All eras of pinball at the SC State Championship

Throughout the year, players across the state compete for points towards the North American Championship Series (NACS) coordinated by the IFPA (International Flipper Pinball Association). Every IFPA tournament (big or small) played within South Carolina contributes points towards the top finishers’ rankings. In the 2019 calendar year, 250 players participated in 94 tournaments across SC. After all of the points were tallied, invitations went out to the top players to compete for the state championship and a spot in the North American Pinball Championship.

This year, the championship was graciously hosted by David and Sari Kitch. They supplied the space and the games for a well-rounded, competitive tournament. Our state director, Sarah Lindsay, sets the parameters for what is required to host the championship:

  • At least 3 each of EMs (older electro-mechanical machines), early solid state machines (the first to feature microchips), and modern machines (the fast-playing games with complicated rulesets put out in the past few years).

  • At least 12 machines in total.

  • Control of the playing space to give the competitors an area without distraction and with the games set on free play.

The requirement for a balanced set of games from all eras sets SC apart from the typical NACS competition. Dennis Kriesel reported on the breakdown of games across the states and provinces in his article, NACS 2019: A Game Analysis. In his sample from two-thirds of the competitions, EM machines represented only 6% of the field and Stern, Jersey Jack, Spooky and other modern manufactures accounted for about 39%, with the remaining 55% represented by older solid state machines. South Carolina featured 17 games with 5 EMs (30%), 6 early solid state machines (35%), and 6 modern games (35%).

Having this kind of variety means that the SC State Champion needs to have a well-rounded skill set. This also better matches the range of machines seen at large tournaments; Pinburgh in particular is notable for featuring multiple time periods from pinball’s history in each bank of games. SC players have the chance to play older machines at a few locations around the state, including at the Upstate Pinball & Arcade Museum and the Myrtle Beach Pinball Museum. The twice-monthly Fellowship of the Silver Ball events also features a great range of machines in events hosted in private homes around the Greenville, SC area.

This year’s competition featured dramatic comebacks, monster scores, and a highly skilled group of players. Some of these top competitors were new to tournament pinball within the past three years and that speaks to just how quickly the community has developed.

Many thanks to Dennis Kriesel for providing the inspiration for this article and for the NACS data. Thanks also to Sarah Lindsay and the SC Championship competitors for their contributions.