing only one of the events offered.

Also, running competitive pinball events has lots of weird nuances and things that you need to learn, and it’s good to have that knowledge and experience centralized as you’re just starting to build the foundation for your local scene.

As your scene matures, it’s going to naturally want to branch out … when there are more people involved, they will have different interests. Some want hardcore competition, others want beer socials that happen to include pinball. Some love the “story arc” of a full season of league play, others can’t commit to a league schedule and prefer the spontaneity of coming to a weekly when they have time. All of those are reasonable desires, and as you get enough players to sustain that variety, you’ll probably also have some players who are willing and able to take the reins of the new event(s). (You might even physically outgrow your original location, a great problem to have!)

For the most part, you’ll probably “feel” what’s right. If it feels like you’re forcing everyone under one umbrella and some people are unhappy – or if you have a bunch of disjoint events but none of them are getting much traction or growth – it’s time to rethink things.

The specific scene I have in mind has been around for about 8-9 years and has gone well past 25 people.

The situation I have in mind is neither of these, but I’ve recently learned, from the standpoint of someone seeking to start my own events, of agreements regarding exclusivity and/or rights of first refusal that I believe could be a problem because we don’t have very many locations.

Yes, sometimes situations can get tricky, and ugly.

If you’re talking about public locations: if you just happen to show up at a public location during its normal business hours, and a bunch of other people also happen to show up at that location at the same time, and you just happen to have some pieces of paper or iPhones you use to record scores for a competitive event… what’s the location going to do about it? If they really wanted, they could probably trespass you all, but that’s not going to shine a good light on the establishment, and they’ll lose the revenue (coin drop + often drinks and/or food) of those players, maybe permanently – that’s a lose-lose situation.

Generally, it’s much better for someone wishing to run competitive pinball events to have a positive relationship with the location where they play, not an adversarial relationship. Given the scene you describe, hopefully every location in town isn’t run by the same operator, so if Location A doesn’t want the business of your events, see if Location B or Location C does. (Hosting at private residences may be an option too, but that solution has quite a few downsides.)

We only have a couple 2-3 TDs in the area willing to run events. Only 2-4 locations capable of hosting events. They all work together to schedule tournaments around each other so none overlap.

I would suggest doing that if possible. No formal documents or rulesheets.

Actually, we’ve grown past that to the point where the largest such organization is running multiple events on the same night. I’m willing to work with them regarding scheduling, but they appear to not care what I might be doing and will scheduled events against mine anyway.

If they aren’t willing to work with you, you can either do your own thing or knowing when they have events, maybe try and schedule yours on other dates to help maximize your attendance.

That’s what I’ve tried to do. In one such instance, my event was scheduled first a good two months out, and then the larger group scheduled a similar event for the same dates and times less than 5 miles away, right at the IFPA’s 30 day deadline. Whether on purpose or they just didn’t care is still a mystery, but it was definitely one of those two.

You forgot to mention the players - the most important part of the choice - what do the players want and how do you know that what you are doing is what they want? In leagues / tournaments / events the players are the important folks and make sure you consider their views!

Good point. I get the impression the players will just go along with whatever. I’m trying to attract players completely new to the tournament scene with the idea of forming a true alternative league to what is here already.

Despite early promises that the “board” of the original league would be re-elected every so often, I’ve never heard of an election being held and so it’s been the same people for the last 7+ years, with only a few new TDs being added.

As @joe mentioned, I think it’s very contextual. Scenes vary in how established the competitive pinball scene is, how geographically spread out things are, the desires of the player base, etc. I got to watch the competitive scene in Portland, OR, develop basically from its earliest iteration to where it is now and have a few observations that might be helpful:

