Pinball Tournament Etiquette

by Kayla Greet

Let’s be clear about one thing: there is a fundamental difference between playing pinball with your friends for fun and bragging rights, and playing in a tournament you paid to be in for prizes and bragging rights. I’ve done the former much longer than the latter, and am quickly learning certain codes of conduct and etiquette while, yes, still having a ton of fun.

This piece will brief you on what’s considered rude or inappropriate when prize money and pinball tables are on the line. If the people you are playing against happen to be your friends, you probably know what you can get away with in the name of good fun, but don’t act a fool when playing a stranger, whether they’re better than you or not. If you’ve been doing some things listed here, we don’t hate you.  We just want you to knock it off. Now.

GREETINGS AND SALUTATIONS
If you’re going up against someone you’ve never played before, much less met, introduce yourself and shake hands. Have a good sportsman demeanor and wish each other luck. Well-meaning trash talk is acceptable, but do so only with your friends and others you know will appreciate the joke.

SHARE TIPS (BUT NOT TOO MANY) ABOUT THE GAME YOU’RE PLAYING
Say you choose a table that your opponent has never played before. It’s considered good form to answer any questions about the rules and basic game play. You certainly don’t have to help, but if you catch your opponent reading the info card on the table, it’d be nice to give them a few quick pointers. However, things like “I used to own this game,” or quirks specific to that particular pin such as “The sinkhole kickout always goes straight to the left flipper” aren’t necessary to share with the competition.

COLLECT YOUR END OF BALL BONUS QUICKLY
Tournaments are often hours long, so anything you can do to expedite the process (while still playing the best game you can) is much appreciated. For example, at the end of your ball when the game is counting your bonus, hitting both flippers at the same time will collect your bonus instantly on many games. Also, hitting both flippers when you activate a mode or get extra ball will skip the cut scenes on many games and go straight to the action.

DON’T PLAY WITH GREASY HANDS
So the host provided pizza for lunch. Or maybe you snacked on a bag of potato chips in between rounds. Great, sounds delicious. Now go wash your damn hands!!! Not only will it be difficult for you to play with your fingers slipping off the flipper buttons, the person who has to play after you is will be none too happy. There are players who ritualistically wipe down the buttons and front of the machine before they play, just in case.

DON’T RUB SALT IN THE WOUND
In just about every style of pinball tournament play, each game will have 2-4 players, so you will rarely play a game by yourself. Before you play in tournaments,you ought to be accustomed to playing with multiple players, recognizing when it’s your turn, making sure not to tilt your opponent’s ball and understanding when your turn is over. Say that you are the last player, you have been kicking ass the whole game and now it’s the last ball of the match and you’re clearly the winner.  It’s considered rude to play through this last ball of the game. Either ask your opponents if they mind or follow the customary practice of plunging the ball, letting it drain and then thanking the other players for a good game.

GIVE YOUR OPPONENT SPACE
Don’t crowd around people when they’re playing. Even if this is something that you are ok with when you play, not everyone feels the same way and might not want to get distracted every time they see you in their peripheral vision. This includes not storing your stuff next to a table in play, no flash photography, video taping only from a comfortable distance and sometimes even turning off the pins on either side of the table in use for the time being.

IT’S NOT THE MACHINE’S FAULT
Look, some of these tables are older than you. Don’t bang on the glass, push them, shove them, kick them, shake them or otherwise abuse them when you drain a ball. Games don’t last forever — deal with it without damaging the whole reason you’re there and possibly tilting your opponent’s ball. Acceptable displays of frustration include: stomping away, giving the machine the finger, cursing, fist clenching and beer drinking.

HEY, WHERE DID YOU GO NOW?
Rudy may say that to you on Funhouse when you get a Skill Shot, but you know who doesn’t want to have to say that? Your tournament opponents! If you need to take a trip to the bathroom, grab a drink, take a smoke break or run to your car, just make sure you clear it with everyone you’re playing with at the moment. There’s only so much waiting around and/or searching for you that people are willing to do before they just drain your ball when you’re not around to play it.