2019 UK Pinball Open and UK Pinball Classics at Flipout London – Event Review

Held over three days, both the 2019 UK Pinball Open and UK Pinball Classics found themselves at a new home – Flipout Pinball Club in London. Both tournaments also found themselves with a new tournament director (TD) in Neil McRae. My first experience of both events happened just the previous year. So I wanted to find out what the tournament had to offer this time, and put my spin on the whole experience. Some of the points are in the control of the club. Other points are purely based on the location. So here is my rundown on the major talking points from the 2019 UK Pinball Open and UK Pinball Classics. I will do my best to mention the points as the weekend panned out. Excuse the fact that some of them may be a little hazy.

Practice Only

I arrived on Friday evening at around 18:45 with a view to get some good practice in. The games were all available and I was instantly mesmerised by the new and incredibly shiny Black Knight Swords of Rage. This is pinball, so new and shiny is a whole thing. As we all know.

Black Knight Sword of Rage at the 2019 UK Pinball Open
Black Knight Sword of Rage at the 2019 UK Pinball Open

I got a few flips on that, as well as a majority of the games that were on offer. I jokingly made my point in the post about how to play the games that were on offer at the 2019 UK Pinball Open – and in the statement stated that it was an ish. My oh my, it was just that. Games are getting deeper. We all know, accept and love that. The old adage of shoot the flashing light may well be true. Rules are rules and that comes with experience. Practice isn’t the time to pick up strategy though. That is for your preparation way before you make it to the tournament. Practice is for finding out how the games are setup.

This is a Tournament Sucker

This is the thing that is a double edged sword. The games are set up for a tournament. There were rubbers removed. Posts removed. I think I even spotted a game with a flipper removed (I joke, I joke). It is great that we have an extremely challenging tournament setup for the 2019 UK Pinball Open. It challenges us all to be better. More on that later on. It does however mean that you don’t get time to play on the games. You don’t get the opportunity to enjoy titles that you might not ever have the pleasure to own in a home use environment.

All of these things are 100% for the right reasons. If you are expecting to turn up and play pinball at Flipout. This type of tournament isn’t the place to do it. I must admit, personally for me. I would have liked to have seen more games to play socially. Ultimately though. This is a tournament and the games were setup accordingly.

Setting a New Standard

The level of difficulty discussed was primarily driven by Neil as TD. When setting the games up, they are well waxed. They play fast. They are steep. Which makes them play fast. The outlanes are wide open. This makes them play mean. There is post rubbers removed. Which makes them unforgiving. There is no ball save from the plunge. Again, making them play unforgiving. Lastly, the tilts were tighter than me trying to squeeze and extra game in my pinshed, because it should fit right? All of these little marginal changes to a game and its standard layout is for one purpose. Neil wants to personally raise the level of competition in the UK. Bringing it more in line with tougher competitions such as the upcoming Pinburgh 2019 pinball tournament.

As a little commentary to this, UK league games are generally setup as the home user would have their games setup. To get the number of games required in the wild in the U.K. to host leagues is tough. Also, games are set to four balls. Personally, I don’t see that as an issue as all scores should just move up a level. Levelling out on a average per ball basis. The underlying point to this is. There is no “tough to play” UK competition. The 2019 UK Pinball Open and UK Pinball Classics were set up this way and you felt it. It was noticeable in the ball times and in the reactions from the players. However, it was the same for everyone and the cream will always rise to the top.

Neil McRae 2019 UK Pinball Open Tournament Director
Tournament Director Neil McRae and Nick Hamill a the 2019 UK Pinball Open – Courtesy of Mandy McRae

Qualifying – The 2019 UK Pinball Open

The bread and butter of any tournament is how it is run. You can have the best players. The best games. As well as a perfect venue. The truth of the matter is, if you don’t have it all well run… You are in trouble.

I was in A group (which had nothing to do with ability as will be seen with my final position), and everything to do with when I booked. The qualifications taking place over the Friday and the Saturday, with Sunday hosting the main event for everyone.

It was a double elimination event, which would mean if you lose in the winners bracket, you go into a losers bracket and can still continue to potentially win the event. This essentially doubles the amount of work the TD and the team have to do. Still. It meant good news for the likes of myself. Who would get two bites of the cherry.

Qualifying was played over 9 games, a pre-determined card was given out. Neil gave a short introduction and away we all went into the field to play our games. The quality of the field was hugely impressive I must say and the games all but one stood out as being exceptional.

The games for qualifying were handled with a aplomb and the scores updated very quickly once done. Kudos everyone at Flipout.

The Walking Dead at the 2019 UK Pinball Open
The Walking Dead and Dialled In during qualifying at the 2019 UK Pinball Open

Tilty Tilty – That is a No-No

I have to mention it, and I also completely agree with Neil on his decision. However, Cirquis Voltaire, which was later removed from the tournament. If you want to know how tight those tilts were. I managed to tilt through on it. Also, no. I wasn’t trying to take the game home with me. Yes I gave the game a bit of a move, however. You wouldn’t be offended if I patted you on the back with the same force. You may have even liked it. I lost that game due to the tilt through.

