This is an extended version of the article that appears is Skill Shot 35. The league formally changed their name to Monday Night Pinball in 2015 and the bottom link has been updated to reflect this. – ed
There’s a new pinball league in Seattle and it’s a big hit: Pinball Seattle! It’s a team league that meets for matches against each other weekly at different locations across Seattle. The locations (mostly bars) sponsor one or two teams depending on how many machines they have. Like most league sports these teams play home or away games for points during a 10-week season. The teams with the most points at the end of the season then compete in a playoff, ultimately determining who goes to the season finals and is crowned season champion.
A team-centric Seattle pinball league was an idea that Geoff Simons had been exploring since last summer. When New York transplant Tim Tournay heard this plan, he mentioned that New York has a team-based league called Pinball New York and suggested that Seattle league could learn something from this organization. Tim contacted Pinball New York organizer Kris Medina, who agreed to supply the Seattle league with Pinball NY’s website template, and Pinball Seattle was born.
Many people had heard rumors of the league beforehand and were excited for it to begin, but first Geoff had to get the locations figured out. He began by contacting businesses that had at least six pinball machines to gauge their interest in the league. By deciding to hold league matches on Mondays, it was an easy sell to most, and six agreed to cash sponsorships in order to be included in the league. Olaf’s, Flip Flip Ding Ding, Narwhal, and John John’s Game Room all signed up to sponsor a team for the first season, while Shorty’s and Add-a-Ball Amusements agreed to host two because of their larger selection of pins. With the locations set, the teams themselves were assembled by people signing up on the Pinball Seattle website, although there was some initial confusion due to the site’s NY-specific wording that encouraged players to sign up as complete teams.
Once sign-ups began, Geoff felt it was best to let team captains (who also applied online) build their own teams from the applicants until they each had a roster of eight players. There were restrictions to the team rosters, the key one being that no team could have more than two players ranked in the International Flipper Pinball Association’s (IFPA) top 500 — only one of whom could be in the top 150. Some teams filled up faster than others, so some players (affectionately called “orphans”) were directed toward the remaining teams, while other extra players became reserves for teams that already had eight starters. These designations sparked controversy later in the season, since the rules for the league stated that starters always had to play matches, effectively sitting reserve players out if the all starters showed up.
Soon after locations and teams were set, Pinball Seattle hosted a pre-season party at Add-a-Ball where rules were made known and a meeting was held to determine the team alignments of the North and South conferences. While Olaf’s and Flip Flip were obviously North and South respectively, the placement of the other six teams were decided by a coin toss which split the two Shorty’s and Add-a-Ball teams and randomly assigned designations to Capitol Hill locations Narwhal and John John’s. With the help of tournament master Dave Stewart, brackets were drawn for the 10-week season, mostly splitting team schedules evenly between home and away games and with every team playing each other at least once.
Once the season opened on April 7th it was quickly apparent the league would succeed. Players got into the spirit of team sports with cheers, chants, and obvious team pride that surprised many, but not Geoff, who thought, “it was fun to see people getting excited.” In fact, once the season was up and running the only challenge was getting captains to submit scores in a timely fashion to post online. Geoff was particularly touched by players spontaneously coming up to tell him how much they were enjoying the league, especially those who were meeting new people and becoming better pinball players through the team environment.
At the end of June, Season Finals were held at the 8-Bit in Renton between the Shorty’s Silverball Slayers and John John’s Middle Flippers. “We wanted to include them,” Geoff explains, “They are one of the largest places in the area and have an eclectic selection of games from different genres, kept in good condition.” It was an exciting ending to the first season as both teams brought their A games and neither had a clear advantage, as none of the pins at the 8-Bit that were also at either Shorty’s or John John’s were allowed for the Finals. Members from all of the other teams were in attendance both at the finals and the Pinball Seattle All-Star match two weeks later that officially ended the first season of the new league.
While some teams had an advantage with good pinball teachers in their ranks such as 3rd Place Andy on the Slayers and Dave Stewart on the House Ballers, other teams benefited by having an unique collections of games at their home location, as Ellipsis did at Flip Flip Ding Ding and the Middle Flippers did at John John’s. Both home and away teams chose which games to play for the matches, with potential strategy depending on what the other team may be more familiar with or how the same game differs from location to location.
Matches and scoring proved to be a bigger challenge, though, with matches beginning with four doubles-games awarding half of the points (eight) for the night. If a team won a majority of the doubles, “the other team wouldn’t be able to come back from that,” explains Geoff. Dave has suggested splitting the doubles-games up next season, with two at the beginning and two at the end and singles-games in between. There would be a lot less pressure on the players during the singles rounds and add a lot of suspense until the last (doubles) round. Dave has also suggested a different scoring system that would increase the available total game points from 16 to 55 and add more individual games to the night, giving everyone more opportunities to play — including reserves.
In fact, the designation “reserves” may no longer exist come next season, as Pinball Seattle considers increasing the team size to 10. People got upset when the full team showed up because it shut out the reserves since every starter had to play. “You’re either on a team or not on a team,” says Geoff. Dave has proposed changes with more games per matches and fewer roster restrictions.” Geoff explains that Dave has “been doing this longer than any of us, as far as organizing competitive pinball, so he’s a good person to go to.” Some of Dave’s more controversial ideas, like order of play, may need to be to be put to a league vote before being implemented.
The next season will bring more teams with the 8-Bit and Full Tilt Ballard joining Pinball Seattle, as well as Another Castle in Edmonds. Some existing players expressed reservations about such a distant location in the weekly league. Geoff points out that other teams would each only have to travel there once per season. 8-bit already has many interested potential players, as he had to inform some players that they wouldn’t have a team there during the first season.
More changes will also be further detailed on the Pinball Seattle website as the next season approaches. Season two of Pinball Seattle is slated to begin at the end of September, so stay tuned. http://www.pinball-seattle.com/