Just wanted to share my impression of the Texas Pinball Festival with fellow pinsiders in hopes that it may be viewed as constructive criticism for future years of the show. I'm writing this while I sit at the airport watching Wrestlemania on my computer so I will be jumping back and forth....hopefully it remains understandable. I want to open by saying the show is really awesome and I do recommend it to anyone in our hobby, but it wasn't perfect and I will explain why.
I will start with the positives.
Location: Amazing space, ample room for all of the games, in addition to plenty of room to move around meaning very few lines. For a person like me flying in from halfway across the country it was close enough to a major airport and plenty of places to stay either at the show or within walking distance for affordable prices. Also there were lots of restaurants and stores within walking distance for anything you may need.
Games: There were an awesome number of games, far more than I have seen at other shows including expo....and to be honest the quality of games were far up from many other shows that I have attended. I believe the prizes that were given out for the games at the end of the show is a big motivator for collectors to come out and share, and they really were just awesome to see and play. There were plenty of vendors as well showing off parts, leds, mods, etc.....and many of them also brought games this is without doubt the strongest aspect of the show....and although this is my first year, the auction games being available for play the entire time was hugely beneficial to the show and it was awesome that Fun Amusements did that. Also wanted to note that although many games on the floor that were for sale were priced high, people did seem willing to negotiate and reasonable, saw lots of games change hands including I think 4 separate WCS, and 2 NGG.
People: From the Pinside Meet n' Greet to the random strangers from around the country I met, the show really had great people. As with any large gathering there were plenty of individuals there to possibly rub you the wrong way....but overall lots and lots of friendly people present to make the experience awesome. Our hobby is full of these individuals and it is a large part of what keeps me involved.
Stern, JJP, Spooky: All three manufactures had awesome showings at the event. I think the clear winner was Spooky pinball, and no secret I got in on AMH about 4 months ago and my game is getting near its build date, but they were able to sell 25+ games at the show. I don't think that Stern or JJP did that. however they had their games there....I got to play Whoa Nellie and the Hobbit. There were 4 Wrestlemania LE and several pro models available, without these companies putting those games out there our hobby wouldn't be as fun so I thank all of them. That being said I did pick the AMH in the tournament whenever I could, and I spent a lot of time waiting in line at their booth to play the game and just as in December when I ordered I am very excited for what is coming to me very soon.
Now with the negatives, and I don't want this to sound terrible, but honestly it was a pretty bad tournament experience and for those individuals who are organizers of the event I apologize, this is not meant to be a personal attack....I simply hope you can take it as constructive criticism and make improvements for the next years.
Tournament(s): Ok, a very large part of my desire to travel all the way to Texas was to play in the several tournaments that they offered. I am not a great tournament player by any means, but I do enjoy competing, and especially at such a large event with such great players. Unfortunately this aspect of the festival left and extremely sour taste in my mouth. On the positive side TPF did offer several different tournaments to meet the preferences of a broad group of players. There was a broad selection of games, and most of them were in pretty good shape.
On the negative side the tournaments were terribly organized and explained, they did not come anywhere near meeting the schedules as they had been described on the website, the technology/software that was used for scoring was comedically terrible, and overall it was incredibly sad to see such an awesome festival partially ruined for me by this aspect. The format as explained to me was designed to maximize points under the new IFPA system, but from what I can tell the qualifying format was simply chosen so that the tournament could maximize the amount of $ that flowed into it. At a cost of $3 per game, or $2.50 if you bought tickets in pairs, it was incredibly expensive to have to qualify on roughly 30+ games over the course of two days, for 5 separate tournaments, not counting the team tournament, the kids tournament, and the women's tournament.
My easiest and biggest example was the Texas Tilt (essentially modern dmd games) tournament. The qualifying was cut off at 4:30 pm yesterday, with the finals to start at 5:00. If you finished in the top 5 either day you knew you were in the finals as a top 10 seed. However, if you didn't finish in the top 5 either day they would add your scores from both days together and if you were in the next 30 highest scores you were then also in the finals. The problem here is you had no way as a player to see your scores or other players scores from the previous day so you had no clue if you were in the tournament or not. As of 5:15 the finals had not started, and I had not been notified that I had made the cut so I decided to go to dinner with some friends assuming I was out. I returned at roughly 7:15 and headed to the restroom, on my way there my phone rang and luckily two friends from the tournament were calling me to let me know that I did indeed make the cut and I was currently being called to play and they were about to forfeit my game. So roughly $60 in qualifying money would have been down the drain, luckily I made it in time and was able to put up a respectable finish in the tournament. On that note also, the 40 man bracket was incredibly difficult to understand who you were playing, and why and when was a complete mystery. This was again not posted anywhere public but instead just on one sheet of paper.
