In a few firsts, the city will host the sixth state championship, and five of its 24 competitors will be from the region.
Twenty-four competitors will be traveling to Eugene for the first time later this month to become Oregon's wizarding pinball champion.
And, in another first, five of these candidates will be from the metropolitan area of Lane County.
This is a major blow for local pinball enthusiasts who are working to establish a distinct identity for Portland, the mecca of the national pinball and home of the first five national championships. In 2017, the Willamette Week determined that the city of Rose City housed 722 pinballs, more than any other American city.
"It's rewarding because we work a lot, but we know that people really love what we do," said Matt Walton, co-founder of Emerald City Pinball and one of five local qualifiers .
The catalysts were Walton and Mira Mason-Reader, the other co-founder, who formed the league in 2017. They were sanctioned by the International Pinball Association Pinball, which strives to strengthen the team. exposure to pinball as a legitimate competitive sport. The couple, who both grew up playing pinball with their parents, moved to Eugene after spending a year in Ireland.
The league now holds two seasons a year, one in the winter and one in the fall, with up to 45 people competing, Walton said. It provided the structure and competition needed to make it easier for local players to qualify for the state championship.
"It's a huge task for any city outside of Portland to compete for the prestigious Oregon State Championship squares," said Josh Sharpe, IFPA President. "Eugene deserves all the credit in the world for the growth of the number of players and the base of events, in order to mark his own star on the Oregon pinball card."
The national championship will take place at Blairally Vintage Arcade in the Whiteaker neighborhood starting at 7 pm on January 19th.
The championship is a single elimination tournament in which, each round, two players face each other to be the first to win four games according to a high score. The top eight qualifiers receive a pass in the first round.
"I think all qualified people could win if they had a good day," said Hayden Harker, a resident of Eugene, another local coach. "I'm also a little nervous."
Even before the formation of the league, the local pinball scene had grown in recent years.
Previously, the only outlet for competitive players was a weekly tournament in Blairally, where a dozen players competed regularly to get money. Blairally and Level Up Arcade, located at 12th Avenue and Oak Street, are Eugene's two main hubs of pinball machines.
In 2011, Harker, a mathematics instructor at the University of Oregon who has been playing serious pinball for about 20 years, launched the Northwest Oh-Pin, a major tournament that draws dozens of competitive players into the city.
Then, at about the same time, Level Up and Blairally opened up a few months apart.
The owner, Chad Boutin, has launched the arcade, which includes a bar and restaurant, after the digital revolution has compromised the profitability of his commercial photography business. A friend had set up arcade games in the studio lobby and the company took off.
The arcade has about thirty pinball machines, which are rotated to make room for others that Blairally finds and repairs. He also has many old-fashioned arcade games such as Ms. Pac-Man and Centipede.
"We are determined to preserve the arcade games of all colors, we are looking for them on purpose, we find them half-destroyed and we rebuild them and make them again," said Chief Lambert, noting that Blairally was "super excited" to host the state championship.
Level Up's owner, Josh Docherty, said he had seen many players show up to coach at upcoming tournaments. The arcade has about 25 pinball machines.
"They will come in and say," Oh, we want to be good with this machine, "he said.
Docherty worked on computers for Apple and the University of Oregon before turning a hobby of pinball repair and arcade game machines into a business opportunity.
He loves how arcades, decades after their peak, always have the ability to bring people of all ages and all walks of life together.
"It's a community, it's inclusive, let's make everyone feel welcome," he said.
Harker said the league had helped bring Eugene's pinball community together, with players generally remaining in the arcade of their choice and rarely risking towards each other.
"It's the league that has brought each group to the other place," he said. "I think it helped to build the community as a whole … and make it a more coherent and bigger community."
The pinball has grown in recent years after being left for dead after the disappearance of arcades and thanks to the progress of home games on consoles and personal computers. IFPA reported that there were nearly 4,500 competitions and more than 55,000 players in 2017, compared with 500 players in 50 competitions in the world more than a decade ago.
The famous actor Jack Black, who seems to have made a foray into streaming video games, recently made a trip to the Pinball Hall of Fame in Las Vegas. The three-minute video on his visit published by YouTube last Friday was viewed more than 4.5 million times.
The pinball offers a counterpoint of rallying and socializing in an era of esports and ultra-high definition video games online, where competitors can be several hundred kilometers apart, said Walton. And Mason-Reader said Oregon's pinball popularity was logical because it is known for its hipster culture and blends well with another popular state activity: drinking beer.
In addition to the national title and $ 3,000 in prizes, the two dozen competitors will face off to try to qualify for the North American Pinball Championship, to be held in Las Vegas later this year. The reigning champion, Colin Urban, 16, of Portland, is currently ranked 52nd in the world.
In addition to Harker and Walton, the other local qualifiers are Darren Dorman, Brandon Rangel and Andy Stubbs.
Rangel works at pinball as an employee at Amusement Unlimited, a distributor who sells and rents arcade games, but does not have serious interest in gambling until there are more from one year. He won the NW Oh-Pin 2017, the first pinball tournament he entered.
Rangel said Walton had "insisted enough" to join the league and that he had qualified for the tournament at the end of last month after several other performances.
Having the tournament in Eugene and competing on the same machines that local players use regularly, definitely gives local qualifiers a field advantage, Rangel said.
"The more you get used to the machines in your hometown, the easier it will be to anticipate some of the most mechanically dependent game elements," he said.
And he says he's excited about the fact that he's considered one of the most talented pinball players in the state and that he has the opportunity to play against them for a title.
"Personally, I do not feel particularly good in pinball, but the results are not uniform," he said.