European Pinball Championships 2013 - Stockholm, Sweden

I missed the European championships in 2011 and 2012, and decided I just had to see the event for myself this time. It was held very close to us this year, in Stockholm, Sweden.

I kind of wanted to visit some place else for a chance, as I've already been twice in Sweden for the past 3 months now. Then again swedes know how to organize an event, and they didn't fail to deliver this time either. I signed up for both, the main event with modern era pins and the classic with pins from 60's to 80's.  

We arrived on the overnight ferry from Helsinki and drove directly to our hotel near Heron city. Navigating in Stockholm was a bit tricky, as there were several road construction sites in the downtown, completely messing up the lanes and making the navigator's "take the second lane on the right"-type of instructions worthless. In the end we got there missing our turn only twice.

After checking in at the hotel we wandered off to Heron city to check out what had changed since Stockholm Open. It was obvious from the very first moment that this was a serious upgrade to the Stockholm Open's setup, where all the pins were crammed into O'leary's pinball room. Instead, the competition area was build in the golf simulator area (renamed as 'pinball lounge'), leaving lots of free room behind the pins. All the classics series games were on the right side, modern games on the left. I noticed modern games had couple non-DMD machines included as well, which was a nice touch.

Friday had only two time slots for qualifications, 18-21 and 21-00. Saturday again had 4 different time slots, so I was a bit uncertain if I should try playing the same day we arrived, as it didn't work out at all in Stockholm Open. Then again, this time we arrived at somewhat sane time, so I gambled and decided to play both, the main qualification and classics back to back.

The qualification format had a nice quirk - the qualifications were played as two player games. The players' scores were still recorded as usual, I assume the decision to have players play in pairs was to cut the qualification time shorter. At first the idea felt a bit strange, but as I got to meet new people I later on welcomed it and chose to wait for a second player even when the organizers would have allowed me to play alone towards the end of the qualification round.

Main qualification

I started off with the Twilight Zone. The machine played rather slow compared to mine and it took a while for me to adjust. My first attempt got me 220M, which was rather disappointing. The second try again was a lot better. I managed to cash out the normal multiball (nailing 2nd jackpot milliseconds before the end!) and the powerball mania. The machine didn't have the actual powerball, and gave out the mania on the first gumball machine shot. The final score was 522M, which I didn't consider that good at that point, but in the end it was the 5th best.

Next up was Fish Tales. I was paired with a Swiss player, with whom I ended up chatting for a while about how the pinball scene is doing in our countries. Turned out Switzerland is pretty much like Finland; it's rare to find a pinball machine on location. Both countries still share a small but active pinball community. My first try at Fish Tales was a total disaster, I ended up with 5M. I could barely confess that I own a Fish Tales, not to mention it's one of my personal all time favorites. The second try however went a bit better, and I managed to stack multiball with rock the boat-mode and racked up 278M points, which in the end was 6th best in the tournament.

My 3rd qualification machine was Stern's Iron Man. I waited for almost half an hour, no-one showed up so I played it alone. The machine was in very low angle, making it remind me more of a 70's pins than moderns. Then again, it was extremely bouncy, which made it a bit harder than expected. My first try got me 15.5M. I was okay with it, not jumping of joy, but not feeling ashamed either. My second try gave me only a bit over 5M, so I had to stick with the 15M.

The last machine for the main event qualifications was Stern's latest - Metallica. It was a new machine for many players, but for me it was the 4th Metallica I've played in the last 3 months! It also turned out to be the weakest link in my qualification run - the first attempt gave me only 14M, where I scored over 100M on my very first game ever on it. With me panicking, the second attempt wasn't much better. Got 22M in the end and it was the 20th best in the tournament. I was actually surprised that someone had even worse luck than I did!

Classics qualification

After finishing the main qualification I had to step out for a while. Pinball machines (and the players!) generate a lot of heat - walking into the pinball lounge felt like stepping off an airplane in a hot country! Good thing O'Leary's served delicious ice cream just couple of steps away!

