I wrote a piece about attending many of the Circuit events in 2017 (along with many others). It’s a firsthand perspective of doing the grind. Many of us have thought about it, wished we could do it, and well I got the chance last year. Here’s the story.
It appeared as a 3 part series this past weekend on Fun With Bonus. Here it is in its entirety. It’s reeeeeeallllly long, lol. If you’re interested, I hope you enjoy. I’ll check back periodically to see if there are any questions. Thanks! FR
Taking the Circuit (Trent) Tour 2017
Have you ever looked up at the top 25 players on the first page of the IFPA rankings, or maybe the (soon to be replaced) PAPA Circuit standings and thought to yourself, “Man, I could be up there. If I had the time and money to travel whenever I wanted to, I could do that. I could be a top player!”???
I know I have. Guess what? This year I got that opportunity. And you know what happened? Well, I’ll tell ya, it was crazy. Yet exhausting! I thought I would share are few stories, some observations, and a couple unexpected turns as well. So get comfy, grab a snack and I’ll try to limit the tangents and stay focused
The Numbers YTD
• 43,731 miles on my car
• 18 flights
• 17 states competed in
• 10 Circuit events
• 64 IFPA endorsed events
• 4 Top 16 finishes for SCS, another 4 states eligible
An Unexpected Journey
It didn’t start out with a commitment to give it my all for the year. I originally was just going to hit a couple events before my next job. I had just won the SCS in Minnesota, so that meant I was heading to Texas for the IFPA Nationals, as well Pin Masters. By the time I knew I was going down, Texas Pinball Festival was already full, so I couldn’t compete there.
(1) First Circuit stop was the Louisville Arcade Expo. This was the first time I had gone, but many friends had spoken highly of it. Hanging out with friends, the parties, and going to Zanzibar after the event was the best part of that trip. I played poorly and created my own demise. I signed up to volunteer a couple shifts. This limited the already tight qualifying windows. I had to bail on Classics. I was so negative Nancypants about distractions, that seriously you just have to overcome (crappy hotel, tight play area & schedule, and Pitt homer games ) Trent won his first event #1
(2) Next up the IFPA Pin Masters. After a disappointing loss in Nationals, I was ready for this business. I felt great on these games. Aerosmith was fairly new and I was destroying it. The goal was only 30M and I got 2 aces on it in qualifying. I played consistently and qualified 3rd behind Josh and Zach Sharpe. I drove the bus in my group. Well after a poor performance on Aerosmith and Whirlwind, I was out.
The best part of this show was watching Helena Walter win the Women’s Championship and celebrate her wedding announcement with Adam Higgins. That was awesome! <3
Flip the Script
As I’m getting ready for PAPA 20, I get a call from an interested client looking to open a new location in another state. Pinball was included in the concept. The structure of this project required a few months of discovery, followed by the long process of site selection and lease negotiation. Suddenly, I had about 6 months of my schedule cleared out. Ok, now what? Well, I can align with the Circuit calendar as much as possible and… try and tear shit up! From here on out, I’m going to coordinate/align with the man himself, Mr. Circuit Trent Augenstein. If anyone knows how to do this thing, it’s Trent!
(3) Alright, I’m feeling good, playing pretty well. For the first time in maybe 5 years, I actually feel up to the PAPA challenge. You know 5 games on 1 card, PAPA style. PAPA 20 World Championships. Ya well, they changed the format this year, lol. No matter, I was ready to step up to the big stage. One stupid game of Metallica… that’s ALL I needed to make Finals! I couldn’t break 40M to get in the top 24 players, even though in one game I started Seek & Destroy. Ugghhh
The best part of this event? That’s easy, watching Escher’s magical moment unfold. The improbable went to possible to holy crap, he might actually do this! And of course he did. I remember watching a group play Skateball with E. His coach (Dad) comes over and says, “You see that? You see what Cayle is doing on Genesis?” Yeah, yeah, Escher says. “You watch him, you watch what he’s doing there”. Adam went back to his chair and Escher and I went back to watching Skateball.
The takeaway was more than that, bigger than even a 13 year old winning one of the toughest events in competitive history. It was all the young winners. The final 4 in B’s (think Brad Smith was the old man there), and what like an 8 year old winning D’s as well. It was an amazing feeling to see a fresh generation of new faces competing at a World Championships.
