UK Pinfest 2019 Competition – Interview With TD Wayne Johns and Pinball Live

There is so much news coming out for the upcoming UK Pinfest, we absolutely love it! With news of a Live Twitch Stream of Alice Cooper’s Nightmare Castle – where you can win a Spooky Pinball goody bag (thanks Spooky for sponsoring) and a few more on the way, there is really a lot going on. Another HUGE element of UK Pinfest is, of course, the UK Pinfest Competition. There have been some changes to the format and how the tournament will be run, so I caught up with Tournament Director Wayne Johns (WJ) about the event and how the team are preparing for keeping the tournament ticking over, as well as Tim from Pinball Live to discuss streaming such a large event.

UK Pinfest 2019 is just around the corner, and with it the 2019 competition, I caught up with TD Wayne and Tim form Pinball_live to talk the competition.

Wayne – there is always a big competition on at UK Pinfest – as one of the highlights in the calendar for UK based pinball. How are you feeling about taking on a competition of this size?

I’m excited to be bringing a fairly new format of comp to the UK’s biggest pinball show. I’ve ran many competitions of differing sizes and formats in the UK before, over 40 in fact. So running another isn’t too daunting. The size of competition is irrelevant – all competitions require a lot of preparation, trying to plan for every eventuality. That can only come with experience, which I feel I have gained plenty of over the past eight years. 

I learn not only from the feedback from the competitions I run, but also feedback I hear from other comps, as well as my own experiences in competing, in the UK as well as Europe and the US. 

The preparation started pretty much the weekend after last years comp, when I was asked me to run the competition this year. The 3 biggest complaints with the last comp, were the number of machines used in the comp, the amount of time it took up from allowing players to enjoy the rest of the show, as well as the lack of understanding of the players as to what was happening. All of these have been addressed with the format, which is very easy to understand.

The style you have gone for, with the ticketed entry, is used heavily elsewhere, but not so much in the UK, why do you think that is?

I first used this format at Play Expo almost two years ago in Manchester alongside NLP. It was the first time such a format had been used in the UK, but was well received and ran with only a couple of minor hitches. Of course we have learnt from and addressed them accordingly. As soon as that competition finished, I was looking at ways we could improve on it. As well as trying to find the right time when it could be reintroduced. 

The ‘vision’ was to have a comp which could rival any other in the UK, as well as Europe, for number of entrants as well as WPPR points and total prize money. This format allows that without taking up huge numbers of machines, which would take away from the number available for general public play. The format caters for both the casual competition player, who may only want to take up a small amount of their weekend with competition, as well as those more serious who want to commit more time and focus to it.

The style has it’s critics though, why do you think that is?

The unlimited ticket entry can be seen by some as unfair to those with the deepest pockets – buying their way into the finals. I have to admit that I had previously thought that – until I had played in these style of comps and discussed with many players in the US who had more experience in this format. By having to play 3 games as part of a single entry it means that you can’t really afford to have a single bad game, or you’ll drop down the rankings. The best players are generally much more consistent with their play, and thus qualify higher. After all, any competition should be designed to find the best player on the day, or over the weekend on this case. It is no surprise that whatever format is used it is generally the same (best) players who rise to the top, with the odd dark horse making it now and again.

With any comp which has qualifying, one of the biggest issues is getting the balance right between rewarding the players who qualify near the top, but not making that advantage too much. Some do it with awarding byes, others with machine choice, or playing position, or even all 3.

This format rewards the top qualifiers with a single bye only. ALL machines are already predetermined for each of 20 head to head knockout games in such a way that no one will play the same machine twice, and will play a range of eras. Something that no other comp, that I am aware of, has tried before. In my opinion there is nothing more boring than to watch the same machines being picked time and time again throughout the different rounds by the same person.

Do you think having this at such a major event will change people’s minds on it as a style of competition?

As you said, there has already been a few voices expressing their concern regarding the format, preferring to play single entry comps (editors note, I have gone on record myself as saying this), or comps based on head to head play, without prize money etc. To them (and by the previous point, to me) I would just ask that they take part and see for themselves how it goes. If they don’t enjoy it – fair enough – but at least make those decisions based on their experience of playing rather than any preconceived notions they may have. 

Not every format can please everyone, if every comp followed the same format I’m sure it would become very boring very quickly for the majority of people – variety is the spice of life.

As this will be being streamed by Pinball Live on twitch, I wanted the viewers to enjoy the experience as much as the players, and also for it to be easy for them to follow what’s going on. The only thing worse than having a stream where the viewers don’t know what is going on in the format, is having commentators who don’t know the machines being played or the rules of them. We’ve addressed that by ensuring the commentators (all good players themselves) know what machines will be used beforehand, so they can do a bit of prep-work. We also aim to have a short soundbite from the players after their matches on the stream so they can let the viewers know their thinking and strategy on the game they’ve just played – this also worked well the last time Pinball Live streamed the competition.

How did you decide to go about the machine choices?

