Wow, this post was supposed to come out over a year ago! I was messing around with WordPress and noticed I had a “draft” blog post. I clicked the link and was surprised to see a partially completed 2020 IFPA Pin Masters article with images almost ready to go but…
The blog post was just sitting there like a ghost, people-watching with an nearly empty cup of ghosty coffee, forced to let other blogs and blog posts zip by.
So what the hell, let’s finish this bad boy up and get it out there because the 2020 Pin Masters was the last big IFPA event of 2020 and I look back on the whole experience as ridiculously positive!
And by positive I mean both a good time and COVID positive. Two birds, one stone!
At least one individual at the tournament had a confirmed case of COVID at the event. I’m positive of at least one transmitted case afterwards, but there were likely several others. Keep in mind, this was well before the standardized contact tracing programs (where you enter your name, phone number, and email at an establishment upon entering). An email was sent out a few days after the tournament by the IFPA with very little details other than the note about a confirmed COVID case.
And this was right at the beginning of COVID, so very few people were wearing masks (as you can CLEARLY see from all the pictures) nor were individuals routinely washing their hands like we do today. I know that anytime I see soap I give my hands a quick rinse now.
In defense of the competitors at the tournament, the issue with the Pinmaster’s hosting location was that it was not sufficiently designed/equipped to handle such a large number of individuals (140+) nor were they staffed appropriately to maintain the location and more specifically, the bathroom/facilities.
The bathrooms, paper towels, soap, and general cleanliness were exhausted/non-existent a few hours into the first day (I remember needing to wipe my hands on my pants after my first visit to the facilities). The garbage was full and dirty towels/napkins/pizza boxes were piled high enough on the garbage cans to elicit joking concern from passerby that it may tip over. I remember thinking that it was more like what you’d expect from a dark and moldy dive bar on a Saturday night than an establishment hosting an event with so many out of towners.
What’s funny is how “normal” it seemed. Even the overflowing bathrooms and the pool of water in the men’s bathroom (that resembled the Gulf of Mexico) that made it difficult to use the facilities. It was either walk some place else to use the bathroom or put on some water proof shoes and wade into the toilet area. At the time, I remember thinking that it was gross and GEX was obviously unprepared. But the idea of leaving never entered my mind! I wasn’t going to miss out on one of the coolest events of the year that HAPPENED to be taking place in Colorado!
Fast forward a year and today… How care-free and silly we all were back then! There is a phrase about 20/20 vision when looking back…
What Are the PinMasters?
If you’re unfamiliar with the Pinmasters, don’t fret… so was I until I picked up tickets and stumbled into a fantastic weekend in March 2020! It’s a yearly pin golf style tournament.
Pin golf is a competitive type of pinball where games are set to 5 balls and a game specific par is identified on each machine. The goal with par is to choose something you should be able to achieve in 3 balls. A good example would be 200,000,000 on Batman ’66. You get points for achieving par based on the number of balls it took you to get there. Similar to golf, you want a lower score meaning you want to achieve par in as few balls as possible. Perfection would be to achieve par with 1 ball!
Where Were the 2020 IFPA Pinmasters Held?
The 2020 IFPA Pinmasters were held in Denver, Colorado! Woot, about an hour away from my home town of Fort Collins, Colorado. When tickets were announced, Nick (aka the_Pinsomniac), Tai (aka Meat Jello), and I all jumped on them immediately!
But where in Denver? Why none other than the Game Exchange of Colorado (GEX)! Which is a somewhat interesting location for a tournament. GEX has a large open room where they sell pinball machines. The store is usually open to the public and all of the games are typically on free-play but it’s not an arcade or barcade. They sell new/used pinball machines, arcades, pool tables, juke boxes, and shuffleboard tables. Thankfully I wasn’t pressured to purchase anything while there and the games were all still left on free-play. And those were the games owned by GEX. The majority of the tournament games were brought in by individuals or arcades from surrounding areas.
Important Note if You Ever Decide to Visit GEX: Don’t listen to Apple or Google maps if you’re trying to find GEX… it’s on a frontage road so close to a major highway that the map software can’t accurately direct you. The first time I tried to visit GEX to purchase a Ghostbusters Premium, I spent about 30 minutes getting on and off of the highway instead of going under the highway and turning onto an irregularly sized 1-way street that butts up against the highway. It’s awkward and not an experience you’ll soon forget.
