Past Times Mega Matchplay: Inside Ohio's Biggest Pinball Tournament

Past Times Mega Matchplay: Inside Ohio's Biggest Pinball Tournament
Words by
Photos by
Past Times Mega Matchplay: Inside Ohio's Biggest Pinball Tournament
Graphics by
Past Times Mega Matchplay: Inside Ohio's Biggest Pinball Tournament
Published on
April 2, 2024
Updated on
May 2, 2024
Read time:
No items found.

Image Gallery

For players who crave a good contest, local tournaments are a natural step on the path to pinball glory. Equal parts entertaining, exhausting, and intense, these trials-by-flipper are essential in honing your skills and meeting like-minded pinheads. However, if you're new to the scene or haven't tried your hand at an IFPA sanctioned event, pinball tournaments can be overwhelming in concept alone.

Recently, I took a trip to Girard, Ohio, to participate in Past Times Arcade Mega Matchplay, one of the biggest tournaments in state history. This gauntlet of gaming saw 100 players from 11 different states flipping with fervor for two days, all in hopes of obtaining a massive bounty of World Pinball Player Ranking points (or WPPRs) and a fistful of cash. It was a fantastic event and a testament to the camaraderie that comes from a well-organized competition in a welcoming community. If you're thinking of dipping your toes into the pool of competitive pinball, let my experience be the gentle push you need to dive in headfirst.

A Crash Course in Matchplay

There are several types of pinball tournaments with their own sets of rules, but the regular 'ol “Matchplay Qualifying” is one of the more common formats. In this ruleset, participants are matched up into four (and occasionally three) player groups and compete on a randomly selected machine in each round. Points are awarded based on your finishing position, with first place receiving 7 points, second place receiving 5 points, third place receiving 3 points, and fourth place picking up just 1 point. The “Mega” in Past Times Arcade Mega Matchplay comes from the lengthy 20-round qualifying stretch, which takes roughly 10 – 12 hours.

Standard Matchplay is my preferred type of tournament pinball for qualifying, as it provides an even playing field for all. With the given randomization in both player grouping and machine pick, advantages are hard to rely on. Even if you get placed on a machine that you're confident with, you might have to play against one of the best players on the roster. If old EM machines are in the mix, these are an even greater equalizer, balancing out the rules-heavy focus of modern pins in favor of classic survival tactics. Either way, Matchplay Qualifying ensures that all players have an equally good chance of playing a large variety of machines against as many different players as possible.

Day 1: The Long Road to Qualify

We arrived at Past Times Arcade at around 10:30 in the morning, as the competition was set to begin at 11 AM. After paying for entry ($60, including both admission to the arcade and tournament fees) and marking my attendance at the tournament check-in desk, I took a few moments to practice before the first round. Past Times Arcade has an astounding assortment of pinball and arcade games, and there was a great selection of over 35 titles that had been moved from the arcade floor to the private tournament area. A few modern releases like James Bond and Foo Fighters were in the mix, along with some DMD gems like Doctor Who and World Cup Soccer. There was also a slew of tournament-favorite solid-state machines, such as Harlem Globetrotters, Alien Star, Paragon, and Taxi. It also wouldn't be a Past Times Arcade experience without some rare and unique EMs, like Gemini, Sky Jump, and Atlantis.

At 11 AM, 100 eager players gathered around the event organizers for initial announcements, led by the tournament director, John Delzoppo, and Past Times Arcade Director of Operations, Mike Hale. After a warm welcome and an explanation of the rules for any first-time players, the owner of Past Times Arcade (and founder of The Pinball Expo), Rob Berk, personally thanked everyone for attending. With Mega Matchplay being the first large-scale IFPA tournament at Past Time Arcade, it was obvious that the occasion was incredibly special for the staff, with their excitement quickly spreading through the crowd. With a hearty ring of his signature bell, the tournament director signified that the first round had begun, marking the start of the blissful madness.