The Social Side

Flipping Together

Pinball for me is all about the social side. I am not an outstanding competition player. Heck. I am not really even a good tournament player. I enjoy playing in the tournaments though and playing against others who are much better than me. Really though, it is all about the social side. Flipout hosts an INCREDIBLE amount of very good games and one thing I was really looking forward to was playing a lot of the great games available. Understandably, as TD Neil didn’t want the tournament games being played outside of for the competition. There were, however, only 6 other games available for play. These being:

  • The Simpsons Pinball Party
  • Alien
  • Space Invaders
  • Goldeneye
  • Pirates of the Caribbean (Stern)
  • The Dark Knight

Whilst that is still a good amount of games on offer, in the UK you will struggle to find a pub and bar that has such games readily available, I was hoping for more.

The Freeplay Room at the 2019 UK Pinball Open
The Freeplay Room at the 2019 UK Pinball Open – Courtesy of Luke Grayson
Out for Drinks

If you cannot go to a pinball competition and find a great group of people to go and have a great chat with and a couple of drinks (that can be a lime and soda if required). You are either in the wrong hobby. Or a complete ass. I haven’t met anyone in pinball that is a complete ass. Or in the wrong hobby. So you are more than likely golden. The UK pinball scene once again proved just how welcoming and fun it is. As always it is the people that make it and if you are thinking of getting into pinball or competitive pinball, you will always find someone to take you under their wing and make you feel part of the scene.

The Classics – Here’s Your 10 Entrys

I had always thought that Neil would use some incredible software in the 2019 UK Pinball Open and was quite surprised when he told me he would actually be going to use excel for the open. There had to be a twist somewhere in what he was trying to achieve. Surely?

Well, that came in the classics and my word what a difference it made to the competition. The tournament was a best of six score with each player getting ten entries on the machines of their choice. The software automatically updates your position, the number of games you have left and the top scores on each of the games. As a player I was hugely impressed with the software on offer for this competition.

A lot of the time I was in the classics area, Nick Hamill was operating the scoring software, verifying the scores with the players and feeding it into the system. i have to say a huge thank you to Nick as one of the drawbacks was the heat in the room. It really was a sweatbox in there. It did make it at times a requirement to go back out, grab some water and head back in after grabbing ten minutes to recover from the heat. Not that it affected my scores. I am terrible anyway.

The Placement Waggle Dance

Again coming back to the social side of pinball, this made for a really interesting social piece as the scores came in and the players all began a virtual waggle dance with position. As a big score hit, the table would dramatically change, moving the qualifying bracket of the top 12 around somewhat. This was a really enjoyable part of the weekend. It was just a shame for me the screens weren’t big enough to go down to the level to see where I was sat throughout.

The Open Mains

Early Starts

To allow me to give a truly representative view of how the tournament would work from the very beginning, i made sure that I was in at the very start of the competition. 09:00 to be exact. Even from the very start of the competition, the bracket was simple to understand, players were orderly and Neil was running a tight ship. Decisions were made quickly and the rounds progressed with a good pace. As TD Neil had set his stall out from the off. Be at the place you are supposed to be at the right time. All decisions are final. Whilst some decisions around timing on the face of it appeared to be harsh (i.e. giving a loss for people not being on time) – ultimately they were all within the bracket of, be there at the advertised time, or face disqualification. This was implemented.

Pacing and The Field

The pacing was fast. The games as discussed were set up that way. I managed to progress through I think it was 5 matches in the around 4 hours, this being both the winners and the double elimination bracket. This was supported by another well defined and fair process. Depending on your placement, you either had game choice for 2 of 3 games, if you made it to that, or play choice for your whole tie. You must also choose a game that wasn’t in use. This rule was rarely flaunted and the field progressed fast.

Travelling to Flipout

The location of the club is perfect if you are coming into the UK from abroad. Just make sure you fly into Heathrow, not anything around the top of the M25. It will be an absolute nightmare. This isn’t the clubs fault. This is Transport for London’s fault. My return journey through the underground system was hellish. Next time I am driving. Please though, do not let this put you off. I think it would be great to get some more international players in (I am looking at you, US players) – and the links to the airports here are really easy. This was shown by the number of international players from Europe who attended and I am glad they did. It made for a much more diverse and interesting field. One thing I can say about those that travelled. They were good.

The little but…

This is solely my view, and as discussed, this isn’t a reflection on the tournament as solely a tournament, and to be honest, I have no yardstick for any other major tournaments in pinball. However my view is that there should have been, and the tournament as a whole would have benefitted from more games available for play outside of the competitions.

It is incredibly difficult to get so many people to commit to this type of tournament, it would have been great to have another little carrot just to get people engaging more and spending longer at the club. I don’t want this to be a lasting memory, but it was a clear observation of proceedings.

Overall

One word answer. Great.

To put a little more meat on the bones. As a tournament, both the Open and the Classics from my experience were smooth, well handled with consistency from the TD in his calls. That makes for a great tournament. The games were tough, but so was the field. If the UK pinball open and classics have a new home, it is a solid foundation to build the success on for the tournament next year.

There were of course areas to improve on from a tournament perspective, number one really being the heat. I know the team at flipout worked really hard to have air conditioning on site, but it really didn’t work out well for the classics room. I know the catering van let them down also, but realistically, you can get food to the club with apps such as deliveroo and Ubereats. Really these are minor issues. The bread and butter of any tournament as outlined above is how it runs and it ran well. Slight improvements away from a perfect 5 out of 5… What a tournament.

4 Pinballs out of 5

I have to say, well done to all involved on hosting an incredible competition. Now all eyes turn to Daventry and UK Pinfest.

One comment

  • Great report as always James. I’d like to also add that it was great to mix with some of the international players too!

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