The next tournament I was to play in was the Texas Shout Out (other modern dmd bank). I qualified 5th the first day and therefore assumed I didn't need to play the second day. Turns out that they were still going to add those points from the second day and since I didn't play that bank due to already qualifying I automatically became the lowest seed in the top 10.....this could totally be my fault for misunderstanding, but again I have never seen any other tournament run this way. The qualifying was to stop at 7:30 pm last night (Saturday) with finals at 8 PM.......at approximately 1:15 AM we were finally told that the tournament would be postponed until 9 AM today (Sunday). So essentially what that means is I spent 7:15 PM (should have been 5 PM but I went to dinner since I didn't know I was in) to 1:15 AM sitting in the tournament area. During that time I only played 4 games of pinball. That is roughly a game ever 1.5 hours. I was told to stay in the tournament area meaning I didn't get to go and enjoy the 400+ pins on the floor for free play which I had paid another $60 for my full weekend pass.
I came to the event to play pinball, I understand during a tournament I will stand in line and wait, but the poor score keeping software and complete disorganization of the tournament resulted in me losing lots and lots of time when I could have enjoyed other free games at the show.
Lastly today during the final tournament the Wizard tournament, which I viewed as the big one for the show being the one to finish last....well it simply ran out of time. The A bracket was able to finish, but instead of allowing all of the B&C brackets to finish the proper way by playing head to head as they had in all of the other tournaments we suddenly were just told to play one game on Iron Man, and they would rank our finish by our scores....not by any of the scores that we spent lots of $ on during qualifying. Worst of all there was no communication or understanding between the tournament directors and volunteers. I was simply told that we were playing Iron Man to determine our seeds for the B bracket, it was only after my game that I was told by the tournament director that it was simply that score that would determine my placing and not my seed for any continued matches because I was just done now. Had I known this I would have played a bit differently.
Overall the impression I had was that the tournament(s) were far more than the tournament director was able to handle, he basically bit off way more than he could chew.
My suggestions for improvement are as follows, and with that being said they are simply suggestions.
1. You don't need two separate days of qualifying to stand as individual days, simply let people qualify for the two days as one continued event and high score over the two days is first...its as simple as that.
2. Don't establish cash prizes before the tournament, simply award % payouts based on what the tournament makes. I was left with the impression that this was a for profit tournament, and I don't think that should be the reasoning behind a pinball tournament.
3. Use software, or a spread sheet that actually functions. There were so many scoring malfunctions that I can't begin to explain. The volunteers did a great job of entering scores and working with what they were given, the reality is the software was just terrible. The website looks like it was built in 1998, and functioned just as well. I know there is plenty of other software available that has been used at tournaments, and especially PAPA events, hopefully you guys can get your hands on that ASAP. I know the hotel's wifi was blamed for a lot of the problems, but I had the same problems checking scores over my LTE and 4G connections, as well as on the wifi at my hotel, it was simply the software/website not being suitable for a large tournament.
4. If you are going to have a woman's tournament (which I think is a great idea) give them their own bank of games perhaps, or I dunno how about you actually make them fill included by having their scores viewable online as well. I spoke to several of the female players who were not happy with that, and I definitely agreed with how they viewed it as a slap in the face.
5. Trophies are great, I got to take home two, I like them....but they are not necessary. If part of the charging for two separate days of qualifying is to pay for the roughly 70+ trophies you gave out.....eliminate it. Make it top three finishers get trophies and thats it, we don't need them for B & C. Make it a real overall finish. Print a paper certificate for the rest.
6. Greatly improve your volunteers for score entry/data collection. The amount of time spent with players waiting for a score to be recorded was ridiculous. I have seen single tournaments with 1/5 the games you had available that have had more score keepers. Offer incentives, free tournament entry tickets, a shirt, a hat.....something. I truly appreciate all of those who volunteered this weekend, I just wish you had more support, and I hope that we as players treated you kindly and with respect.
7. Lastly more clearly label/define the different tournament areas for the tourney. Maybe run just two tournaments one day, and two the next, with a finale on the third. I've only run a few small tournaments, 30 players max, but I was sure to have my ducks in a row once I agreed to come on as director. I suggest those involved with planning for next years TPF and it's tournaments do the same. If I can be of assistance please let me know. I don't know that I will be back next year, but I can do my best to help from afar and I am sure there are plenty of other players who were there that are going to be willing to chime in at least based on what I was hearing as we stood around not playing pinball for hours on end.
Again, I understand that tournaments are hard to run, and I thank you for putting all these tournaments on this weekend, but please make improvements for future. The best advice overall is Keep it Simple Stupid (KISS, just like on CFTBL), do not over complicate something that there are already tried and true proven methods of success for in these tournaments. I'll discuss this on the next episode of The One and Done Podcast that I hope to record from the airport tonight after I finish watching Wrestlemania, that being said The Undertaker is about to come out so I am ending this. Had a great time in Texas, and again I apologize for the length and rambling of this post, and I strong recommend to any other hobbyist checking out this show.