In the early rounds, I was feeling sluggish but managed to keep up pace with the pack. Alternating between second and third-place finishes, I kept my head above water and in the game. Luckily, even when I got placed on machines that I was lousy at, my opponents were more than happy to talk strategy during downtime. In a heated game of Doctor Who against some of the best players in the state, including Aaron Rich (#3 in Ohio and #55 in the world), I managed to sneak out a second-place finish wholly due to some helpful tips from Erik Wurtenberger (#6 in Ohio and founder of the Pincinnati Pinball Show).

Over the course of the day, I battled to the best of my ability, played arcade games during breaks, and made plenty of new pals. Moments of total triumph were infrequent, but I felt elated when I nabbed two first-place victories on the 1980 Stern machine, Cheetah. I also had a truly killer game on Avengers: Infinity Quest, securing first place with over 230 million points. It was awe-inspiring to play alongside some of the best pinball players of all time, like in Round 11, when John Delzoppo (Top 10 ranked in three states and #29 in the world) took me to school on the 1990 Williams classic, Whirlwind. I faced another master of the silver ball, Stephen Prusa (#1 in Ohio and the 2022 State Pinball Champion), in Round 13 on the 1980 Stern pin, Quicksilver. I was lucky enough to take second place (thanks to some stellar tips from the stylish and skilled player, Zak Bowers), and simply observing Stephen's calculated play taught me more than any online pinball tutorial could offer.

Despite my best efforts, I came up short of the cutline for playoffs (#62, shucks), but the qualifying experience was invaluable. It was a treat to play with the true pinball pros, and even when I performed below par, it was still a blast to compete. The day absolutely flew by, as I got to compete with tons of my pinball friends and was even lucky enough to play against a true legend, my lovely girlfriend, on the iconic 1988 Williams machine, Taxi. Sore, exhausted, but thoroughly fulfilled, I looked forward to returning the following day to watch the playoffs.

Day 2: Where Champions Are Made

The next day, the top 40 players returned to compete in the playoff tournament, which was split into three divisions. The top 24 players occupied the coveted A Division, with the next 8 best-performing players sitting comfortably in B Division. Finally, eligible players on the lower end of the global IFPA rankings battled it out in C Division, offering a taste of victory for players new and old. Although I didn't make the cut for playoffs, I was graciously invited to commentate on the Northeast Ohio Pinball Network Twitch stream by broadcast mastermind Nick Kamps. Alongside fellow commentator Brent Reed (a passionate and knowledgeable player from Cleveland), I was granted front-row seats to a brilliant display of competitive pinball.

Every finalist played at the top of their game, a feat made even more impressive considering that they were all on their second day of continuous play. For their efforts, Richard Rulong took home the B Division grand prize, while Pete Steffancin nabbed the gold in C Division. The A Division finals were a sight to behold, as four truly exceptional players duked it out across three games, including Gemini (1978 Gottlieb), Taxi, and Jurassic Park (2019 Stern). As the final ball hit the drain, the first Past Times Mega Matchplay was in the books, marking the end of an unbelievable event. With an impressive performance throughout the entire tournament, Andy Lee (#4 in Ohio and #88 in the world) handily secured first place in A Division and was crowned the Past Times Mega Matchplay Champion. Cryss Stephens, Stephen Prusa, and Erik Wurtenberger took home second, third, and fourth place, respectively, skillfully proving their pinball prowess.

A Division Winners
B Division Winners
C Division Winners

To say Past Times Mega Matchplay was a fun time would be a massive understatement. It was, by far, one of the best pinball tournaments I've ever had the pleasure of attending. Thanks to the collaborative efforts between organizers like John Delzoppo, Mike Hale, Fred Cochran and the friendly staff at Past Times Arcade, competitors were spoiled with quality and care. Based on the roaring success of this initial tournament, I suspect that Past Times Arcade will continue to offer more large competitions, and I highly recommend that you consider attending in the future. At the very least, make an effort to get out there and play some tournament pinball! Not only is it a surefire way to become a better player, but there's nothing quite like the thrill of competition among great company.