I got into my car, my cooler was LOADED with goodies that I might need for the day and threw on some tunes. It was a good hour and a half drive to GEX and I didn’t have access to our nice family vehicle, a Toyota Tacoma. Instead I was driving our Scion XB, a car we had outfitted to drag behind an RV that was great for short rides around town when we were traveling. Unfortunately, it wasn’t so good with highway driving as it would begin to vibrate vigorously around 70mph and could provide 007 the shake he required for his favorite drink at 80mph. On i25, the speed limit is 75 and traffic routinely moves at 80-85. I sat in the right lane hovering around 70 jamming to tunes just loud enough to drown out the sounds of the road, the car slowly vibrating apart, and the other cars driving by me.
It felt good to have the day off of work, a plan in place to do a thing, and NOTHING else planned after that. There is something comforting about only needing to think about something as simple as a tournament. I was all caught up on work. I had just finished reading a book. My wife and child were visiting my in-laws so I had the weekend to myself with nothing to do beyond play pinball and enjoy myself.
Now I just needed to remember how to get there and not accidentally drive onto the highway like the directions try to tell me.
With only one accidental loop on the highway, I had arrived. As an introvert I was both surprised and a bit concerned at the parking lot. I had never seen GEXs parking lot so packed! Thankfully, it didn’t take much to find people I knew and a good place to leave my cooler (which was pretty much anywhere). Somehow that made things easier.
There was a set schedule for the first day sent out to everyone before hand. We all started at one time or another and we were in one of 2 large groups that either started on the left side of GEX or the right.
That’s all well and good, but what actually got things started was Josh Sharpe. He was in multiple conversations with either pinball playing regulars, Snow/Paul (Colorado Pinball) getting ready for their Twitch streamed coverage of the event, or Jay Adelson (Scorbit).
At some point, I had wandered off and was either playing games on free-play like Munsters, TWD, and Stranger Things from GEX or was making my way back to my cooler which was packed with beers from a small brewery in Greeley, Colorado called Weldwerks.
And Aviation gin. And maybe a few different bourbons too. So I was moderately distracted when Josh got things going by yelling for everyone to listen. I also was maybe one shot and a beer in and it was noon-ish… He walked through the general format of the tournament, where to go to check your current rank, expectations on how to handle certain situations, and then finally announced that things were about to get kicked off and group A would be getting started shortly.
Looking back, I can’t help but appreciate Jay Adelson and wish that I caught a picture of him with his legs up, his hands clasped behind his head just chilling watching the tournament happen. His Scorbit equipment was incorporated into ColoradoPinball’s live-stream and all of the games at the event. And it all just worked. Mad props to anyone who can make a product like that!
Oh wait, look who I found somewhat blurry in the background…
I would venture a guess that he was there physically just-in-case something happened… But I’m not sure if anything ever did happen. I remember thinking, “This tournament’s about to start and Jay looks like he could use some popcorn”.
At some point, group-2 got called and I was put into a group of 4 that included 3 highly ranked players (surprise: I’m the NOT highly ranked player in the group). And everyone was playing really well. We started on the left side moving our way from Ali, to Iron Man, then on to Dialed In and so on…
It was brutal. Good games, bad ones. Most of the time the group was hitting pars (3 balls to achieve the goal) but there were quite a few 2s in there with a couple of 1s sprinkled in for good measure.
The bane of so many people’s existence on that first day was Batman ’66. You can see it to the right of that picture up there. It was setup so tight with that just hitting the flippers might give you a danger. We heard enough people upset as we approached it to be wary about nudging it ourselves. There were apparently quite a few TILTs on Batman ’66 and it was causing varying levels of frustration.
And by varying I mean yelling, kicking, exclamations of profanity, red faces, and even a few violently frustrated slaps of the pinball machine. I took this knowledge in with me and tried to play as safely as possible and go for shots that could get me easily to par as quickly as possible. I did it on the 2nd ball and marked that as a big win for the day!
We soldiered on and 3 of the 4 of us were in the top 40 by the end of the day. I was 3rd in the group and ranked just outside of the top 24. Like I said, I was paired with a REALLY competitive group but I was excited, I was playing better than I ever anticipated!
I wasn’t playing awful and I remember looking to the other side expecting greener pastures and wasn’t disappointed! There were a few games I was completely unfamiliar with but it also included several games I felt really strong with like Deadpool, World Cup Soccer and Black Knight: Sword of Rage. There were a healthy mixture of new and old games but I was feeling confident by the end of day 1.
And what’s fun is I could make up anything about my performance on day one. There isn’t history of the tournament available on the IFPA website, just the end result. As long as my story matches up with me being ranked 60th out of 138 competitors… I’m good. So, yeah… that’s how it happened. I was real close at the end of day one. Really. No, really.
Day two started on World Cup Soccer and I did, Ok. I was grouped with new people including Minnesota Pinball‘s Luke and I couldn’t have gotten luckier (make sure to click the link and follow MN_Pinball on Twitch. They have amazing content!).
Luke is both a wonderful competitor and a regular on the circuit. He’s an amazing pinball player but he’s also SUPER easy to talk with. Luke walked everyone in the group through his strategy as we approached each game and that kind of conversation is EXACTLY what I think we need more of in pinball. I heard Roger Sharpe talking about that recently and I couldn’t agree more. And by recently, I just realized that I saw Roger at TPF 2019 and that’s when I’m referencing Roger’s conversation about remembering to have fun at pinball tournaments and talk/interact with people. Wow time flies when you’re stuck in COVID…
Too often in tournaments I see people get too into the competitive nature of the game and competition can be so much fun… but let’s remember that this is pinball, right!? Let’s have some fun and the group I had on Day 2 was exactly that!
I did Ok on World Cup Soccer. First game of the day jitters and then being surrounded by such amazing pinball talent aside, I was feeling pretty good. Next up was Deadpool. I had just sold Deadpool a week or two prior to the tournament. Humble brag; I had beaten the game the week before on-stream and it felt amazing. I love Deadpool and this was one of the few games I thought I might get a one on… but I got a two. I was still ridiculously happy as the game was setup quite brutal (not Batman ’66 brutal) but brutal none-the-less.
We swung around and hit up a couple of older games whose names I don’t remember and then we hit 24.
I’m not a fan of the show. I used to be a fan of the pin. But after my time on 24 in Pinmasters… I either need to buy this game and spend hours and hours on it or never attempt to play it again. 24 was my first 10 pointer in the tournament and I just couldn’t get anything going. I scored two house balls (that means I didn’t get an opportunity to flip) right off the bat and the 3rd ball I nudged into a double danger just to get control of the ball and missed my first shot just enough to have it ricochet down the left outlane… I probably spent less than 35 total seconds playing 24 in the tournament.
Grr… but I wasn’t going to let that get me down. I doubled down on shots of alcohol and grabbed a beer.
The next few games unfortunately weren’t much better for me but there was a light at the end of the tunnel with Black Knight: Sword of Rage (BKSOR) and Iron Maiden. The BKSOR was the pro which I had not had the opportunity to play yet (because every location I had been to either had the premium or LE). And I hadn’t been too happy with the game, at least not enough to buy it for the home collection even though I LOVED BK2000. At least it was a newer game.
Except BKSOR was even more brutal than Deadpool and it hammered me. Or maybe it maced/shielded/stabbed me? I can’t think of a more thematically appropriate term for BKSOR. Maybe bashed? But I kind of fell in love. Has that ever happened to you where you get beat up but kind of fall in love with it? If you answered yes, you’re probably familiar with the concept of an abusive relationship and that’s exactly what happened with BKSOR. After the tournament I found a PRO, made a trade happen and then spent the next 6 months getting beat up often both on and off-stream by a game that was designed to make you feel like you can’t play pinball. But I digress…
I did Ok on Iron Maiden and then there were 2 more pins before the end. Things weren’t looking good for making it to day 3 but there was still a chance with 2 amazing scores on my final 2 pins.
SPOLIER: I didn’t make it to day 3 and I won’t bore you with how poorly I played those last 2 games. Suffice it to say that I kept drinking with plans to hang out locally that evening.
At this point in the process of dealing with COVID, I’d take just about ANY IFPA ranked competitive tournament but the Pinmasters was a really great time. The competitors, how it was managed, the feel of the tournament, and the games themselves were all key components that led to two days of intense pinball and fun with friends.
The only negative was that the location wasn’t really designed to have over 140 people in it at once. And I imagine post COVID, that kind of situation is unlikely to happen again. Bathrooms, ventilation, physical space, parking, and more will all likely need to be taken into account going forward for events such as this.
I so look forward to joining a Pinmasters event again! Or any event! Or pinball in public with other people and not worrying about how close the people are next to me.
But for now, we’ll all just continue to celebrate virtual events as much as possible.