I am officially giving up caring about my pinball ranking!
Since I started playing competitive pinball in 2014, my goal has always been to have my ranking be representative of my skill level. When I first started playing tournaments, it was a little ridiculous that I qualified to be a novice. At that point I had played a lot of pinball from 1984 to 1999, so I was already a skilled player, but I hadn’t played in any IFPA (International Flipper Pinball Association) sanctioned tournaments. So the goal of 2014 and 2015 was to get my ranking above 2,000, which was the typical cutoff for novice events. Over that time I competed in 12 events and fairly easily got my ranking to the point where I was no longer technically a “novice”.
At that time there was a really fun pinball scene happening around Oakland. There were monthly tournaments at Hi-Life Pizza and occasional tournaments at Scarlet City Espresso Bar that were run by and attracted great people. Both locations had lineups of games that I mostly enjoyed. In 2016 a great selfie league, Oakland Pinball Warriors, had me going to a half a dozen locations to put up selfie scores throughout the month and then we played a finals to get the eventual winners.
With all this activity, I participated in 21 events in 2016 and qualified for the California State Championship!!! That was really cool! And I got the bug to try to increase my ranking. Through 2019, there were enough Oakland events that I could fill my annual 20 tournament card by just playing at home and occasionally hopping over to San Francisco.
My ranking peaked in July of 2018 when I ranked 472nd! I then hovered in the 500’s all the way until the pandemic hit and my ranking card got cleared. It felt like the 500’s were pretty representative of my skill level, and that the fluctuations into the high 500’s were appropriate because my best results tended to be at locations that I knew well and had some home field advantage.
With the pandemic restart, a few things have changed in pinball.
The first and most important change for me is that the Oakland pinball scene has mostly died. The only monthly event was at a location where I didn’t enjoy the lineup, and that location has recently removed most of its pinballs. For the East Bay, The Flipper Room has become the only place that regularly has events, and although I love The Flipper Room as a place to play pinball, I frequently don’t enjoy my time playing in tournaments there (due to my personal taste in games and how games are assigned in tournament play). If I want to have a full card for the year I could do it, but it would require me to frequently drive to Concord, San Francisco, and Monterey throughout the year. And the reality is that getting ranking points isn’t worth all that trouble.
The second change is that the WPPR (World Pinball Player Rankings) point environment has changed. Large multi-day multi-tournament events (WPPR-tunities) are drawing more and more players because you can earn more WPPRs in a single trip than you used to be able to earn by traveling to two or three big tournaments around the country. For the winners, one of these events could offer 400-500 WPPRs over four to six separate tournaments, but even mediocre results could lead to 40-50 points. The IFPA has also increased the potential points for a number of large events and certain formats. The INDISC Open broke the record books at 294 points and the IFPA World Championship eclipsed that at 376 points!
Why I’m giving up on my ranking
So at the end of 2022 I decided to go down to Monterey for the two day event, Seaside Champ, to play in a larger tournament and try to get some points to boost my ranking. Other than City Champ and the Golden State Pinball Festival tournament (both of which I have been playing in over the years), Seaside Champ was the largest Northern California tournament. I did reasonably well with a 10th place finish and got 15 points! Pretty good for me. To put this in perspective, winning a random local tournament is often worth about 15 points.
So I am feeling pretty happy until a month later INDISC happens with its massive 294 point Open along with four other tournaments during the long weekend (Classics Target Match Play, Classics I, Classics II, and High Stakes)! It made me question if a person can even qualify for California State Championships without attending INDISC.
Since I am not going to travel to participate in high value events, I have very little hope of my ranking ever again representing my skill level. Instead it will represent my effort and resource level. And without the motivation of my ranking representing my skills, I have actually been demotivated from going to tournaments. If a tournament isn’t easy to get to with a lineup that I like, I tend to skip it. The truth is I will be surprised if I get 10 tournaments on my card this year!
All this said, I do still enjoy playing competitive pinball. Competitive events are the only times that I play pinball with other people, and pinball is full of really great people. For years my favorite event has been the weekly Pacific Pinball Museum League. It is super casual with a great group of people for no WPPRs!