I started my classics run with my other half, VYV on Totem. My first game was way better, leaving me with 309K score. I had no idea what was the average score on it at the time, I felt I played a rather average game on it. In the end it was 10th best.

After that I picked a slightly slower game - Bronco. I'm familiar with the game, but I felt the game could have used a new set of EOS switches in the flippers. Other than that I worked nicely and I managed to get double bonus on almost every ball. The 59K score was 16th best in the qualification.

Then came the Aztec. Now, I'm very familiar with Aztec and I know how to rip it off good. The lower playfield is plain mean with numerous places for an insta-drain. The upper right corner again has a scoop, where you can collect score from letters lit from the lower playfield stand up targets. My fail-safe strategy is to light 1 or 2 letters, then hit the scoop. The scoop can be manipulated by two ways: first is to give the machine a sharp nudge up just as it's about to kick the ball out of the scoop. It causes the kicker partly to miss the ball, giving it so weak kick it falls right back, scoring the value again, again and again. The second one again is my favorite - just as the ball is kicked out, it hits a bumper. Give the machine a hard nudge to the left and the ball jumps back into the scoop. I managed to do this over 10 times in a row, ending up with 552K and the 6th best score in the qualification.

The last machine was Harlem Globetrotters on Tour. Now this is a machine I've never learned to play right. I played it a lot at INK's place in Borås, but the left side double flippers and odd-ball layout just won't work with my playing style. The resulting score was a pitiful 165K and was the 35th best score in the qualification. I was lucky actually to get any qualification points out of this one at all!

In the end I was 22nd in the main tournament and 39th on the classics, with majority of the players still to play.

Team qualification

I took part in the team game as well, as a part of the Finnish national team. The others in the team were TTV, JSZ and OMO.

We were given three machines; two of those had to be played with split teams, and the last one player per ball. The pins where: Medieval Madness, X-men and Elvis.

I teamed up with TTV and we chose Elvis because we both were familiar with it. JSZ and OMO picked X-men and Medieval Madness was to be our player per ball-game.

Elvis turned out to be rather challenging and our first game was mostly about learning all the insta-drain spots. The second try had a bit more spirit, but we still failed to start the multiball, ending up with only 10M points. I was glad to see OMO and JSZ did better in their game.

The first attempt at Medieval Madness was also rather underwhelming, only 6M. I totally goofed my only ball as the machine was in way steeper angle than it first appeared. On the second try JSZ went first, locked two balls but unfortunately drained the ball before starting the multiball. I was the second player and noticing the two locked balls I immediately went for my "trash the castles during multiball"-strategy, which worked out perfectly. I racked up over 35M during the first multiball. I noticed catapult madness multiball was lit, so I went for it without trying to get any other multiballs lit and went on with bashing the castle. When I finally drained, I had managed to score 44M on my ball, leaving the castle gate open for the next two players. TTV came after me and nicely trashed the last castle. OMO had bad luck during his ball, but we ended up with 55M, which was the best in Medieval Madness.

Unfortunately Elvis had cast his curse on us beyond grave and thanks to the poor game team Finland was out of the team playoffs.

Qualifications outcome

The classics playoffs started after that, but unfortunately I had fallen way beyond the qualification cutoff point; 64 players went to the playoffs and I was 69th. It'd seem the Globetrotters dropped me from the playoffs.

On the other hand, as the evening went on, I noticed I was still in the main game. I had fallen from my 22nd position to 29th, but as more and more players finished their game, I noticed I had moved up couple of places. We hanged out at the O'Leary's free play area, watching the real time standings from my iPad. When the last qualification group was nearly done, I was still hanging on the 31st position.

This was important as the first 16 get two 'free passes' in the playoffs bracket, the next 16 get one and the rest up to 64th get to fight for every single position.

It wasn't until the very last minutes when I first fell to 33rd position, then 35th and eventually to 37th, which was my final position. I had very strong mixed feelings about this. At the beginning I was just praying to be in the top 64 and go to the playoffs - now skipping the first round was within my reach and I nearly got it.

Still, 210 players played for their position in the playoffs, I was one of the 64 to return tomorrow.