As only 10 games are being used I felt it important to have a mix of eras to vary peoples strategy, it is possible to qualify playing just 3 new games, or 3 DMDs, or even 3 ‘classics’ thus allowing people to focus on their strengths. However to progress deep into the comp you’ll have to be able to perform well across all styles of machines – as it should be. Editor’s note you can find a list of the games in this previous post about the UK Pinfest 2019 Competition

All of the modern machines being used have multiple strategies for scoring well, I don’t expect to see the same strategy used by every player. The older machines obviously have shallower rules so don’t need the same depth of knowledge to maximise scoring.

I’m happy with the variety of games being used.

You’ve gone across a few decades here, which I love, you must have a lot of faith in them?

Perhaps the biggest concern with a format of this type is that the machines will last for the full 2 days of competition. It’s not as simple as swapping a game out, as there would be no way of comparing scores from entries already made. I’m confident that machines are up to scratch, and if there are any failures the NLP team, along with Andy from Pinball Mania will be able to have any machine up and running, barring the worst of failures.

One of the mistakes made in the previous running of this comp was the machines, I used machines based mainly on availability. This meant that some of the machines weren’t necessarily at the standard I would expect for a major competition. I’ve addressed this by having machines from people I trust, or particular machines I have had experience of. The machines will also be arriving earlier than before, allowing the setup of them to be thoroughly tested. Not just the basics like cleanliness, switches working and level – but going into the detail of feeds from kick-outs, slingshot sensitivity, and rules to remove exploits. 

To find out his thoughts on the live streaming of the event, I also caught up with Tim from Pinball Live

It’s a big event, how do you plan and prepare for so much streaming, over so many games – both from a technical and a hosting viewpoint?

The preparation is huge, typically arriving Thursday morning to begin streaming Saturday. The technical presentation can be ironed out beforehand in the weekly home streams, but there are many challenges on the day which you can expect to hit with full force. Bringing plenty of spares, cable and adapters. Things which you never thought you’d need, they are the ones that can often save the day! The biggest lesson I learnt though is the old adage: you get what you pay for. In streaming and broadcast this is especially true. If you buy cheap kit and expect it to be trouble-free, you’re in for a terrible time.

There’s some really good games in that line-up, what are you looking forward to stream the most?

I personally like the 90s titles, but being able to have an expert with deep knowledge of modern Stern rulesets is fascinating to listen to and commentate alongside. It’s often nice just to sit back and just listen, perhaps asking a few simple questions of your co-host as you go. The job of a good host isn’t to be speaking all the time, rather steering where the topic goes. Often imagining you’re new to pinball and perhaps spectating for the first time can invite some good conversation that otherwise might not come up. People watching appreciate that, I think.

Definitely, and that’s a really good point, making it accessible for people who are just dropping into the stream and making them feel welcome is an art.

I think that if you’re already heavily into pinball, any relatable chat will be interesting enough to be enjoyable, basic or otherwise. With the potential for attracting new people, you have got to strike a good balance and appeal to as many as possible.

We’re fortunate in this community that we’re all cut from the same cloth, so just being yourself I think will hold interest. I find this personally when listening to the many postcasts available. Pinheads are generally pretty easy going and great to listen to.

I love how streaming makes it accessible to get into pinball with either home use or these competitions. For those who are experienced in competitions though, do you think that being streamed at such events could be a distraction?

I think that’s a good point. You’ve got to be discrete and not affect the tournament players. If there is anything that might put people off, it is best avoided – for example, bright lighting. Generally speaking though I think that with a high enough camera the player doesn’t see anything in their eye-line. So it’s not a big issue.

I agree – I also think it’s going that way now, more and more higher profile competitions are being streamed online, which is only good for pinball. Is it the stance of the competition this year that all games in the finals could be streamed?

Yes, the system I’m taking will have 2 portable camera rigs, so we plan on bringing all of the action right through to the finals. Previously the tournament has been run at a pace that allows for streaming rigs to be moved. Working alongside Wayne, the TD this year, we have a good working relationship to make sure eveything runs smoothly and is captured for all to see.

I hear that there is going to be post match interviews too, surely that presents another set of challenges too.

Oh definitely, generally speaking it’s good just to make a couple of mental points about the game the player has just had. Close calls, notable strategy or achievements. Usually it’s fresh enough in their minds for a small question like that to trigger a flashback decent discussion. It’s also important from a technical point to make sure it’s all working, make sure the player is mic’ed up or at least close enough to the desk mic to be heard. This is where audio monitoring really comes in useful, since you’re hearing exactly what your audience are.

That’s important too for the viewer, to be able to follow the action – you don’t want to drop in and find that you’ve missed 3 rounds or an important discussion. Does that mean the game choice and round pacing will be partially dictated by the stream?

I think from an outside perspective the stream really has to be as passive as possible, that is, have little or no influence on how the tournament is planned or executed. That being said, behind the scenes there is quite a lot of synergy between Wayne (TD) and us to ensure we have the opportunity to stream as many of the matches as possible.

You can be a part of the 2019 Pinfest competition by purchasing your tickets for UK Pinfest 2019 right here, alternatively by joining on Twitch and tuning in to Pinball Live. I’ll be entering the competition so keep your eyes peeled to the website for my review.

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