Since my plans have changed, it’s time to set some new goals. Looking over the Circuit calendar, I figure I might be able to make as many as 10 or 11 events. All depends on the schedule of the NSO (new store opening), but the bulk is over the summer and early fall. That can work. Alright, well I’d like to win one. I would also like to qualify again and finish better than I just did at the Circuit Championships (with a first round bounce). I’d also like to finish in the top 50 IFPA ranked players at the end of the year. That would be my highest finish since the ranking started (player #49 ). Sounds good, and we’re off…
(4) Finished the month of April at Cactus Jack’s Silverball Showdown. I looked forward to this event, having been there last year as well. Shawn runs a good event, the venue is awesome, and the Vibe is tight. Some great people out there in Oklahoma, for sure. The last 2 years have paid out to the top 4 finishers. Since I have finished the round before each time, not sure I would return unless that changed. Shawn knows that though Trent wins his 2nd event.
(5) Alright, next up the bizarre 2nd weekend in June. There were two Circuit events to choose from. The homies back in Colorado with the Pinball Showdown, or return to Southern Fried Game Expo for Pinvasion. Add to this, the Northwest Pinball & Arcade Show going on as well, but not a circuit event. Heard there were a lot of folks heading to Atlanta, so I choose there. That didn’t work out as planned. Pretty poor performance, didn’t qualify for Classics and bounced first round in the Mains, ugghh. Highlight here was commentating with Steve Bowden for the Championship round. Good times.
I would have been returning to Bat City Open in Austin, TX because I had a blast there last year (Trent would go on to win his 3rd Circuit event here). However, I headed to Grand Cayman for some business (and vacation time) with my best buddy Ashley. Sad to miss it, but come on… Grand Cayman! After we returned however, I had the best time visiting friends in Portland, OR and Seattle, WA. Also I got to go to the most kick ass 4th of July party with all the pinball gang.
(6) Time for one of my favorite events of the year, Pinburgh at ReplayFX! This was my best finish the previous year, taking 8th. Two final appearances in the past two years, I was ready. Well, I barely squeaked into A Division. I was still Finals eligible going into the last round. I got #binghambounced. I needed at least a 10, but Evan took an 11 and I was done. You just can’t ride the rollercoaster. Stay 7-9 wins per round and you’ll be in the Finals. You can recover from one 3 point round, but two is tough. Hard to be disappointed at the greatest arcade in the universe, so I played games, hung out with friends and enjoyed another fabulous weekend at the Murthy’s palace.
(7) I need some better finishes. Next up, the Buffalo Pinball Open. I haven’t been here before, so this is going to be fun. Kevin, Nick, and the gang put on a great event. I had a blast. I played better too (funny how those go hand-in-hand, huh?). Some different games, and a few I kept blowing up like Batman ’66, Demo Man, and Dialed in. This format, which allows you to choose games, shows how important driving the bus is. Once you’re comfortable with a few titles, you keep going back until the well dries up.
After taking 1st on AFM then Robert Gagno picking Demo, I was pumped. How quick things can change. The game I couldn’t score less than 2B on, all I needed was 900M for first place. Instead a 437M for last . X-Piles was the 3rd pick, psyched myself out because the game wasn’t playing well, along with it being an X-Files, lol. Turned out another 1M and it would’ve been a 3-way tie with 2 advancing, but no. Everyone’s got a pinball story. I also took 5th in Classics, so took some decent points and cash from there.
To finish up the summer, there was the Cleveland Pinball and Arcade Show. However, the Captain of our traveling circus (Trent) said the best event of the year was the same weekend. So we passed on Clepin, and headed to the Dory Hill tournament in Base Camp at Golden Gate Canyon, CO. Best event? Pssshh, I’m skeptical. Let’s see…
Trent, Deborah and I had been to almost 20 events together so far this year. This was a big change from games lined up in a hotel or arcade. Now they were going to be on cabin porches. What? Yep, cabins, pavilions, and camp sites. What blew me away was the sheer simplicity all this went up. Tarps attached around the cabin porches for protection from glare and the elements. Everyone knew exactly what needed to be done, like seasoned veterans (many were). What’s this rolling through now, that looks like a border patrol bus? It was, except it was the Melvin Beer Company (Wyoming) and this thing was full of beer, FREE BEER. Good lordy, what did I get myself into?
