GORHAM — For 16 pinball aficionados, there was no better way to spend a frigid Saturday than competing to become the state’s pinball champion.

For hours the players paired off in best four-out-of-seven game rounds to determine who would qualify as the state’s No. 1 pinball player. The winner gets $100 and a trophy – and also qualifies to compete against 34 other state champions at the International Flipper Pinball Association’s World Pinball Championship in Las Vegas on March 17.

“Come on, let’s go to Las Vegas,” said Jake Erskine of Portland, a league member who laid out the ground rules to competitors at Saturday’s state championship.

Erskine is getting his wish: Even though he finished second to Mike Haycock of Windham, Erskine will go to the international championship after Haycock declined the opportunity. Erskine’s wife, Theresa Nessel, will go to the women’s championship based on her results in tournaments over the past year.

The state championship, sponsored by the New England Pinball League, took place in Gorham at the home of John Reuter, whose basement and garage house dozens of pinball machines, with names such as The Diner, Dr. Dude and The Shadow. The machines emit strange beeps and bells as players hunch over them trying to eke out more points than their competitors.

The event was streamed over the Internet at watchmcg.tv by Maine Competitive Gaming owner Marc Patenaude of Portland. He said about 25 people were watching the championships Saturday, compared to the several hundred who will tune in to watch people play the competitive video games he also makes available.


The pinball craze peaked about 60 years ago, but the games have made a comeback in recent years after falling into decline with the advent of video games. Many of today’s older players honed their skills at pinball arcades where they could play for a couple of quarters.

The International Flipper Pinball Association now ranks 38,000 players around the world, about 9,900 of those in the United States.

Pinball is a passion that not everyone understands, said Leo Paquette of Lisbon Falls. He was introduced to the game a year ago by his brother. “Now I am hooked,” he said.

Paquette said other family members do not understand why he willingly drives far away to play the game for hours at a time.

Erskine said there is something addictive about the game, which he started to play about six years ago. Nessel, his wife, is the 23rd-ranked female in the country.

The state championships can be grueling. Good players can keep a game going for a half-hour, and when they’re evenly matched, each round can last more than three hours. A championship can easily run eight or nine hours.


“This can take a long time,” Erskine said.

Eric Schmersal and Michael Litalien, both of Rumford and members of the RumMex pinball league, competed against each other in the opening round.

“He is good and I am going to use this strategy to get him out of the game. I want to get into his head,” Schmersal said.

“Good luck, buddy,” Litalien responded.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.