Hi, I’m Jon, or as many know me in the pinball world, Jonny O. I don’t know when people started calling me that but it’s a lot better than boring, old ‘Jon’. Thanks for visiting my little corner of the internet.
I first got hooked on pinball during the last great hurrah of the arcades in the early 1990s. My friends and I were extremely addicted to Street Fighter and played all over the bay area looking for opponents, but there was something just a little different about pinball. The first time I saw Battle the Power on Twilight Zone my jaw dropped. It was one of the coolest things I’d ever seen.
Above: Winning a pinball trophy made out of beer cans, SF 2011. (Had to throw it away because it started attracting flies)
Unfortunately, as arcades closed up I saw fewer and fewer pinballs and I forgot about pinball for over a decade. On the rare occasion I came across one, I realized just how much I missed it.
That was until late 2008 when I saw a poster for the Pacific Pinball Exposition. I had just missed it! But I did some googling around and learned the same place that produced the show had an arcade in Alameda. Could there actually be something fun in Alameda? On Friday night I went to check out The Lucky Ju Ju and immediately knew I’d be spending a lot of time there.
Later that year I found another place: Playland-not-at-the-Beach. I became a regular, and liked the place so much I wrote an article for pinballnews.com about it. One day, Richard Tuck (the owner), asked me what I thought about Playland hosting a pinball tournament. I said it sounded great. He immediately shot back, “Great! What do you need to run it!” And just like that he talked me into it.
The Battle at the Beach – my first tournament
Above: Running a tournament at the Stork Club in Oakland, with Andrei Massenkoff (right)
In 2009 I went to my first pinball show: Pin a Go Go. The following year I volunteered in the Playland not at the Beach booth and covered the show for Pinball News. In 2011, I convinced the organizers to let me run a tournament, which was a great success and raised a little money for charity.
That was also where I met Damien Charletty who was playing in his first tournament. Damien went on to found the Capitol Corridor league and is now a highly ranked competition player. He reminds me from time to time: “This is all your fault.” He co-ran the tournament with me at Pin a Go Go in 2012 and 2013. In 2014, Tom Collins took over the tournament, taking it to new heights with over 130 participants!
But back to 2009, my friend Molly Reisman introduced me to Martin Ayub, the editor of Pinball News and an extremely talented player. That led to the aforementioned Playland article as well as about a dozen others. As my involvement in running tournaments grew, Martin gave me tons of valuable advice , including all the different ways they could go wrong! He’s run dozens of them, if not over a hundred.
My friend Molly Reisman ran a benefit and I made some posters and plaques.
Around mid-2010 I started a crowd-sourced pinball map. It was a slow day at work and I was thinking about what someone had told me at the last league night: that it was too hard to find pinball games and that’s why not many people played them. I made a google map of all the locations I knew and then asked other league people to chip in. It quickly grew to about 150 locations and 20 collaborators. Around three months later the Portland people contacted me and we joined up. Now we have over 200 locations and over 400 machines listed, and maybe the coolest part: mobile iPhone and Droid pinball locator apps.
In 2012 I handed off primary responsibility of the pinball map to Eric Wagonsonner. Eric is fearless in scouting out pinball locations. He’ll brave any Leather or Mexican Biker bar in San Francisco. Eric was finding pins in places so sketchy I briefly considered adding warnings to the location descriptions.
Winning Novice at CAX 2010
In 2010 a player named Mads Kristensen from Denmark came to visit the Bay Area for a year. Mads was the Danish Pinball Champion, and he had boundless energy and charisma. With so many pinballs in the bay area he was an excited kid, and gave the local competitive scene a shot in the arm. Don’t ever get into a car with Mads behind the wheel, though.
After seeing the “How to play pinball” session at California Extreme in 2010, I liked the idea, but felt I could improve on the execution, so Mads and I collaborated on a “How to Play Pinball” seminar for the Pacific Pinball Exposition. We used an overhead camera/projector setup so everyone could clearly see what was going on and we had the audience come up and try the moves themselves for a chance to win prizes. And even though neither of us were “pros”, I shot some video of a real pro for the seminar.
After each of the show’s seminars, the audience was surveyed. We later learned we got the best feedback of the show.
Mads and I giving our seminar in 2010.
The seminar repeated in 2011, and in 2012 I did it one last time with Dylan Eichenbaum taking Mads’ spot. A few months after the 2012 show, a player at league night told me the seminar inspired him to get into pinball seriously. He’s bought 20 games since and now routes about a third of them in San Francisco!
Also in 2010, a member of the PAPA crew named Dave Baach suggested I start a blog because I frequently posted interesting or odd things about pinball in the news on rec.games.pinball. Dave and I later co-ran the Tournaments at the Pacific Pinball Exposition in 2011. That was a ton of work and we were both exhausted afterward! But another nice outcome from that event was I met Per Schwarzenberger who won the novice division playing in his first tournament. He’s since attended many tournaments and started a league of his own in San Francisco.
Above: Dave, left.
In late 2011 my friend TJ Beyer put four machines at a new bar called Vitus in Oakland. I decided I’d had enough of the big show tournaments for the time being and started focusing on the local scene.
For most of 2012 I ran tournaments twice a month at Vitus. This was a great arrangement: the bar kicked in with free food and drink, TJ always took care of the games and I just had to show up and run the event. The tournaments were popular enough that TJ added a fifth and then a sixth game. We even held an ACDC launch party, which was also our best turnout – 48 players on a Wednesday. Sadly, Vitus closed due to internal politics with the owner-partners.
In 2013 and 2014 I ran tournaments at Kimballs Carnival and Hi Life Pizza, among other locations. I also ran two more Launch parties for Star Trek and Metallica.
As of 2015, there are several people running tournaments and the whole thing has taken on it’s own life. I feel like my goal has been realized. When I started, I was “the only game in town” and now there are leagues all over the bay area and tournaments all the time. I certainly don’t take credit for all of this, but I’m glad I was a key part of it helping it along.
I’ve run over 50 tournaments but the best tournament to date was Pin a Go Go 2011. My goal was to run something laid back, social and fun, because that’s the vibe of the show. Nearly half the entrants were playing in their first tournament ever, and a first-timer named Dave Easterla, beat the “pros” to win the whole event, coming back from the last qualifying spot to win the finals.
Above: Since I’m a geek, I’m required to be at least somewhat into video games. I built this Street Fighter stick to play HD Remix on the Playstation.
I also like to cook, and circumstances allowing, I like to bring something tasty to make the tournaments a little more fun.
I’ve met so many great people due to my involvement in pinball: top players, collectors, artists, musicians, industry talent and of course, local enthusiasts. It’s been tremendously enjoyable and the feeling of nostalgia is as close as I’ll ever get to the carefree days of being a kid, where my only concern was how I could scrape together two bucks for some 7-11 Nachos and a few games of Street Fighter.