Perspective on pinball streaming vs eSports


Pinball is not as easy to understand as vids because there is no clear end goal, just avoid death for as long as you can. Its like watching a juggler for as long as he can juggle … F’n Boring


To each their own, but I find watching pinball fascinating. And just because there may not be an end goal doesn’t mean there aren’t goals.


We streamed the entire Pinfest tournament this weekend. It was the first time we had ever done something like that and it was an exhausting, but exhilarating experience. It was 20+ hours of streaming over two days. The majority of that stream was hosted by three people with guests every now and then.

While we had our fair share of hiccups, it was still our most successful stream so far. From experience, here are some of the big differences and challenges.

From a presentation perspective, eSports already have an easier time of things, you are capturing video that is being output by a PC with either stationary or moveable cameras for each player.

Pinball machines are physical objects, and for the most part, require at least two cameras each, one for the PF and one for the score. Depending on the game, capturing all 4 scores can also be difficult with only two cameras (We learned this the hard way).

Additionally, things like scratched PF glass, lighting / glare, cameras getting knocked down, etc, create further complications that you simply don’t encounter in eSports as the video feeds are not coming from physical cameras.

Community Size:
Video games have a larger fanbase than pinball, so it’s no surprise that their streaming is much more popular. It is also far easier to participate in video games than it is pinball, as pinball machines are physical objects that not everyone can afford to have in their home. Pinball -especially the competitive aspect of it- is gaining in popularity, and the streaming audience will grow along with it, however I don’t see it exploding to the size of eSport stadium events in the next year or two. For something like that to even have a chance of happening, we would need pinball to become main stream again, which can only really happen through the passion of the existing player base and their ability to bring in new players.

Entertainment Value:
As far as entertainment values goes, I think pinball and eSports are actually on a level field. I see plenty of guys in my office watching esport streams all day and they just stare blankly at the stream, with no excitement at all. But I remember watching the last Papa Finals with my wife and we were screaming at every bad drain. Turns up a bunch of our firends were watching them too and we talked about getting together for the next one like some folks would do for the super bowl. The entertainment value of a stream is tied directly to the commentary as it’s happening. I know I have a long way to go on my own commentary, but I try my best to explain the rules and strategies as the players are executing them (See the Pinfest stream and my explaining why Steve Zahler just repeated the Creech shot over and over). If people see something that seems boring, they will be bored, but if you can explain what they are doing and the risk/reward aspect of it, they will still be entertained.

At the end of the day, eSports streaming and pinball streaming are doing more or less the same thing, but on different scales. (and I would argue a few “extra” challenges on pinball’s side) For pinball to move closer to that eSport status, we would need a significant boost in interest which in itself will be an immense challenge requiring not just the passion and participation of it’s current fans, but bringing in new players, getting more games on location, and getting more exposure.

I just realized I’m rambling, so I’ll cut it for now.



I disagree Esports are doing it way better, Pinball events need to change or they will never get out of obscurity and fade away. First no more serial gameplay, head to head on identical machines only. Play for score with time limits not objectives as most people can not easily understand game rules at first . Make it a spectator event with the players surrounded by chearing people. Second bring in some professional TV producers from outside of the Pinball world as these are the people you need to reach.


The Heads-Up format does feel more intense and may make for better viewing, but to maintain non-player interest, it may require some scoring software changes. Many viewers tune out of any sport if a match is a blow-out early on. If one player has finished their multiball with a superjackpot or two and the other missed theirs and is “in jail” as we say re starting their next high-scoring chance, why watch the last X minutes?

But … What if ALL games were programmed to be, say, 5 minutes long, and had a playfield multiplier that went up by one [for instance] each minute? Now, the player who’s behind has a realistic chance to catch up - - stay tuned, watch the epic come-back! [Levi & BMU in the broadcast booth - - he’s winding up for the 2X scoring 5X playfield-timer superjackpot and … BOOM!]

Even better, now think about the way this changes game strategy: if PF X is set, at least in part, by what time it is, when do you try to cash in your Supers or other high-value shots? Get some early to build a lead and hope you’ll light another near the end, or save the big one to the last moment - - and hope you don’t miss!

I see some intriguing possibilities here for both game rules and game design. Your 5 minutes starts when you plunge your first ball; at the end of time, the flippers die; drain and bonus count.

I think 5 minutes is better than 3, to allow more time to get to some of the advanced features [what’s the fastest you’ve ever toured the Mansion?]; you could go longer, but I’m not sure how attention spans would hold at 10 minutes per game.


People like competition, I suggest only finals be broadcast. Limits put pressure on the players and pressure on players is good.
The time limit should start at the sounding of an buzzer and the clock be highly visible to all, with the amount of time starting shorter and ending with a longer final round allowing for a possible different strategies. Also a better overview of the game should be pre shot and edited into a good flyover format with highlighted camera shots of critical areas of play complete with narration.


Whatever the opinion on e sports… they still pull off things like this while pinball hopes for scraps


Curious - Anyone know of a sport that has fundamentally changed its rules or game-play to accommodate a better TV/viewing experience and been successful in doing so?


Basketball: NBA’s shot clock


UFC sure did.


I’m pretty sure that was added very early in basketball to help balance the game, otherwise once someone got ahead they would just never take any risky shots.


Not a football fan so correct me if I’m wrong: surely at some point in time the game was changed (or at least the pace at which it’s played) to make way for all the ads. It seems to be working out for them.


Correct. But the basis behind it was because it was BORING while one team stalled and passed the ball around, eventually forcing the other team to foul. And this caused problems for them attracting fans. I’m sure there were purists at the time that relished the skill involved in passing and playing keep-away as an appropriate strategic move of basketball at the time. But I think all can agree that basketball is a much better sport (read: entertainment) for having the shot clock.


Indy and F1 have done many things over the years to fundamentally change the sport to make passing happen. Hanford device. DRS. KERS. Tire rules. Engine rules. Many changes to remove the advantages the best had and add interest.


Curling had this problem and needed to add the various iterations of the free guaed zone rules. They are still iterating on them.


Paintball. I’ve been playing competitive paintball for over 20 years and while it doesn’t have extensive TV coverage, it has been covered by ESPN before and several changes have been made in an effort to have the casual person watching better understand what’s going on.


Volleyball and beach volleyball.

Admittedly they probably only get really watched during the olympics, but everyone got so good traditional only-score-on-serve meant the matches last as long as what I understand cricket to be.

Beach volleyball originally tried to address this with the rally clock, but that really sucked because it was “for real” scoring for awhile then switched to every play scores. Too arbitrary.

The move to every play scores was necessary and probably even welcomed by most people.

That is by far the most fundamental change I can think of.


I’m even greedier than the scrap grabbers. I want everyone playing pinball with no one left on the sidelines to watch. Go big or go home.


Can’t wait!


If by “pull off things like this”, you mean “Just write a $50K check to the Luxor”, then you’re spot on :slight_smile: