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When most people think of sports, their first thought isn’t a pinball competition. They will normally think of athletic ones like basketball and football. There are also other sports competitions that are not your typical display of athleticism, such as the new Esports category that focuses on competitive video gaming.
With the term sports covering such a broad array of activities, is pinball considered a sport?
Is pinball a sport? Many people consider pinball a sport since there are tournaments, championships, and plenty of smaller competitions. Many people believe that if poker and video games can be sports then so can playing pinball!
Despite not having much physical activity or being in the Olympics, pinball is considered a sport in the truest sense of the word since it requires so much skill to actually win it (similar to billiards, cards, etc.). Now it certainly isn’t a dangerous sport or one where you have to be perfect or risk injuring yourself or others.
But anyone who has ever played pinball can tell you it certainly requires a lot of skill to win (and some people think that pinball requires more skill than many other dangerous sports).
Do you want to learn more about why people consider pinball as a sport? Do you want to learn some intricacies of the tournaments and competitions? Then read on.
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Why Is Pinball Considered A Sport?
Sport is a noun defined by the Lexico dictionary as “an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.”
Pinball is a game with little metal balls that are shot across the playfield to score points when they hit or go into targets. But anyone who’s played or seen a pinball machine knows there’s more to it than that. It takes strategy and skill to become an expert pinball player.
Pinball machines are highly decorated with flashing lights and big signs. Most machines even have sound effects. The goal is to get as many points as you can by hitting objects worth points or getting your pinball into holes or ramps that are worth various amounts of points.
Other reasons that pinball is considered a sport include:
- It takes practice to improve.
- There are pinball leagues that you can join to battle single competitors or even as a team
- You can enter competitions individually
- Even though pinball doesn’t require extensive physical training, it is still considered a sport because it is played competitively for entertainment.
- Pinball also has a world championship (and other major tournaments).
These are just a few of the criteria that make playing pinball a sport. Although watching a game of pinball might not rank up there with other favorite sports like MLB (baseball), soccer (FIFA), NBA (basketball), NFL (football), etc. it is still considered a sport because of the things that it does have.
There are pinball competitions in various cities that can be entered. Some of them are:
- Stern Pro Circuit – a series of 20 high-level pinball tournaments, including MAGFest, Silverball Rumble, Brisbane Masters, and Pinball Expo Flip-Out
- IFPA State Pinball Championships
- IFPA National Pinball Championships
- IFPA World Pinball Championships
Pinball Competition Rules
Like any other sport, there are rules for pinball competitions. The International Flipper Pinball Association, or IFPA, and the Professional and Amateur Pinball Association, or PAPA, have a complete competition rulebook available for reference when competing at higher levels.
The rulebook goes over many competition details, such as malfunctions, rulings, machine settings, and player conduct.
Some of the rules outlined in the PAPA and IFPA Complete Competition Rules rulebook include:
This goes over minor, major, known, catastrophic, and beneficial malfunctions. These are things like flippers not working, the game crashing, a jackpot switching to another target, or a bonus ball launching while the ball is in play.
The self-explanatory title means the ball is stuck somewhere on the playing field. You must wait for three ball searches before a force ball search can be triggered. You may be permitted to tap the machine to try to free your ball.
If you are disqualified, you must stop playing immediately, and your score goes back to 0.
Rulings are from tournament officials and are final. However, they do accept feedback and criticism, along with legitimate complaints.
This means not being rude, having outbursts (especially indecent ones), displaying aggression, being offensive, or harassing anyone.
Abusing machines means punching, kicking, lifting, tipping, or rocking. Anything like this comes with a warning and possible disqualification.
Cheating or Collusion
Of course, cheating is not allowed. Cheating can be game restarts, tampering, and collusion or collaboration with other players.
If you are absent at the start of a game, the scorekeeper will announce your name three times, and after that, you are eliminated from the game. If there is an emergency, you must let an official know in order to not be disqualified.
You are 100% forbidden from gambling on pinball games. If you get caught, you can receive a one-year suspension.
Officials can throw a yellow penalty card when players have unacceptable conduct and a red when they violate rules. You can get disqualified because of penalties.
The Mechanisms Inside Your Pinball Machine
The way to win a sport is not just to be good at it but to understand how the game is played. So, to become an advanced pinball player, you must understand all the working parts of the game.
A pinball machine has several parts that work together to create the entire experience. The parts of a pinball machine are:
- Playing field
- Tilt sensors
The plunger is a spring-loaded rod that is used to shoot the pinball onto the playing field. You can control how much force you use to push the ball out with the plunger, and you can direct the ball toward a certain area on the field. The plunger is only used when putting a new ball out onto the playing field.
In most games, you can get skill shot points by exerting the right amount of pressure on the plunger and getting the ball to go in the correct spot.
The playing field is the area where your pinball will be located most of the game and is usually made of wood with several layers of paint. The playing field is placed at a 6-degree incline. This allows gravity to pull the ball toward the starting point and allows the player to see all the holes, targets, bumpers, and obstacles.
Keeping your ball on the playing field for as long as possible will increase the likelihood of you scoring points and beating the competition.
Tilt sensors are what keep players from cheating. You can nudge the machine a bit to direct the ball, but if you go too far, the sensor will lock the flippers and disable the solenoids, stopping the game. Games have a certain allotted amount of time a player can tilt before the game ends.
There is also a slam tilt sensor that will do the same for those who kick or slam the coin part of the machine to try to trick the pinball game into thinking a coin was put in. The game will end when this is triggered as well.
Tapping or tipping the machine at the right time is an important skill to learn if you want to play pinball competitively. You have to be able to slightly move the ball to change its course while not tilting the machine.
Flippers are small levers that are controlled either mechanically or electronically. You can use flippers to smack a ball toward targets. The first machine to have only two flippers had them above the machine’s center drain. Before that, there were three pairs in machines. Today, the number of flippers in pinball machines varies.
This is the portion of the machine that requires the most skill to learn. Where the ball is when it hits the flipper as well as how hard you hit the ball will determine where the ball goes. Mastering the use of your flippers is the first step to success on the pinball machine.
Bumpers are rounded and placed above the playing field. Some bumpers are passive, so nothing happens when a ball hits them. Other bumpers, called pop bumpers or jet bumpers, hit the ball away from them. The ball touches a switch that activates the bumper and a ring surrounding the bumper goes off.
Knowing what the bumpers on the machine do is vital to know where the ball will go next. You have to plan ahead to be successful.
There are holes situated in the playing field of pinball machines that the player is meant to get the pinball into for points. Holes are what give the biggest amount of points to the player. Some holes in pinball machines will shoot the ball right back out, and others do not.
Knowing what each hole on the field does is important to allow you to know where it is going next. Some holes when hit the right number of times or during a special mission will allow you to get multi-ball or extra points.
Along with holes, targets are what you try to hit to gain points. They can be little buttons that stick out of certain parts of the machine.
Most of the targets will require you to hit them in a certain order or to knock all of them down to finish a special mission or to start one.
Obstacles are things that make it harder for you to get your ball into holes or hit targets. Obstacles can be ledges that make it harder for pinballs to reach targets and holes, or they can be spring-loaded things that push the ball away from targets.
Sometimes even the way that the ball hits the obstacles is designed to make the game harder. Knowing how the ball reacts to every obstacle is incredibly important when playing pinball in a competition.
Pinball is classified as a sport, although there are some people who still don’t think it is one. There are competitions for this game, and the game has official rules and leagues, along with ranks and championships. There are thousands of pinball players worldwide who compete in tournaments or leagues.
As more and more people get into nostalgic hobbies pinball will continue to grow as a sport. In the future, don’t be surprised to see it on ESPN or another sports channel!