The event organizers have received and responded to our feedback. In order to allow this to be a learning experience for the community as a whole, I'm sharing the email we sent to the organizers below. It's long but hopefully enlightening. A few guiding rules for what I'm sure will be a healthy discussion:
- We are talking about actions, not people. I know all of the people involved personally, and no one is passing judgments on their character or worth. We are simply discussing behaviors and actions. Please no personal attacks.
- We are not debating whether or not we experienced sexist treatment. If your instinct after reading this post is to pick through each part where you don't agree or argue that there could have been a non-sexist explanation for something, this may not be the thread for you. As the only people who experienced this first-hand, we are telling y'all that we were treated in a way that made us feel upset and uncomfortable, we are pointing out common missteps that can be avoided by future TDs, commentators, and organizers, and we are making recommendations on how to improve. Let's keep the discussion solution-oriented: how can we work to prevent these types of things from happening with such regularity?
- A final clarification: I have not watched the stream and don't plan to, so there are some stream details that are inaccurate below, since I was trying to synthesize the feedback from people who had watched the stream without having seen it firsthand. I hope that small errors will not impact whether or not our concerns are taken seriously.
Hi Northwest Pinball Champs team,
As you're aware, Meg Griffin, Melissa Schwegel, and I had a very negative experience during the Women's Final at NWPC yesterday. As promised, we have written out our feedback for you in this email. It's unfortunate that there is already internet discussion about this issue without waiting for our feedback; one recommendation I will make off the bat is that if a player is having issues with your event, don't broadcast and discuss that fact on stream. This will allow the player to share feedback with you directly without it turning into a whole Thing.
We plan to share details regarding specific situations and actions below. Since Zoe typed most of it up, it's written from her perspective, but all three of us support the statements made. Overall, the women's final was treated as an afterthought, not a main event, and the competitors were treated like novices, not experienced and talented tournament pinball players. If you continue to include a women's event in the NWPC, please give it the same level of planning and attention that you give the other finals. You are a PAPA Circuit event; all branches of your tournament need to be high quality, not just the main finals.
When I showed up on Sunday, I was asked to run the women's finals. That is unacceptable. You would not ask Elwin to do the administrative work to run his group. Also, obviously I would be unable to make rulings as I would be involved in the match. Please have a knowledgeable tournament director already in place prior to the day of. Much of our dissatisfaction could have been avoided if the women's finals TD was identified to the competitors and was actually knowledgeable about the format of the finals and the IFPAPA ruleset. When I requested that Germain come make a ruling on our JM game, it was because our women's final had no official B Division representative present to make rulings; the guys helping run the final were also commentating, and it was unclear to me that they had any real TD authority (especially since 5 minutes prior I would have been the one in charge if I had said yes when asked to run the finals). Meg is newer to competitive pinball and wanted to make sure she was on top of everything, so during her volunteering shift on Saturday night, she asked who the TDs were in case she had issues arise; she was told Germain, Kevin, and Raymond were the TDs. If that changed at any point and for any reason, players should be explicitly notified. You advertise NWPC as "a three-day tournament for all skill levels." In order to make sure you're serving the needs of newer or less knowledgeable players, or even just players who don't recognize the names and faces of everyone in Seattle, please make sure you are sharing all relevant information with anyone who could need to use it.
For Game 1, I had choice of game or position and chose TWD. Meg then had choice of position and chose to go third. Zach said, "You know you can choose to go fourth, right?" This is Gender in Pinball 101. We are finalists. We know how tournaments work. Please do not treat us like we don't know how to play competitive pinball. You would not second guess Elwin's choice of position, please do not second guess ours. All four of us rolled our eyes, because all four of us have been asked that question and other similarly condescending questions for YEARS, and told him obviously Meg knew what she was choosing, please move on.
