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The following was written and / or photographed by league members of the Free State Pinball Association.
This month’s Free State Pinball Association League update will focus on the FSPA versus PPL challenge which occurred at PAPA Headquarters on November 16th. The following is an analysis of the strategy of the FSPA team as written by coach Joe Kosack, with observations from team members Dave Hubbard, Jake Peterson, Adam Noll, and Rich Wickersham.
Pregame—Coming into the event, the whole team was excited. A team event such as this was something that we were not used to, since we usually beat up on each other in league play. However, I always felt that I liked my team. Each player was great at shot making, and I had any game knowledge they needed from spending endless hours studying film at PAPA.org and playing Champion Pub, Taxi, TOTAN, and CFTBL on Pinball Arcade.
I really didn’t know how the coaching aspect would work before we started. There were things to figure out such as how close to stand behind the player, how much should I talk, when to use those valuable time outs? All I knew was, I was jacked up to be there and couldn’t wait for play to start.
Round 1, Champion Pub—I knew from the beginning that I was going to play Dave, Adam, and Jake in this round. Dave had a little bit of bad luck, not only with how the machine treated him, but with Matt Schwab putting up a huge score. The game that set the tone for the night was Adam’s game on Champion Pub. Adam was making a ton of shots, and allowed me the luxury of saving Dave for later on in the challenge. Jake had a good game, just got beat (and a lil unlucky that EB did not come up in the Spittin Gallery. PPL 1, FSPA 0
Round 2, Captain Fantastic—Going into the night, I was thinking I would use a time out or two on this round when we were supposed to play Aerobatics. When the game changed, I held myself back because I’m very hot and cold on Captain Fantastic. Played Rich in game 1, and he was just manhandled by the machine. Tilt seemed very tight, and there was little margin for error. Adam came through with a solid game 2 to beat DJ. Jake had two great balls to start game 3, followed by two house balls. Unfortunately, Matt had another great game and overtook Jake for good on ball 4. PPL 2, FSPA 0.
The commentators (Mark Steinman, Jon Replogle, and Joe Schober who all did an AWESOME job!) were questioning why I didn’t use Dave in this round. My intention was to save Dave for the more modern games in the lineup and not use him on the electromechanical games. Dave’s prowess on modern games is so great that I could not afford to use him early on and lock him out of a further round when we needed him.
A side note on Captain Fantastic, if you watch the coverage, you’ll see DJ and Pete get upset when ball 3 drains and DJ only got 2k bonus (1k x 2 for 2k.) The machine did not malfunction. DJ never hit a lit rollover, or a lit lane up top, so he just had the base bonus.
Round 3, Draft round—I put Rich on Taxi because of his experience on older games, knowing that I was there to take over if needed. We were in a hole after two balls, and I used time out number 1 on ball 3. Unfortunately I stunk it up and never had control. Then I drafted Adam on Metallica based on how he played on Champions Pub, and he did not disappoint. DJ was PPL’s Metallica expert, but he was snake bitten that game, and led us to split flipper on TOTAN (not Creature as advertised.) Dave and Jake played brilliantly, to put us on the board. PPL 2, FSPA 1.
For me, I always had three split flipper teams in mind, Dave and Jake, Jake and Adam, and Dave and Rich. Dave and Jake are really good communicators who can figure out strategies on the fly. I really didn’t have to do much coaching with Dave and Jake at the machine together. Seeing how Pete was going to use his top players in the singles matches, I decided to roll the dice to save our two best for the split flipper, and luckily it paid off!
Round 4, Single Ball Round—I started Jake on Captain Fantastic based off of his strong play in Round 2, but the house ball was there. Adam was next on Champion Pub with not many points to get for the win, and was able to pull it off.
Put Rich on Taxi. Matt Schwab left a ball in the lock, so multiball was ready. Rich worked on getting multiball going, was able to get Pinbot by bouncing around, and shot Gorbie to transfer over to the right flipper. After finally getting multiball going, he quickly picked up Dracula and Santa. Rich was able to get a nice controllable trap with some great control play, with only Lola to go for jackpot, and I decided to go in. To be fair, my first thought was going express lane, getting the 300k and then going for 100k ramps. However, I bricked the first express lane shot, eating up valuable time. I switched up and started bashing the Lola targets to light jackpot. The rest is history!
Some people were saying that the jackpot turned the match around, I’m not so sure. However, PPL member Al Thomka was a lot quieter after my Booya!
Dave played well on TOTAN, but got snake bit. Jake had an easy pass on Scorpion. Adam had some tough luck on Metallica. Dave didn’t have much to go on CFTBL, got into Mega Menu like we planned, just got unlucky with the feed after the first target was hit. PPL 3, FSPA 1
Round 5, Split Flipper—We started on Scorpion, and I paired Adam and Jake together. Adam and Jake had played some together at VBH, so I just thought they would be a good pairing. They were. They took the safe points and won game 1. Dave and Rich were the second pairing on Scorpion, Dave made a brilliant shot in the left lock (which was our strategy due to Dave’s great shot making,) when Scorpion decided that the ball was over. Scorpion was DQ’d, and Doug had me and Pete go RPS to pick the replacement game. I won, and put us back on TOTAN.
