It is a great privilege to have Josh Sharpe, President of IFPA, join us in this exclusive interview where he shared his insights about pinball tournaments as well as advice for pinball players who dream of joining one of IFPA’s tournaments.
♦ Expert’s Profile:
I started playing competitively in 1993 and won the Junior World Championship in 1995. Obviously having Roger Sharpe as a dad meant pinball has been a constant in my life since before I can remember. I basically grew up with pinball machines all over the house, and now have 22 at home myself.
I’m an accountant by trade, working for Raw Thrills, Inc. as their Chief Financial Officer. I have been with my wife Amanda for 14 years, and have two lovely kids (Colin 4 and Charlotte nearly 2).
♦ Knowing IFPA
The organization was actually formed back in 1991 by the AMOA (The Amusement & Music Operators Association) until it went defunct in 1995. My group negotiated the rights to resurrect the IFPA in February 2006 to coincide with the launch of the World Pinball Player Rankings (the first official world ranking for pinball players in the history of the sport). At that time, the competitive pinball scene was 500 players strong with about 50 tournaments held around the world each year.
Since resurrecting the IFPA 10 years ago, we’ve grown from 500 players and 50 events annually, to 38,000 players and 2,800 events annually.
The new IFPA was born out of the creation of the World Pinball Player Rankings, which was the first official ranking system of players for the sport. The motivation for the World Pinball Player Rankings actually came from an article I read on marathon running.
A point system for ranking marathon runners was being created to help increase awareness of the sport. That ultimately sparked the idea that something similar would be really fun for competitive pinball to allow players all over the world who may not directly compete against one another, to be able indirectly measure themselves against their peers with a ranking system based on tournament performance.
♦ Where do you usually find Pinball Machine players?
Most of our growth come from players introducing the game to their friends, getting them hooked, and then those people introducing their friends, getting them hooked, and so on and so on it goes.
The recent resurgence of barcades have led to players finding pinball on location, and many of these barcades host IFPA endorsed competitions on a regular basis.
♦ We’ve read in your website that you have established a ranking system of all pinball players across the globe. Can you tell us about this ranking system and how do pinball players get to be part of the ranking system?
Sure! All IFPA endorsed events from around the world are eligible for World Pinball Player Rankings Points which are awarded according to the tournament’s strength of field, number of participants, format of the tournament, and the player’s finishing position.
All a player has to do is compete in any IFPA endorsed competition and they will automatically become a world ranked pinball player. They can then improve their rank by playing in more events.
♦ How do you facilitate tournaments? Can you walk us through the process?
All you need is one machine to get started! We have a tournament calendar submission process through our website where organizers can apply for IFPA endorsement. Part of the submission process requires the organizer to have a website with the full details of the event where players can learn the rules, format, schedule and entry fee/payouts if there are any.
As part of the eligibility for IFPA endorsement a tournament has to be open for anyone to participate. Most ‘bigger’ tournaments do have a qualification process where anyone is welcome to play and have their scores compared to all the players in the field. Typically a tournament will then advance between 10-30% of the participants to a finals round where players will play either head-to-head matches, or in groups of 3 or 4, eliminating players every round until a winner is determined.
♦ Among all the tournaments you hosted, any favorites or one you consider memorable? Why do you consider it as so?
One of my favorite memories was organizing the first World Pinball Championship that wasn’t held on US soil. During the 1990’s all the way through the mid 2000’s, every World Pinball Championship was held somewhere in the US. The idea of trying to organize a World Championship 4000 miles away (it was to be in London while we organized from our base in Chicago) was a huge undertaking. The planning took over a year, with us having never met the person who was going to be hosting us until we showed up to his location in London a day before the event.
The amount of stress entering this unknown territory was enormous, but paid off in a huge way, especially for our European players. Over the years since then we’ve formed strong relationships with the European player base, and have had a chance to ‘see the world’ through pinball, hosting the World Championship in London, Sweden and Germany, with Denmark slated for 2017. We hope to someday stretch this outside of Europe and eventually to Japan, Australia and South America.
♦ What kind of pinball machines do you use in your tournaments? and how do you choose them?
We rely on our hosts to provide the games to use, so often times this ends up being whatever is available within their specific community.
For example, the World Championship in 2014 was held in Denver, and the community of local players brought in over 50 games ranging from the 1960’s through the newest games from 2014 for us to use.
We also host tournaments for the pinball manufacturers which will often include the newest game off their production line.
♦ Where do you usually hold your tournaments?
The most popular places to find tournaments are at pinball enthusiast shows for all over the world. Many cities host a Comic-Con style convention where members of the local community will bring hundreds of games to a hotel ballroom or convention center for show patrons to play, vendors who are there selling machines and parts, seminars featuring legendary designers who will speak about their careers, along with a dedicated tournament area for those players interested in competing.
♦ Out of all the Pinball Machines ever created, what do you considered the best? (even those you haven’t used in your tournaments or seen before)
I can’t answer this question without being completely biased. My dad was a pinball machine designer from the mid 1970’s through the mid 1980’s. My favorite machine ever created was a 1984 Game Plan machine called Cyclopes, which happens to be one that he designed.
♦ Why do you think people are still hooked with pinball machines even after so many years and with all other gaming machines available today?
To me it always comes down to the unique experience that pinball gives you. No matter how advanced technology gets, there is no substitute for the experience of trying to control the chaos of a real steel ball flying around a playfield as you navigate this 3D world under glass.
♦ Any Pinball Machine player you admire or give a shoutout to?
I’d love to give a shoutout to all 38,000 ranked players if I could! To see the sport build over the last 10 years in the way it has, it’s because of these players that continue to pull more and more new players into our crazy little world.
♦ Do you have any tips/advice for pinball players or those who dream of becoming one?
Play, play, and then play some more. The internet has a ton of tutorial videos available for both general playing tips as well as specific game rules for hundreds of game titles. The more you play and learn about the rules of these machines, the more successful you’ll be. Don’t hesitate to join a local league and learn from watching and playing with others.
♦ Any words to all Pinball Machine fanatics out there?
Get out and support local tournaments. It’s a great way to socialize with members of your community that share the same interests, and of course increase your world ranking. Like the manufacturer Gottlieb said on their machines, “It’s more fun to compete!”
Interested in joining the next IFPA tournament ? We’d love to hear your thoughts. Share them through the comment section below.