For Game 2, I had choice of game or position and chose Tron. Meg then had choice of position and chose to go third. Jarett (side note: this is a different person that the initial person who started out seeming to direct the women's finals. Please have one person who is involved in running a finals from start to finish in case ongoing issues arise. This is also when I noticed that these guys were not officially TDs, because they were just scrambling to show up whenever we needed something) asked Meg, "You know you can go fourth, right?" I was getting really annoyed at this point and sharply told him that we were all aware of how picking player order worked and to not ever ask a woman that again. He tried to explain why he asked, and I said, "It doesn't matter. Just don't do it." Then I went and played Tron and complained to [friends] via text message between balls because I was frustrated. At this point I planned to take the organizers aside after the fact and let them know that there were some issues in how the women's final was run.
For Game 3, I had choice of game or position and chose JM. Everyone chose player order with no issues. I was P1 and stepped up to start. On my first flip, the left flipper stuck up even after I took my hands off the machine, so I immediately let my ball drain, raised my hand, and requested a TD to make a ruling. Because it did not seem like Jarett or Zach were actually official TDs, I asked that one of the event organizers be summoned from Classics, where all of the event organizers were participating in the finals.
A quick digression: If you schedule two finals that conflict with each other and one of them is the women's final, it comes across like you are assuming no women will qualify for both. If all of your core organizers are in another room participating in their own tournament, why are you running another finals simultaneously? It is imperative that you have a TD who is not competing, for exactly this reason. Otherwise it appears that the women's final is not worth your time. Additionally, having an Open tiebreaker going on during the women’s final, and especially having the commentators discuss whether they should switch from the women’s final to watch the tiebreaker, adds to the devaluing of the women’s event as a side tournament not worthy of the same level of care and respect as the other finals.
I requested that someone get Germain so I could describe the situation and get a ruling. When Germain came in, rather than coming to talk to me/the other group members about what had happened and what our next steps would be, he went straight to work on the game. I would have been happy to move to a different game, if that were an option presented to me, but no one asked me, nor did anyone tell us what was wrong, how long it might take, or what our options would be if it didn't get fixed. On the stream, the commentators said that I had refused to change games and that's why they were spending so long trying to fix it, which was untrue. I had rejected their ability to make a ruling entirely, not the substance of the ruling they suggested. If an official TD were to offer me the chance to switch games, I would have considered it. We were also frustrated that the commentators were updating the stream viewers while the actual tourney participants were in the dark about what was happening.
Germain and Eden both came over from Classics to look at JM, and on the stream the assumption was made that they must have gotten knocked out of Classics if they were taking the time to help with the women's tournament malfunction (time stamp: 47:38). Is a major malfunction not worthy of a TD? Once the issue was fixed (I assume? No one told me what happened), Germain said as he was leaving to go back to Classics, "It's fixed, you can play on." This was the only time he had spoken to the competitor group since entering the room, and I told him that we were frustrated by the lack of information. He responded by telling me what specifically was wrong with the flipper, which was not our issue in the first place. A TD should always overcommunicate with the impacted group. I would have recommended handling it this way: 1. Find out what happened from the player it actually happened to, 2. Say, "Okay. This is considered a major malfunction. We are going to look into repairing it. If we are able to repair it, you should start the entire game over again. If we are unable to repair it, Zoe will pick another game." 3. Once JM was fixed, say, "It appears to be fixed. If it happens again during this game, here is what our next steps would be. Sound good? Ok, play on!"
I'm not even going to get into the whole JM video mode thing, because that is Nycole's experience and she can choose whether she wants to communicate with you guys directly about it. I will point out that regardless of whether she correctly implemented the video mode, she is aware of the second set of flipper buttons because she has been playing pinball for a long time. No one's initial reaction to her complaining about a malfunction should be, "She probably didn't know how to play the game." If Elwin complained about video mode not working, your first response would not be, maybe he did it wrong. Do not condescend to your female finalists that they don't know how to play a game, especially one that was in the qualifying rounds, especially when Nycole had over 1B on ball 1 before she even dealt with the video mode. Your commentators were so sure Nycole had made a player error that I literally saw her go over to the booth, lean into the microphone, and yell, "THE BUTTONS WEREN'T WORKING" because she couldn't take the misinformation anymore.
