Why do you dislike watching competitive pinball?


So having watched the Heads-Up Championship in Vegas and keeping an eye on the stream chat, and even posts here on TF and other sites, I’ve seen some interesting comments about people, particularly “pinball people” having a hard time watching competitive pinball. Some find it boring, lame, and generally not worth their time.

I’ve worked with the PAPA TV team, streamed with Karl in Vegas a couple of times, and have spent some time on other streams at various circuit events as well, and while I don’t take these sentiments personally, Im curious to know what it is about it thats so disengaging or uninviting to watch? I’ve personally found the streams to be super educational when it comes to learning rulesets and a good way to watch good friends play some pin.

Again, this isn’t to stir up any pots or call out any particular streamers or anything of that nature; I generally like all of them. What do you dislike about them and what properties of a stream would make you a fan should they be implemented?


I’m with you Brian. I enjoy watching streamed matches. I would always prefer to watch a competitive match rather than just someone streaming general gameplay. That is what I do find a bit tiresome. If I’m just watching gameplay, I might as well get up and actually play some pinball, instead of just watching it. Competition makes it so much more interesting for me.


Some commentary things that bother me

  • Off topic conversation. I don’t care what you had for lunch, etc.

  • Giving special attention when pinball celebs are playing and not giving equal focus to lesser known players. This is really disrespectful and comes across like a good ol’ boys club.

  • Incorrect rules info. I understand that everyone doesn’t know everything, but if you’re not sure, don’t try to pass it off as fact.

  • Eating / drinking into the mic

  • Playing favorites and rooting for someone. Commentary should be neutral. Have a horse in the race? Maybe cheer them on from the sidelines instead of the booth.

Luckily all these things are easily fixed with the mute button :slight_smile:


This is my main gripe - (as mentioned above already) it comes across as it’s a bunch of mates playing, rather than a competition, and everyone is expected to know the history of the people you’re talking about. That’s fine if you only intend broadcasting to the closed group of people who know each other, less so if you want to engage with a wider audience.

Generally just feeling the need to talk for the sake of talking. If you’re not adding something positive or constructive there’s no need to say anything. Please don’t just guess at the rules or what’s going on.

Not having enough graphics on the screen to explain the current state of play/standings. I know screen space is valuable and you don’t want to clutter it, but at least show a link to the standings (if it exists).

Not hearing the sound from the machines. This is easily fixed. Check out Pinball_Live streaming at Play Expo. All the machines had the audio fed direct into the stream.

pretty much everything that @jdelz has said


Someone should tell this to Dick Vitale


I can think of a few things about competitive pinball streaming that I dislike.

Pinball has the same catch 22 as table tennis… the modern game moves too fast and the subtleties are far too complicated to visualize or describe on TV. It’s no coincidence that the most engaging matches are almost always the ones that involve simple, older games where the pace is slower, the play more methodical and therefore the stream much easier to follow. Super Orbit or High Hand at Pinburgh for example… easily explained by commentary and easily followed by the viewer. Switch that to something like Hobbit or ACDC and good luck like trying to tell someone what’s going on (that doesn’t already know) and have them get it at all by the time a ball is over and/or the game is done. The companies that keep building more and more complicated pins and rulesets are fighting directly against what will help make pinball more presentable in a streaming capacity—watching balls fly around in a blur on games where the rules require a minimum of 6 credit hours at a JC inspires me to give up even trying to compete, let alone watch. Whether they should be building simpler games is really a different discussion however.

Nudging, an equally important skill in pinball to shotmaking, is almost impossible to effectively see on a stream and is one of the most interesting aspects of play.

The commentary tends to be a lot of talking, inside jokes and banter amongst friends and is often unorganized and hard to follow and who gets on the stream tends to be more of a popularity contest—or it’s just the players that have no shame in barging their way in. I’d suggest to any TD planning on streaming that they identify in advance who should be on and have a schedule. No exceptions. That the people most likely to be knowledgable enough to handle it are the ones playing is another reason the streams aren’t always much fun to watch.

Pinball tournaments take way too long. Again, modern games are a problem for this. The Heads Up format tries to address this but IMO, making people try to play faster is exactly the sort of thing that makes the game even harder to follow and minimizes the visual impact of the massive skill levels required to be successfull. Flailing looks not a lot different than shotmaking at this pace, no matter how much you try and simplify with goals identified beforehand.


Pace of play is, by far, the worst offender.

2nd worst offender is dud games/half played games.

I don’t really have a solution when it comes to live streaming, though. Just a lot of unavoidable situations. Can’t fault players for taking a while after a tilt. And it’s not like we can avoid stuck balls and malfunctions that require glass off delays. And there’s no way the streamer can tell what matches will be interesting before they’re played.

The post-play commentary and matches of yore are still my favorite way of presenting pinball. These were instrumental in me falling in love with (and learning) pinball.

Cut out all delays, no reason to banter, often have commentary from the people actually playing, and almost always super knowledgeable. I wish it’d come back.

I’d love to see a tournament that bucks live streaming altogether, sets up cams on all games and locally records (storage needed!), then the highlights matches are post-play released w/ commentary.




I certainly don’t disagree with this. When I wrote this, it was from the perspective of the viewer, not the commentator. When I was doing it on a somewhat regular basis, I made a conscious effort to avoid that kind of thing or rooting for a friend. Especially at majors, that’s a must. Just looks unprofessional.