Rich and Dave had a good game, but PPL had a great comeback and beat us out by 300k to even the round at 1. We both went with our big guns for game 3, but we had the hammer. Dave and Jake got into multiball in ball 3, and even though we had it in bonus, we went back into lightning lamp just to make sure we had the win. PPL 3, FSPA 2.
Round 6, Metallica—Priority for Round 6 goes to the players who played the least. For PPL, they had to use Sarah first with 4 plays. For us, we had Rich, also with 4 plays til that point. Rich got into a nice groove right away getting into Grave Marker multiball. He got consistent points for balls 1 and 2. Sarah gave us a scare on ball 3, but did not get enough points.
PPL then turned to Ty who had 5 plays. I had my choice between Dave and Adam, both with 6 plays at that point (Doug’s math was wrong, we were at 4 for Rich, 6 for Adam, 6 for Dave, and 7 for Jake.) I obviously picked Dave to try and end the round and go to Round 7. Dave had a rough ball 1, but rallied with two Sparky multiballs on ball 2, followed by Snake, and a Coffin/Grave Marker/Fuel stack on ball 3. Dave finished with 64M points! Pete tried to pinch hit on ball 1 for Ty, but probably took control too early. Pete started Sparky, and had to wait 15 valuable seconds to actually start playing multiball. Dave crushed, and we tied it up. PPL 3, FSPA 3.
Round 7, 5 ball CFTBL—Each player played one ball. Pete went with a lineup of DJ, Sarah, Ty, Matt, and Pete, vs. our lineup of Rich, Adam, Jake, Dave, and myself. Our goal on ball 1 was to get KISS on the plunge. We miscalculated, and we only got the K. Rich lost control of the ball and it went right outlane. Not a lot of progress, but a good night for Rich. DJ got his F and M in FILM, but really nothing else, we weren’t down much. For Adam, he felt more comfortable with a short plunge, so we went for that. Then he did the one thing he knows to do on CFTBLE, double feature. We had a slight miscommunication, or else Adam would have driven his value up to 16M, but who’s complaining about an easy 8M? We got our L from the lanes, followed by a drain. Sarah’s ball went drain quickly, but got a free pass. Pete then used his second time out, but really did nothing much before draining. Advantage FSPA.
Jake took ball 3, got KISS on the plunge and missed the reflex shot on the slide. However, he got control, got the I from the snack bar, followed by a backhand right ramp to slide combo to light multiball. Bad feed from the slide drains it, but we’re set up. Ty does a really good job lighting multiball for PPL, but drains without starting it.
Dave up for ball 4, shoots into the slide to start multi….woops, let’s try that again. Ball comes out of the slide without starting multiball. Dave quickly regains control, puts the ball into KISS, and starts multiball. Quickly finds the girl, rescues her, but the jackpot kept bricking out. No better luck on the restart, and the ball drains. Matt has a nothing ball for PPL, spraying the ball around a lot, but not starting multiball.
My turn for ball 5. I plunge hard to get the second kiss (hoping for extra ball lit too, but EB’s were turned off and a 5M point award was there instead.) Tried to put it into the slide for Mega Menu, hit the ramp once, and then hit the post between the right ramp and the slide and drained. Either one of those shots would have been good. Right ramp would have started snack attack for a 20M hurry up at the snack bar, and Mega Menu was also worth up to 20M. But we finished with PPL needing 40M + to overtake us.
Pete stepped up, missed the KISS shot, and then drained just after the free pass expired. Game over, challenge over. FSPA 4, PPL 3.
Final thoughts—I asked the team members to give me some of their observations from the challenge, now that we had some time to digest it all.
Dave: I was thrilled to just make the team in the first place. I sensed this would be a big thing, and I wasn’t disappointed. I wasn’t sure just how big it would be though, but judging by the size of the crowds and the fact that at least the Ohio group had a viewing party, this was something highly anticipated.
For the competition itself, it was way, way more intense than I thought it would be. There was definitely pressure. There was thrill of victory, and agony of defeat. There was pride too, pride in knowing that we beat what PPL threw at us and came back from the deficit we had. The way the team worked together was awesome too, discussing strategies and communicating out there, which I feel was key especially during the split flipper games. I thought the competition setup was well done, requiring good play in multiple disciplines.
I did think it could have been a bit cleaner in the earlier rounds; I think you know what I’m referring to. I think focusing on supporting your team instead of denigrating the other is the way to go, but definitely keep it loud and proud.
Memories… just being there, you [Joe] hitting the jackpot on Taxi, working seamlessly with Jake and Rich on split flipper, stacking multiballs on Metallica for mega points. The edge of your seat tension on the last game on Creature, when Pete drained and no one was sure if the ball saver was still on. And of course, the ride home with the trophy in the back seat. 🙂
Jake: It was an amazing experience to have the opportunity to participate. I know there are team leagues in some areas, but to a large extent, this is an untested format. I feel that the format worked surprisingly well. The split flipper and 5 ball games were a great way to introduce some more unique formats. Having a coach introduced a deeper level of strategy and the coach tag-in was great for heightening the tension and drama.