  • When a scene starts out, there is typically one driving organizer or group who establishes what they want to/are able to provide. For us, it was a weekly Tuesday night tournament that grew from 8 people in a garage to 50+ players at a rotating venue over the course of a decade. This typically meets the demand to start off with and can be a great gateway for growing the scene.
  • Once you’ve got a somewhat established player base, it’s not uncommon for people to want more opportunities to compete than one person/group is able or willing to provide. No one has a monopoly on being able to run events in a given region, and if there’s demand for additional tournaments, people will show up to them. Because Portland had established Tuesday weeklies, other organizers chose to hold events on other days of the week recognizing attendance could be limited if two events ran simultaneously on the same night. We eventually ended up having a competitive pinball event pretty much every night of the week. Not everyone chose to come to all of them, but there was enough demand for them all to exist.
  • If you’re not running weeklies or a league, there’s less of a social contract in place as far as events conflicting with each other. If there’s a centralized place to announce/advertise upcoming events (e.g. Facebook group, Discord server), sharing an event as soon as you’ve got it on the calendar can minimize scheduling conflicts, as can communicating directly with other organizers in your area, but sometimes overlap happens.
  • Whether that overlap is a big deal depends on a couple of factors. Some regions are more dense than others; in Portland, the same player pool could access and attend pretty much all events held in the metro area, but for regions that are sprawling or encompass a larger area, some players might be looking for events closer to home/that don’t require as much travel and there could be an unmet need for your events to tap into. There’s also a difference in what types of events or vibes people are looking for; if one type of event draws high level, competitive players, there could be value in offering a more casual event for players who are just getting started or want to play for fun. Portland currently has a Thursday night competitive weekly for IFPA points as well as a Thursday night cooperative pinball event for fun and glory. They have different core players and target audiences, but people mix and match depending on what vibe they’re looking for in a given week. There’s also things like team leagues or non-IFPA silly formats (play one-handed! play standing on one leg! try to hit a target score without going over but you can’t see your score!) that might draw in a different group of players, and focusing on making a fun event for them can be a gateway into the larger pinball scene.
  • Finally, people vote with their feet. If there is demand for what you’re offering (location, day/time, format, etc.) people will show up. It can take time to establish an event, but running something that is high quality and enjoyable builds word-of-mouth and can expand over time.

Ultimately, my take is that even if it seems like someone or some group in a region is “the competitive pinball organizing body”, it’s not up to them whether other events also exist (and it would be short sighted to try and tightly control all pinball events under one small umbrella). The healthiest mature pinball scene in my eyes is one where a lot of different types of events exist so that any player has an entry point into and access to the kind of competitive (or uncompetitive) pinball experience they want.

That diversity of opportunity comes with time, though. As Joe said, if you only have 25 rabid pinball players in your area, fragmenting them is less fun than having a shared gathering place and entry point. But as a scene matures and expands, people can step up if there’s something they want to see that doesn’t exist yet. Plus you want newer TDs to be able to build their skills so they can fill the void if and when the established people need a break or no longer enjoy running things.


If you want to target new players, then don’t make it an IFPA event. Josh won’t mind. Make it a novice event and exclude players ranked XXXX or better.

Match play does tournaments, but also does series, which is how I run my novice league. All it is, is a series made up of tournaments. It is run specifically with the goal of finding and attracting new/inexperienced players close to this specific area (close to my house) and not scare them off by getting thrown in with our experienced regulars.

Let’s see if my flyer will attach. This is what I have at the change machine at this 4-game location.


I like the idea of running a smaller non-IFPA event and I know of at least one venue that would be good for this.

Are there any event formats that would be good for a venue with only one or two machines? We have quite a few of those.

I think ifpa is pretty important even for smaller tourneys. New players like getting a profile on there. If I had advice it would just to be consistent. It takes a little while to build up a following.

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Group match play gets the most number of players on machines at once. If you have a smaller number of games that might be how I would go.

However, a single location with 2 games will get stale in a few events. If that’s what you are facing, plan on moving from location to location after each event. Shoot, if two locations are close, start at one spot and move to the next.

I’d suggest going to play at the next location within a few days before your event to know if things are working well enough. Even better would be to get to know the operators, play prior to events, and make requests for repairs (if something really needs it) with enough time before your event.

Dealing with a 4-game FEC that didn’t know how to fix anything more than replacing a broken flipper or sling rubber is how I got into hobby operating. Eventually it just wasn’t working to not know how many games were down that week without hope of repair, playfields with years of soot, and all I could do was windex the glass.