He was right; it was the best pinball weekend of 2017. There were more than 20 games located all throughout the campground, a campground that was entirely filled with people who love pinball. We’re sworn to secrecy upon entry so I’m going to stop there. However, I will say this; a lot can be said for the environment of a tournament. This influenced by location, format, and how well the event is executed. There’s some places that feel like stress city, and then there’s Dory Hill, a place where cares just melt away.
There’s group play the first night, I did well there. Then the next day is 18 pin-golf holes. I qualified 2nd behind perennial house champ, Donavan Stepp. I was poised to make a deep run and then I committed a mistake I’ve made before, not fully understanding the format. By choosing the bank I selected, I put myself in the dubious position of having to play Doodle Bug in a tie breaker. Read all directions before assembly.
(8) By now, I’m playing fairly well and consistent. I’m winning here and there, local stuff, something in WI, and take 2nd in a tie-breaker (to Trent of course, lol) in Indiana. It’s time to head to PPO (Pittsburgh Pinball Open), another first time event for me. Start with a decent showing at the pre-party at DJ’s. The format is the classic PAPA style. I think I finally get a good grasp on how to approach this.
I have a blast, qualify 4th or 5th and feel pretty good on these games. Unfortunately I run into the buzz saw that is Alex K (who went on to win) and that was it. Close match, but he took it. Great to see him playing so well (he also won the Buffalo Open!). I end up winning the “losers” tournament, but that was it. Had a blast though! I love Pittsburgh.
Quick mention of my “home” tournament, the Pinball Expo in Chicago. I first attended in ’93 and go as often as I’m able. I typically play well here. Won the Classics last year, and 2nd the previous before that. This year was off to a strong start, Top Qualifier in the Open. Oh no, the kiss of death! Sure enough, lost a heartbreaker to Escher, and then losing on a few sloppy games with Lyman. Poop, oh well. Stunk it up in Classics too, lol.
I am excited to see this return to the Circuit in 2018. This powerhouse event deserves its rightful place as one of the toughest competitions of the year. Now if they could just run it like the center of pinball as it should be, that’d be great.
(9) Because I didn’t make the 14 second registration window for 24 Hour Final Battle at the Sanctum (where Trent would win his 4th event), my next event was OBX Flippers Fall Tournament. Not the first tournament I’ve been to in a gas station, lol. It was my first time in the Outer Banks. What a beautiful area.
Fun location, great staff and for the most part the games played well. In the Classics, all the heavies got knocked out and Ms. Deborah put her foot down and took the thing home. It was great to see her win. In the Main, we had the “you can only pick a game once” throughout the entire Finals. Sometimes that leads to thinking too much about the future and not focusing on the present. At least that’s what happened to me. I lost to a red hot Shannon Stafford on an unbelievable comeback on Dialed In. He would go on to take 2nd to Trentaur’s 5th victory. Great trophies by the way!
I had a ticket to MAGFest but got caught up in Denver over the NYE weekend, so I didn’t make the trip. To be honest, the “no payouts” was a motivating factor. I know Kevin does a great job out there and would have liked making the trip, but cost ultimately comes into play. I’ll make it there in the future.
(10) Finally, my first visit to INDISC (It Never Drains in Southern California, and it didn’t!). We heard the names of people making the trip. Knew this was going to be a tough one. I think even Jim and Karl were surprised how many people showed up. If I remember correctly, it was like 189 Main players, 124 in Classics, and 47 in the Women’s Division! Games played great for the most part and things seemed fine. I kept bouncing around 12th to 20th place or so.
In hindsight, maybe I spend too much time doing nothing in Classics. I had the time; I figured I would eventual put up enough scores. As it was, I had 2 good scores and a lot of crap. I got to play and learn Star Light, which was awesome! I didn’t make it in to Classics, so I went and had dinner, cleared my mind a bit and game back for 1 or 2 score improvements in the Main division. One would cement my place in Finals, 2 might get me Top 8 and a bye.
Unfortunately, I didn’t improve very much. So I was sitting at 22nd (out of 24 to qualify for Finals) with just one hour of scorekeeper’s extra hour. Typically, your scorekeepers aren’t the top players at an event. Also, after a few bad experiences volunteering this season, I didn’t sign up for any slots. Boy did that backfire in my face. FIVE people moved ahead of me in that last hour. I have NEVER seen that kind of movement. When I saw everyone who continued to play (as I was scorekeeping then ) you could see it all falling apart.
