Tournament Unwritten Rules or Etiquette


If you’re new to competitive pinball, playing a game you own is almost a curse IMHO. While you’ll be familiar with the rules, most everything else — flipper feel, bounce angles, tilt sensitivity, etc — will probably be very different from what you’re used to, and it’s not easy to quickly adjust.


Ergo my 500M score on AFM in my very first game of Pinburgh 2016! But believe it or not, it wasn’t even last place.


I’ll see your 500 mil on AFM and raise you a 900k LOTR


The literal first game I played at Pinburgh last year was on Harlem Globetrotters, the only game I own. Suffice to say, it did not go well.


Sounds good for me, because I don’t have the income to own a machine myself! I guess that’s why I placed roughly in the middle during my first time.


It pisses me off more when my beau rage shoves a game at home. Why do I have to get a swinging tilt bob because you’re mad?


My suggestions:

If you leave your group - say, for a rest room run while waiting for your next machine - let someone know where you’re going.

Try to stay out of the active player’s line of sight. (This is not a hard and fast rule in informal league situations, but most tournament players will expect it.)

Never touch a machine that someone is playing.

Don’t touch a machine after your turn ends. I’ve played with folks who randomly flip the flippers after their ball ends, and no good can come of that. (I’m not talking about just speeding up the bonus count.)

Be proactive in filling out the score sheet while other players are on the last ball. It’s everyone’s job! Check your score before you leave the machine and make sure it’s legible.


That post-ball flipping is one of my real big pet peeves, and I find it difficult to address because it’s usually so in the moment that I feel like a jerk saying something, or like I’m too stupid to know there’s some feature they’re accessing even if it almost always isn’t. Usually it’s not a big deal, but a few times it’s really irked me.


And also not playing, but live. I have seen so many people blissfully unaware of their surroundings who will walk up to machines with an active game on them and either lean on them, flip the flippers, or even start playing. This happens in my local league as well. We’ve had quite a few DQ’s because of this.

I’ve tried to understand the mindset here to avoid getting mad at people, but I just can’t understand what is hard about checking to see if there is a live game before doing anything. Yes - people should be playing promptly when it’s their turn, but it’s quite common to let a machine rest for a bit to settle tilt bobs and whatnot, and that’s generally not done while standing right up at the machine.

Moral of rant: unoccupied machine != free machine I guess.


Do you mean people who are knowledgeable on pinball enough to know better or people who are unfamiliar with arcade settings?

Because I’ve seen enough people abandon a game after their first drain (I’ll give the benefit of the doubt and assume that they don’t know these are not 1-ball games) that I’ve also seen plenty of people walk right up to machines with nobody at the helm and start playing because they figure it was an abandoned game.

I’ve also seen plenty of people who don’t really understand the concept of the Start button and think that a game will start automatically when enough money is inserted (or swiped) into it.

Do you encounter people who, upon seeing a row of pinball machines, will press the Start button on every unoccupied machine? That is, they’re hoping to find one with a credit on it that they can play, since when they DO find one, they stop and start playing on that machine. I see this happen at least once every time I visit one particular location (and it’s always someone different). There are no tournaments, or any sort of gatherings organized by the owners. I also see it happen less often at some other places, but it is something I encounter every now and then, and I’m guessing this would get old really fast if someone waltzed right into a tournament and started doing this.


I’m specifically referring to competition settings. Leagues, tournaments, etc. In other words, people who should know better, or who can reasonably be expected to know better.


Are they aware there’s a competition going on though? I think that’s the important part. Most people (and by this, I mean people as a whole, not any specific group) don’t know that competitive pinball is even possible and are astonished to know it exists. One thing that I’m wondering here is of those people you see who go right on over to competition machines, how many of them realize there’s a competition.

I mean, if you see the participants doing this, then yeah, they have no excuse. If someone who just walked in from outside started doing this without asking anyone, however, I’d be inclined to believe they don’t know a competition is going on.

I remember being at 82 when a competition began. There were two people who swept the entire room where the pinball was and, over the course of the event, made sure no one walked into the area who wasn’t a participant. (The non-competition machines were fine for everyone, but the way they behaved suggested they had problems with unaware intruders in the past.)


I think you’re misunderstanding me… I’m talking about people IN the competition. Fellow competitors.

As completely impractical as this is, I kinda wish there were tournament police like this at Pinburgh. I see people every year who shouldn’t be where they are. But, it’s just impossible given the size of things, so a gentle “please don’t play the tournament machines” is the best one can do.


Ah, gotcha! Yeah, that is incredibly idiotic and ignorant. If you were a supervisor, scorekeeper, or some other official of some sort, it sounds like something out of Not Always Right…but that site kind of makes you feel that idiots like these guys are everywhere. (Or maybe they actually are.)

Nevertheless, I’ve had my fair share of bizarre, very rude, disruptive, rule-breaking, and otherwise disagreeable clients when I worked retail. If these guys messing around with unattended machines AND are participants are like those people, they’re just that clueless, impulsive, and empty-headed. They should be reported to someone in charge whenever they’re seen doing that. This way, they’ll either learn to behave better or get kicked out, which will benefit you and other polite, respectful competitors either way.


At the Texas Pinball Festival there is a separate area for the tournament. There is signage designating the area. The games are behind barriers. There are scorekeepers and judges on hand the entire time.
At least twice, a couple people slipped in and started playing the tournament games. They promptly left when asked.