Why do you dislike watching competitive pinball?


As someone who has done play-by-play for a few years for radio & TV broadcasts for collegiate and high school sports, I feel like some of the things that lead to a successful broadcast for football or basketball may benefit pinball 'casters:

  • Preparation! Have you ever seen a cheat sheet for a sports broadcaster? Many of them are filled with notes about the players, coaches, team histories, venue, and other relevant info. Short anecdotes on any of these can help a broadcast where there’s some dead time – Vin Scully was fantastic at this. Yogi Roth, an analyst for the Pac-12 Networks, calls “The Lonely Work” – the hours of prep you put in before a broadcast – the most important thing you can do, and it’s 100% within your control. Learn the machines and players as best as you can.

  • Professionalism: “Never cheer from the press box,” scolded my college radio station’s chief engineer when helping me get set up for my very first football broadcast. Based on previous comments from this thread, it seems that objectivity would be desired in a pinball broadcast, too. Avoid coughing, breathing or chewing into the microphone, having a side conversation, or anything else that would reflect poorly on the broadcast.

  • Eyes and Ears of the Audience: As mentioned a couple of times above, a viewer probably can’t see that sick, subtle nudge that rescued a ball from its appointment with an outlane. What does player one, precariously in 1st place, look like as player three gets on a roll and is quickly approaching their score? It’s obviously important to talk about what’s happening on the playfield, but what happens outside the confines of the machine can provide drama and intrigue!

  • You Aren’t the Star: I haven’t watched a ton of competitive pinball, but when I do, it’s almost always accompanied by ego-driven “I’m so cool”-type comments that seem super out of place to me. Keep it about the game and the players. That being said, personal anecdotes that relate to the action or help get through a few minutes of what would otherwise be dead air, can be great.

  • Listen to Yourself! Watch / listen to as much of your broadcast as you can stand, the sooner, the better. You should be your own worst critic; taking note of phrases you repeat way too often or times you veered off-topic for no reason will stick with you, and improve your broadcasts in the future.


Not enough clowns (like this guy)

during competition game-play more interesting and exciting.


Not drinking on camera and getting progressively more drunk during the broadcast is helpful.


Whoa, where was that? IMHO a broadcast producer should immediately yank any commentator who is under the influence on the job… don’t be disrespectful to either the audience or to other competent would-be commentators who would like to be in that booth…


General questions:

If tournament match was post-recorded, who would you prefer to do the recording? Players in the match? People who are pinball-knowledgeable?

Would there be any objection to taking some matches and supplying a second “teaching version” of the recording that cuts from the action but gives viewers some extra insight/competitive knowledge? Something like “what are Player X’s options walking up to ball 3 on Cactus Madness from Mars?” “Why choose Option 1 over Option 3?” and so on.

If post-recording is used on qualifying games/matches not on broadcast to augment the current tournament streaming, would this be a viable option for you?


IFPA championship in Copenhagen this year. Personally, I thought that was a disgrace. The commentators were openly consuming a bottle of Jack Daniels (in a brown paper bag) while on camera, at one point lamenting the high price of alcohol in Denmark. As time went on, it was clear that some of them were definitely not sober. The resulting commentary was mostly a mess. Commentators arguing with each other over rules, shouting each other down, continuously interrupting each other. I found it painful to watch, and I thought that the booze wasn’t doing the pinball image any favours. The idea of “safe to leave my kids there” definitely went by the wayside then, IMO.

I do enjoy a drink, too. But not when I’m asked to speak publicly for some special occasion, where I am a representative of an organisation with an image and reputation to protect. I thought it was unprofessional, and I said as much to Josh in private conversation at the time.


In papa style I dislike jumping between groups…and if you are going to broadcast another group between the games of the featured group, make sure that you switch the broadcast back to the initial group well before they plunge their first ball of that nex game.

As a possibility to avoid any favoritism in the part of the producers/commentators, maybe decide on following the group with the top seed? Whatever is decided, maybe have a quick commentator meeting with whoever is running the broadcast to be clear on the expectations of the broadcast.


I like this - or if there’s a fun group that would be compelling to watch make the unanimous decision to follow them. Sharpe Brother battles, Escher vs. Alek, etc.

How do you think that was handled for the technical malfunction during Jon/Steve on Fish Tales during PPO? Just trying to figure that out.


I just don’t really think competitive pinball lends itself to video. I play probably around 8-12 hours a week on location, so it’s not for lack of love of the game itself. Even at Pinburgh or another major event with screens in place at the venue, I watch the finals for a few minutes, and then get bored and wander off to grab a machine. This applies even with close friends being on stream.

I find a lot of value in Bowen tutorials and I’ve probably watched 20 odd hours of those. I’m not sure I’ve watched two full hours of live or recorded competetive play. I know a few players that love watching streams, but I would say that they are a minority.