@jdelz hit a lot of my pet peeves as well, if not all of them, although I have NO shame for eating on the pin-masters broadcast. I was on for 10 hours without food. :expressionless:

Agree 100%[quote=“MikeCP, post:7, topic:3287”]
The post-play commentary and matches of yore are still my favorite way of presenting pinball. These were instrumental in me falling in love with (and learning) pinball.

A lot of those older videos where Cayle or Bowen would talk about their matches is what got me hooked as well.

Some really good, constructive thoughts guys!


feel free to take a look at the commentary at the expo pinball battle on Pinball_Live 's Twitch feed.
I think there was just the right amount of balance and knowledge of the games and players.

In the final best of 5, we pulled the person who had just won the game to chat about it while we moved the camera ready for the next game.

It really helps if the games can be commentator led, so that you don’t cut to a game halfway through.


For me, I can’t stand it when commentators openly question what the player is doing. “Why doesn’t he/she shoot that shot” … “I’m not sure what he/she is doing here” … etc. Not everyone has perfect game knowledge, and not everyone employs the same strategy.


I do like watching the streams, but there are two main issues that’d make it a lot more compelling to tune in.

  1. Getting cued in on what’s going on ASAP. @kdeangelo has done a lot on this front but IMHO it should be identifiable at all time, who’s playing, who’s in the match, what the different points/scores are and where in the tourney we’re at. Not knowing what’s going on takes a lot out of it, I’d you tune in mid game

  2. “In-betweens” needs interesting content. When there’s no ball in play having something relevant going on makes it a lot more fun to stick around for the next round/game/ball. A lot of the time it just sounds like random discussion, switching out booth people or a silent version of a non playing game. Something simple like a splash with “semis coming up in 10 min.” And a countdown clock is all it takes sometimes to get a better viewer experience


Wow, nice work with the sound on this one. These folks manages to pull in the game sound of Tron live, and provide commentary over top - all mixed quite nicely.


To get normal people to watch, you have to archive all the assets you get from the stream separately. You have to shoot bio packages for at least a few people in your top 8 or so. Then post starts.

The show goes like this (hr? 2hrs):
You set the scene "This is Pinball Tournament, 100 players arrive with hopes, dreams and baggage, blah blah…"
You set up your major players (two or three, with others to be peppered in when finals coverage starts) “…among these hopefuls are Jerad Pinballer,” what’s this guy’s deal? Why do we care? What can we expect? (We already know what to expect so everything pays off and everything you mention here connects to something)
Then you compress qualifying (one sentence with a couple bits of action and sound) thru quarterfinals (who goes home, who stays). The format of the competition becomes apparent thru this recap.
Then you begin ostensibly realtime coverage. What is interesting about your final 8? What seems obvious (that will be subverted actually or poetically)?
Coverage begins and you show all the meaningful stuff and whisk thru less interesting stuff during montage either before or after commercial breaks or around additional bio packages (prompted by something that happens in play or by commentating). Interviews to taste.
Victory stuff, wrap up with montage.

Gee, just like those spelling bees they used to have on ESPN2?


I can’t believe I am about to say this - to a non-participant, competitive pinball isn’t exciting to watch. Not live. Not with all the fluff time and foundation building that happens. Not with all the jumping back and forth and catching up announcers have to do, leaving the audience without a clue (what ball is this? I don’t know. Who is player 4? I don’t know.) What we need is personality. We need excitement. We need a story. We need something special. Then maybe a random non-player will tune in.

What we do takes a crap-ton of skill and years of experience to do - the nudging we don’t even think about - the drop catches we do in a multiball while nudging to make a save on an outlane. None of it looks like we are doing anything - or at least - none of it looks like that to a non-player. But the story of Josh Sharpe, X time runner up (x increases by one every 2 years) just trying to win his first major, or Keith Elwin, the player who didn’t play qualifying and had to win umpteen matches before losing 2 to win Pinball Expo – those are the stories!

Let’s sell the stories. Let’s sell the drama. And cut away when someone is plunging 19 times on CFTBL to get the M. Let’s have some excitement from the booth instead of whispers. (It may be necessary to move the booth more than 5 feet from the machines).

OR LET’S ACCEPT WHAT WE HAVE. But, we aren’t going to sell pinball the way we have been producing it to the non-pinball people.

Example: I feel like there was a documentary being made in 2002 at Pinburgh (now PAPA)? Someone wanted to interview me because I ran up the 8 flights of steps just to get a ticket on Sunday before they stopped selling them. They said it was a story (I didn’t want them to because I was a bit of a bad player and didn’t really think I would make it). Does anyone know what happened to that? Was a documentary ever made? They had the right idea in my opinion, just the wrong guy (I should have done it, because - that would have been so cool).


Everyone in this thread so far has watched dozens of hours of competitive pinball though.


This is very NOT INTERESTING to me.


It is one of the most universally interesting stories. In every sport there is a “best never to win” discussion. It is appealing. (I know on some level you see it, let’s hope you are Henrik Stenson, not Greg Norman).


I’m going with the Phil Mickelson story who was “that guy” for some time but now has 5 Majors. I plan on winning 3 of them next year if PAPA would get PAPA21 on the calendar :slight_smile:


I recently talked with some non-pinball people - the reaction was pretty universal = boring.