I've been avoiding this thread as I can't stand most prog rock but here goes:
Everybody has talked about the skills you need so I don't need to add to any of that. I'd just say be willing to try these skills out while practicing, and work that stuff in very quickly into your competition play. What's the point of buying a new vette if you are just gonna keep it in the garage?
One thing I'd offer is don't be afraid to think for yourself. Competition pinball is absolutely filled with people who only play the game how "they are supposed to." That is they'll hear about a strategy, and they'll copy it. Pinball players all copy each other, and they don't want to look stupid by playing the game their own way.
If you hear that the only way to play X-files is by banging the cabinet and playing in multiball, that isn't necesarilly so. I did pretty well in buffalo playing for Modes, and so did Tim Sexton. We both got over 11 million playing X-files the way your "aren't supposed to play it" and beat one of the top ranked guys in the world Robert Gagno who was playing it the way you are supposed to. In fact I screwed up my final 4 match by decided to go the multiball route, for no particular reason. Wasted my first ball - still did enough to barely beat the #1 player in the world Zach on that match, playing it "the wrong way." There's usually tons of ways to play a game, and for whatever reason, most people are convinced that they have to "play it like Elwin" or do the "Cayle strat" or they aren't gonna win.
I got news for you, you aren't Cayle or Elwin and what works for them might not work for you.
The other thing I'd say is pay attention. I learned more in losing one match to Ray Day at pinburgh than I did in the previous two days of beating people. I learned that I needed to shed on my drop catch - a month later this paid off huge in Buffalo. If you are playing in a match against a good player, even at a bar, don't F around with your phone the whole time. Don't double dip and go play another game because the guy you are playing with is having a good ball. Watch these guys play and see what you can pick up. A lot of people I know think that if they just play a shitload of pinball, they'll get better, and that's not so. Yeah it helps you make a big jump from scrub to competitive all-around player, but it's not gonna take you next level. You need to work on your skills and identify what is working and what isn't, and think about how you can get better. I have a lot of friends who are good players but haven't improved in 2 years. That shouldn't happen. Unless you are Cayle and Elwin.
And while I'm at it, get off the dicks of guys like Cayle and Elwin. They are great guys and good players. But they are just like you - slobs who like to hang out in bars and play pinball. There's no reason you can't get better and compete with them. there's no reason if you draw them at pinburgh, you have to assume you are gonna lose every match to them. There's no reason you have to try to copy everything they do and not come up with your own ways to play the games and win. I have one friend who is so in awe of these guys and so on their jocks it's ridiculous. You think some utility player on the Nats sucks up relentlessly to Bryce Harper? I doubt it. We're all pinball players.
Quoted from Frippertron:
I watched a Bowen tutorial a while back. I think it was Fathom. He said on that game he didn't feel comfortable EVER taking a shot while the ball was still moving. He also said the difference between a player that is getting good to a player that is good is their willingness to forgo the desire shoot the moving ball, every shot other than bail out type shots should be taken from a position of complete control. Food for thought.
Again, for many players, yes. For Bowen, yes. You know how I like to play AFM? On the fly a lot of the time. Back to Buffalo...Robert Gango spent his entire Total Annhilation cradling, trapping, separating, stopping, and repeating. He got around 500 million. I spent mine shooting on the fly, getting into the groove, nailing shots. I ended up with 2 billion. I like to control when appropriate, and shoot on the fly when appropriate. It's more fun for me, and it works for me. I see guys all the time who try to play like Gagno but just don't have the same control and skills. they are always losing their balls on trap separations, and wasting time during multiball when the ball save is still lit not bothering to shoot at jackpots, instead trying to find zen-like control. Find your own style and embrace it.
That's all I got from you from the 3rd floor. Maybe some guys in the top 20s will have better advice!