Pinball has the issue of being uniquely state based. It would help if manufacturers would introduce a live out put of relevant game state information specific to the game being played that could be automatically Incorporated into the feed. Locks, modes completed, score, etc. Sort of like how the NFL shows time outs, possession, yards to first down on screen at all times. This might help people understand what’s actually going on during play a little better. Slower games with less state based information generally are easier to follow, but that’s certainly not the direction pinball is going nor should it.

While I didn’t watch it, the Head To Head event recently corrected for a number of the issues with the sheer complexity of pinball rules. One stated goal and both players often employing the same strategy to get there, under race-like conditions.

I think the videos Karl (I think) produced for the Head To Head event were absolutely wonderful and helped those less familiar with a specific objective understand what the players were attempting to do. I didn’t actually know when a few of those events triggered myself.

While I would love to see pinball on ESPN someday, I think our hobby may be a little too niche for broad spectrum appeal, largely because of the sheer complexity of it that likely appealed to many of us in the first place. I fear we may be less darts, pool, and bowling and more Settlers Of Catan and Magic The Gathering.

If growing the player base is the ultimate objective, I think inexpensive local tournament play friendly to beginners, league play, and hands on, one on one or small group tutoring is a more effective path forward than streaming video of high level events. That’s what seems to have worked best for Seattle and Portland at least.


I really like that idea!!

MTG is surprisingly gaining some traction on the streaming front, similar to Hearthstone.


I actually play Magic, but far less than pinball. I don’t watch those streams either though. The only competitive events I watch are football and boxing, neither of which I play, though I played three years of organized football when I was younger. Come to think of it, football and boxing make up very nearly 100% of my television or streaming experience period, with about 97% of that being football.


Given that I watch a lot of competitive pinball I’m going point out the thing that gets to me, not what I think would get new folks to watch since I’m not sure live streaming for the masses makes a ton of sense. (Maybe follow poker and do it after the fact so you can cut out all the dead air.)

For me, it’s not following critical matches or those with high drama. An example that jumps to mind is the father vs. son Lefkoff playoff at PAPA. You can’t get a better story than that and it wasn’t on camera. Doh.


Nothing at all against either of the players, but it wasn’t exactly the most nail-biting battle. Probably for the best it wasn’t captured.


But in this case, the story would’ve been excellent to follow regardless of how the match turned out.


I have to disagree with this specific case. I’m not opening that can of worms here though.


Yeah, that’s probably true for many of the viewers. I’ll choose close competition over storyline any day, so I was thinking more about my personal preference.


Here’s a different father/son moment that was captured at Louisville last year.



Before opening this thread, I made a list of items…roughly in order, starting with the worst:

  • Not knowing the current point totals in a four player match play round

  • Not knowing which score corresponds to which player

  • Not knowing the scores of the current game (primarily an issue of LCD games, but also an issue when animations are taking precedence, particularly during multiball)

  • Not knowing the state of the tournament. How many rounds are left? Which players remain? What are the states of the groups that aren’t on camera?

  • Times between games when nothing is happening (if we need a minute or two to decide what game is playing, maybe interview one of the players in that group?)

  • Switching away from a group even when they still have more games to play (although this is tricky when they are in between games…if you’re going to switch, switch back?)

  • Switching over to “better players” (I get switching away to a more interesting scenario, but switching just for the sake of watching a big name player isn’t appealing…I wanted to see what would happen to the group I’m already invested in! I think an exception would be: we’re going to follow the father/son storyline unfolding over there, but while we wait, let’s watch a few minutes of this other thing.)

  • Amateur commentary (certainly not pointing any fingers…I’ve done poor commentary myself. There is a whole long list of things to talk about here, many included in the comments above)

  • Too long, and there is no set timing. (This is tricky, because if you have set times for rounds, then there will be lots of down time between. But I don’t want to watch 8 hours, so I’ll jump in after a few hours to see where it’s at. Would scheduling just the finals be a good compromise? Give it plenty of time. If there is a big gap, I think it might be okay: “come back at 8pm for the thrilling conclusion”. The competitors would get a break. There would be time for the commentators to prepare (and maybe do interviews for the first few minutes). Time for the competitors to prepare. People who were invested in the stream might get a break that they don’t want, but people who don’t want to watch 8 hours would be able to show up just at the right time.)


Reading posts about how we can make commentary better does actually inspire me to want to study/prepare/practice and take a shot at doing a really professional job.

However, ultimately I want to be playing in these events, not commentating. (Though I haven’t traveled much for tournaments, but plan to do more in the future). There are still scenarios in which I could do both…for example by not qualifying for finals. :slight_smile:

Are there a few people out there who could be groomed for this? Qualifications:

  • Able to travel (on a small budged, paid for by sponsorship)
  • Semi-deep understanding of pinball techniques & rules
  • Enjoys being at tournaments, but doesn’t care to play in them

Maybe there are some unicorns out there.


I don’t entirely fit your criteria, but I’m interested in commentating and would love to give it a shot sometime.