In the end Team Finland was 7th out of 11 teams.

Main tournament playoffs

I didn't get much sleep that night, thinking about the upcoming game. I was so hoping I wouldn't be eliminated in the very first round. The good thing was that all the tough guys had gotten their 1 or 2 freebies and weren't there to play on the first round.

The first game was against DAH on Indy 500, Twilight Zone and White Water.

I was rather sure of Twilight Zone and White Water, but Indy 500 is one of those games that I've played but I'm not 100% familiar with the rulesheet, especially when it comes to competition style score-fast-avoiding-pitfalls type of playing.

My first ball was a total disaster. I missed the skillshot, hit couple of posts and drained just as the ballsaver had ended. DAH again started two multiballs on his first ball. I was not intimidated by this, as it's very easy to start multiball on Indy 500, but after failing the second skillshot and failing to lock the ball after I had spent lots of time trying to get the locks lit, I drained again. DAH went on with a similar ball to his first. This sent me panicking once again, and my third ball was so bad DAH didn't even need to play his.

I was so devastated by my total failure and the fact that the spectators apparently found my playing somewhat funny, that I had to step out for a while to cool off.

Next was the Twilight Zone. DAH had a rather bad first ball, but for me it started the very same way as Indy 500 did - I made the skill shot, hit the hitchhiker scoop and got a center drain from the bumpers. DAH nailed the second ball, starting couple of modes and locking two balls, but not starting the multiball. I noticed the machine had severe trouble getting balls to the ramps, I assume the flipper coils were running hot and were losing their power. My second ball wasn't that good, but not a total disaster this time. DAH's 3rd ball got him to 230M, while I was at 180M. So, 50M on the last ball - not a impossible thing. I was hoping to start the multiball, but after several close calls with balls coming down from the ramps I gave that up and went to collecting gumball machine points. It was enough to get past him and proceed to the 3rd machine - White Water.

In White Water neither of us did anything with the first ball. For me it was mostly about learning how heavily the playfield was tilted right. On the second ball DAH started Whirlpool challenge and cashed out almost 300M out of it. My Whirlpool challenge was mostly about seeing how fast I could drain both balls.

DAH ended up with around 350M after his last ball, while I was with a bit less than 20M. Looking at the playfield, I knew I had only one thing left to try: combine 5x playfield with multiball and try to cash out at least 4 jackpots. I carefully collected all the whirlpool awards, until only 5x playfield was lit and locked two balls while doing it. Then I lit the third lock, lit the next whirlpool award and was in the place where I only needed one shot up the spine chiller ramp, start the 5x playfield and then the multiball.

... and I hit a god damned post next to the ramp and drained. I was SO close getting to the second round and one bad shot ended it all. I was so emotionally wrecked that I walked back to the hotel and tried to get some sleep before returning to Heron city and enjoy the movies!

Overall, the competition was pretty much what I expected. I got to meet lots of new people and see many of the high WPPR-ranking guys in real life. I was thrilled to get past the qualification, especially after the poor attempt I made at the Stockholm Open couple of months ago.

I have to tip my hat at the organizers for their good job, the minor technical issues are easily forgiven when taking account the very short period of time they had pulling all this together. I was glad to see the organizers doing their job in good spirits in spite of long hours and seemingly endless flow of players. Also well done INK and others patching up the machines when something went wrong.

O'Leary's (and the Heron city) was a rather good place to hold a pinball tournament; there were enough distractions nearby when I needed to clear my head between the games and lots of good places to get some chow. One thing that really annoyed me (this isn't the organizer's fault, more of Heron City's/O'Leary's) was that the Telia Home run paid WLAN didn't work at all at inside O'Leary's, which made me sorry that I had purchased the 15+ euro one week pass for my iPad. I wish in the future some kind of a WLAN, no matter how slow, could be arranged as it's way more comfortable to check out your standing from your own portable device than to try finding a spot in the overcrowded and hot score screens area. 

Thanks to the organizers, and all the fine folks I got to play with! I hope to see you all in EPC'14!

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European Pinball Championship 2013
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