The deciding moment at the PAPA 20 World Pinball Championships – Carnegie, PA, USA

As event photographers you get to see a lot of things that you might not normally have access to.  That being said, this year I competed at the World Pinball Championships outside of Pittsburgh, PA.  I failed to make the cut in the A-Division (the top division), but as I watched the playoffs unfold, it was great to see history being made.  I switched from player mode into spectator, but my inner photographer came out and I decided to cover some of what was unfolding…

Competitive pinball is a scene most people probably did not know even existed, but at Orange we’ve got a few of us that are really into it.  There have been various world champions over the years, all men, and dominated mostly by someone who most would consider the GOAT of pinball, Keith Elwin.

This year, however, the final four included Escher Lefkoff, a 13-year old from Colorado, who’s father, Adam Lefkoff, is also a top tier player who made the playoffs as well, but was eliminated earlier. In the final four were two previous world champions, Cayle George and Bowen Kerins and it was Kerins that Escher faced in a dramatic tie-breaker for the championship.  

The final match was on Skateball, a Bally pinball machine from 1980.  Kerins chose the game and had to go first, so Lefkoff could see what was done before he had to come up to play each ball.  Pinball is similar to photography in that there are decisive moments happening all the time.  The key is to be able to know what to do when those things happen.

With pinball it’s a dynamic that’s ever changing and very fast paced.  When photographing pinball, one of the harder things is to know when something may happen and to be ready to capture that.  Since I was familiar with the machine they were playing, and the broadcast was being show on nearby screens, I could look out of one eye to see what was happening on the playfield and know when danger was present.  The body language of players can also indicate this so my positioning is also important – knowing where to be for a good vantage point.  

One restriction is to not be in the line of sight of the players so as to not distract them.  This limits the available angles, and no flash photography of any sort is allowed as well since that too can be a distraction.  That lends itself to my own style so as this final match was unfolding, I found a great vantage point that included some of the crowd, some of the banners of past winners in the rafters (including some of Kerins’) and an angle where you could see both Lefkoffs watching the play (and of course that unique PAPA carpet).  

As Kerins drained his final ball, it meant that Escher would win, and would not even have to play his final ball (a walk-off if you will, like in baseball).  That moment is what leads off this post, and is the type of moments I really enjoy capturing (you can click on it to enlarge it a bit).  

Below are a few more from the weekend and playoffs hopefully giving a bit of a glimpse into this world that I enjoy so much. (For the full gallery, click here)

The Classics bank of machines before the tournament begins on Wednesday morning.

A view of the PAPA facility that will be sold in Carnegie, PA.

Father and son in qualifying at the PAPA 20 World Pinball Championships – Carnegie, PA, USA

Robin Lassonde, the worlds top ranked woman competes in the playoffs.

The PAPA facility was open to play on non-tournament machines all weekend where people of all ages enjoyed pinball.

Bob Matthews attempts to qualify in the last minutes while the commentating crew broadcasts live.

Playoffs in the round of 16 featuring former world champion Andrei Massenkoff in the foreground on World Poker Tour, and Joshua Henderson behind him on Twilight Zone.

Bayless Rutherford won the C-Division and enjoys the fruits of his labor

Eventually everyone drains, as Phil Birnbaum does here during the playoffs of the Classics division on Friday.

Escher Lefkoff in one of this last games before he became a world champion.

Father and son rejoice!

The final hour at the PAPA facility where many stayed to close it down for one last time…