Having that last hour to qualify is a huge advantage. You know where everyone has finished, you can select the game(s) to play based of this information readily available, and you can snipe scores. Ouch… that hurt. I like how OBX does it, where the scorekeepers extra hour is Saturday morning, before the 2nd day of qualifying. Looks like previous attendee’s experience played into that one. Tough to end on that.
Traveling this much is exhausting and expensive! Unless this is your job (like Trent’s), I don’t really see how people make it to more than 4 or 5 events a year.
Trent is a beast. This was his year. Even though I wasn’t winning as often as I wanted to, it was great sharing a lot of those moments with him!
There are so many good players out there. I’m referring to the locals that make these events. There’s always a few that seem to make it in and do well.
Mind your health. I put on about 15 lbs being in the car, eating crap food, lack of exercise. I have worked most of that off over the last 8 weeks or so.
Enjoy the ride! The best part of every event, without a doubt, is the people. These friendships are some of the closest I have in my life right now. Also, try to get out and visit the cities you travel too. It can be tough, but enjoy the visit.
Moving up the IFPA rankings gets exponentially harder the higher you rise.
So here’s the recap; I played well most of the year. Maybe at times, the best in my life. Definitely more consistent. Did I reach all of my goals? Well, I placed higher in the Circuit rankings over last year. After some expected dropouts, I’ll be around 10th-12th (according to the BMU matrix). I didn’t finish top 50, but 65th at the end of the year. This was still a decent improvement after finishing 93rd last year. I did however qualify for my first IFPA World Championships in over 5 years. I’m excited to head to Canada this May. Hoping winter is over by then I got to play in so many states, and qualify for SCS in many of them (8 total).
Here’s a caution however, if you play in this many events, there’s some things you may not realize will happen. Playing in everything under the sun will kill your efficiency. While being in the Hot 100 may not be your goal, you will penalize yourself with too many crappy finishes. You think, I’ll be in everything, but you burn yourself out and skew your numbers. If you don’t have the time (or energy) for say a Classics division, DON’T DO IT. More is not always better. After a few months on the road, I spoke with Donavan about this. Look at the top players; they usually don’t go to a million events (except Trent. Again Trentaur Beastmode). Be selective in what you participate in, then focus and give it your all. You owe that to yourself.
I made so many new friendships, and strengthen others. I received my annual yellow card at Pinburgh from Bowen, check. I’m so happy I got to go to a bunch of events for the 1st time (half of them actually). Traveling with Trent and Deborah was awesome. We had so much fun and it was great to have Trent’s experience for restaurants, hotels, and things to do. It also allowed me to apprentice for Tilt Amusements, and learn how to move and set up games under a plethora of conditions!
One thing I do want to express; Being a Tournament Director is a difficult and thankless job (at times). So much gratitude to you, your staff, and all the volunteers that make these events happen!!! <3 You make all of this possible. Also, be a good director, if you choose to do this. Be fair, flexible, and understanding (approachable) at your event. Know the rules and have the IFPA and/or PAPA rules set (soon to be the same?) available at hand. I stopped going to some events because of poor leadership. If you take on this responsibility (no small task), do it to promote pinball. Do it for helping to create great experiences for all (or at least most ). I’ll leave it at that.
I’m rushing to get this out, so gonna wrap it up. To everyone I got to spend time with and hang out, thank you!!! This year was a blast. Watching so many historic pinball moments go down. There’s a change afoot. To me there’s two eras of pinball, BW and AW (before and after WPPRs). The GOB club is finally ready to pass the torch. So many kids, so many women, so many new faces in the last 5 years or so are incredibly encouraging. Here is the growth model for pinball. We haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of pinball mania, in my opinion. I’m hoping to be a catalyst in this market.
Thank you, reader, for your interest. I really tried to keep this on point. I short changed some of these events and probably talked too much on others. If you have any questions, I’d be happy to answer them as best as I can. There are hundreds of players that shared these events with me. So there’s probably a lot of support and disagreements with what I’ve wrote. I hope this simply sparks your interest to play more as well as an open discussion. Take care everyone, good luck in your SCS, and I hope to see you soon at the next event. Make sure to come up and say hi! FR