During the break where JM was being worked on, Melissa formally complained to Eden that we were experiencing sexism and getting increasingly uncomfortable. It's unclear to me if Eden was actually one of the event officials, but he presented as such, which is why Melissa went to him. Immediately afterward, on camera, you can see a person come up to the commentators and tell them to check their text messages. Melissa says she heard someone say, "Eden says to check your phone right now," or somewhere along those lines. The text, which the commentators read out loud on stream, was "Stop the sexist comments."
The stream started talking about whether or not they were being sexist while the women's final was still going on. If you hear feedback that people are unhappy with your event or stream, you should not be discussing it on the stream. You should be aware that someone isn't a fan of how you're operating, make a note to talk about it with the organizers afterward (if y'all aren't having a postmortem meeting after each event you run to discuss how it went, you should be), and continue covering the event as you would have anyway. I had my private concerns that I planned to share with the event organizers broadcast without my knowledge or input; my feedback was completely misrepresented, and because we were aware that the stream was now discussing sexism instead of our gameplay, we had to deal with knowing that conversation was happening while also trying to focus on playing the final game of the match.
At this point, I was so disappointed and frustrated with the experience that I was outside of the bowling alley in tears. Whether or not you think our complaints have any validity, please consider that if one of your attendees is outside sobbing because of your event, you should be open to learning about the situation rather than immediately trying to explain why they shouldn't be upset. However, I don't recommend trying to learn about the situation while the attendee is still crying. Jarett tried to come tell me how he wasn't sexist while I was outside crying, and I told him that it was not a good time and that I would email the event organizers with feedback. When Melissa went in and tried to explain to the commentators why I was upset, they called her a "crazy girl" on the stream. Again, I highly recommend keeping a discussion of the issues off the air until the issues are resolved so that organizers and impacted players can discuss feedback without whipping up a crowd frenzy.
The issues that we had with the actual running of your event could easily be fixed by making sure the female perspective is considered and represented among your event organizers. The initial incidents were eyerolling casual sexism, and we would encourage you to train anyone representing your event on how not to undermine female players, but we would have shared our feedback with y'all after the event and moved on were it not for the immediate "we're not sexist and they're crazy!" response from the stream and the reactions we received when trying to articulate our concerns. When organizers hear that there are negative reactions going on in the women's final, "next year we just won't stream the women's final" is not an appropriate solution. When organizers hear there are negative reactions going on in the women's final, "Apparently I ruined the women's final, sorry you don't like sarcasm," is not an appropriate thing to say on the stream. Additionally, the stream audio was left on after the event was over, allowing anyone still watching to hear the conversations being had about this issue and the laughter directed toward us for making a statement about something that bothered us.
Thanks to the stream commentary, Twitch chat, and internet hubbub, men are calling us crazy, saying we're overreacting, and calling us "silly little girls" who "need to pussy up" when we haven't even had a chance to share what we experienced! Men in the Classics room were saying that we heard things out of context and were overreacting, even though they were the ones hearing about this third-hand. Kevin is already jumping in to share his perspective on Tilt Forums when he hasn't even heard feedback from any of the actually impacted players. Some dude in the Twitch chat asked if I would have made a big deal about this if I were winning. People on the internet are speculating over what happened and demanding to get answers about an event they weren’t even at.
None of this is how player objections and feedback should be handled, and I hope that this can be a learning experience for future events. Please let us know if you have any questions. Because the public conversation is already happening, I plan to post a version of this email to Tilt Forums, but I wanted to discuss with you guys directly first. Also, FYI, I was planning on writing a zine article about sexism in pinball, not about this event, although I obviously would mention some of what happened, and of course I wasn't going to write a zine article without first bringing our feedback directly to you. From the jump, I have been repeating over and over that I would share my feedback to the organizers via email directly. Here it is.
Zoe, Meg, and Melissa