For me, the best part was the opportunity to team up with players that I typically compete against. There is already a sense of camaraderie within the league, but we are rarely in a situation in which we are not in direct competition with each other. Outside of a handful of team members making a playoff at PAPA or other major, our league rarely has the chance to come together and root on our players. This competition provided a platform for us to come together as a team, a league, and a community.
Adam: The event for me was definitely an amazing experience and I was just super excited to be apart of the team and the event.
As you know, I’ve been playing pinball for only about 9, 10 months now – this season being my first ever league experience – of which we are 9 or 10 weeks in.
I originally just started out trying to find a group of like-minded folks to share my pinball hobby with, and have been more than happy not only meeting that expectation since joining the league, but also am grateful for all that I’ve learned from all the different players I’ve talked to. Everybody plays a little bit differently and has some different insights, so I really just like to pick their brains and then try to put something together that fits best for what I am capable as a player. I really feel as though I’ve learned a TON about pinball and have become a much better player because of the league experience.
I first started out on that Rollergames about 10 months ago with my Cousin, and since then have just tried to get better at making shots and getting better ball control. I think that is probably my best asset right now (shot making) – and was largely banking on the steady points for my matches during the tournament – and luckily things worked out OK.
Having never played either of CP (other than on pinball arcade), Captain Fantastic, or Metallica prior to the event, I was really relying on Joe’s coaching as to where I needed to put the ball and what to aim for, which was incredibly helpful!
Joe’s knowledge of these games was amazing – he’s like a pinball encyclopedia, and together in the end, it seemed that the strategy paid off. Joe let me know what we were shooting for, I was able to execute most of the shots, and come home with the W.
I think I ended up running up on CP about 7 or 8 combo jackpots on the ramp, same for my turns on creature putting up 8M on the combo and taking down most of the KISS targets for about 19M, metallica, and captain fantastic – nothing incredibly flashy, just steady points.
Entering the night, my main goal was just trying not to embarrass myself and overall, think I was 5 or 6 wins and 1 loss, so I was certainly pleased and mission accomplished- but more importantly I was glad to contribute for my team and that we were able to home the trophy – it was an absolutely amazing experience!
Personally I know that I still have a lot to master in terms of both my skills in recovering the ball, and ball control – and I also have a whole lot to learn in terms of rule-sets and strategies, but now that I’ve caught the “pinball infection”, I’m devoted to the cause and hope to continue to improve my skills each week to become a better player.
Rich: I have played in several pinball and video gaming events and this was the most fun format by far. It was a great honor to represent the FSPA. Kudos to Mark and the PAPA team for coming up with this format!
The team play aspects (split flipper, substitutions) were the most fun for me and I cant wait to watch the video.
Thanks to coach Joe and the team for working together and coming up big when we were down 3-1!
Joe: For me, I think I’ve watched my jackpot on Taxi about 200 times so far, and it hasn’t gotten old yet. I don’t know if I will have another televised moment like that, but if I don’t, I will treasure it forever.
I think everyone involved in getting the challenge off the ground and producing the event did an awesome job! Special thanks go to the PPL team of Pete Hendricks, DJ Riel, Matt Schwab, Ty Konopasek (watch out for Ty down the line!) and Sarah Cunniff. Special thanks also go to Mark Steinman, Jon Replogle, Joe Schober, Brian Teyssier, Elizabeth Cromwell, Virginia Hendricks, and referee Doug Polka. Finally, we want to thank everyone who watched the event live on site, live on Twitch, or recorded on Youtube. We had a blast, and we can’t wait to send another group to take on the Ohio Pinball League!
To sum up what we think the future holds for league challenges down the line, I leave you with the words of Jake Peterson:
I strongly feel that the league team match format builds a bridge and makes broadcast pinball more accessible to non-competitive and novice players. It also fulfills a gap in the PAPA programming. Watching the best players in the world blow up a pinball machine is great, but there can be a disconnect here for the average competitive viewer. I think that presenting more realistic competitive strategies on a broader range of machines is the perfect approach to capture the interest of your average competitive player in a regional league. After PAPA gets this video on Youtube, they need to promote the hell out of it. This format has potential to make competitive pinball much more appealing to traditional gaming media.
With the rapid rise of eSports popularity, pinball is poised to bring something very unique to the table that transcends genres. It effectively walks the line between video game, traditional sport, and table game (and maybe a lil pro wrestling as well). Bringing a crowd / fans in to the mix makes for a special experience that you can’t get from traditional eSports, televised poker, or any other strategy driven games that loosely fall in to this new subset of “televised” gaming.
Thanks for watching, and if you haven’t watched yet, please watch it below:
Photo Credit: Gregg Giblin. Front Row from left: Adam Noll, Rich Wickersham, Joe Kosack, Dave Hubbard, Jake Peterson. Back Row from left: Mark Steinman, Elizabeth Cromwell, Doug Polka.