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Arts, Sports & Culture

Pittsburgh's Pinball Scene Is Flipping Awesome

Justin Wier
90.5 WESA
People attending the Replay FX Arcade & Video Game Festival play some of the 280 pinball machines used in the Pinburgh Match-Play Championship at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.

Pittsburgh is known for many things, including its bridges, historic inclines and three rivers.

But few likely realize the Steel City is also home to the highest concentration of internationally-ranked pinball players in the world. That’s right, pinball.

Pittsburgh is home to nine of the top 100 players ranked by the International Flipper Pinball Association. Next in line is New York City, which hosts eight players. 

Jon Replogle is ranked 22nd in the world, making him the highest-ranked player in Pittsburgh. He said having so many highly-ranked players in the city is great for practice.  

“You know the old phrase, ‘If you want to beat the best, you’ve got to play the best?’” Replogle said. “We have a lot of very talented players in town. We get to watch what they do and learn and adapt.”

The Pittsburgh Pinball League is one of the country’s largest, with around 200 players. The city also hosts the two largest pinball tournaments in the world. The PAPA World Championships are held in Carnegie, Pennsylvania each April and the sixth annual Pinburgh Match-Play Championship wrapped up at the end of July. And next month, the city will host the Pittsburgh Pinball Open.

“It’s viewed as the Super Bowl, really,” said Mark Steinman, director of operations at the Professional and Amateur Pinball Association. “It’s the biggest tournament ever held and nothing is even half as large.”

This past Match-Play Championship featured 700 competitors from around the world, playing on 280 pinball machines that filled the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.

Replogle said competitions like Pinburgh provide local players with an opportunity to assess their skills on an international level. 

"You get to play the best players in the world (as) an amateur player,” Replogle said. 

In addition to learning, Replogle said a player might even find out they can beat them — if only just once. 

“Luck has maybe an effect on a single ball,” Replogle said. “But it doesn’t have an effect over the course of quite a few games.”

With a third-place finish, Cryss Stephens was the highest performing Pittsburgher at this year’s Pinburgh tournament. His international ranking peaked at 7th, but recently he’s fallen to 28th, which he said is because he hasn’t been competing as much. 

Both Stephens and Replogle said the scene is worth checking out for any pinball-curious Pittsburghers.

“You gotta be here to believe it,” Stephens said.