I attended the $50K Hall of Fame Classic Foosball Tournament in Las Vegas for the first time in 2017. This is an introspective look at what foosball is to me and what it takes to say "yes" to travel to a big tournament. Anyone can do this. I invite even the novice player to consider an experience similar to what I went through in March 2017.
I've broken this post down into the following areas:
- Intended Audience
- How I Got Into Foosball
- Deciding on Vegas 2017
- The Prep
- Getting There
- First Impressions
- Stepping Up to a Table
- Event Structure
- So How Did I Do?
- So What's Next?
I'm writing this for two main groups of people:
The "Foosball?" group
You know who you are. You look at me with a raised eyebrow and question foosball as anything more than a fraternity drinking game around a table. You laugh at me when I talk about tournaments and practicing. You don't get it. That's ok. Please just don't judge. You don't hear when I say foosball has controlled passing and calculated shots making it a very physical and mental game. I invite you out to a table anytime. I want you to see what I see.
The Casual Foosball Players Who Want to Get Better group
You are reluctant to play beyond your office or home table. You think you are good. You may be. You rarely test yourself. You definitely don't grow as fast as you could. I'm telling you now - the only way to get better is to play people who are stronger than you. What you don't realize is that the strong people want to help you get better too. Come out and play. Check out Vancouver Foosball events. I know for a fact that the local pros will help you get better.
How I Got Into Foosball
Paul Grimes was on the first project team I joined at Microsoft. We became friends and I quickly learned he was into foosball. We convinced the office to get a Tornado Cyclone II table. We played every day with people around the office. It was obvious:
I was terrible.
But I also learned foosball was not about spinning rods at a ball. There is good technique which takes time and practice. There is also a mental game which is my favourite element to the game.
Paul convinced us (after many months of trying) to form a Microsoft team and enter the Seattle Foosball League. Basically once a week we would play one other Seattle team in a series of events. This was was my first exposure to games like:
- Forward Shootout
- Goalie Wars
- Four Man
- Two Ball Rollerball
These events were handicapped to make it very equal even though we were just a team of newbies with our ringer Paul who could shoot a good rollover shot from the three man. The rules were based on the International Table Soccer Federation standards. Games were very competitive and I learned there was a strategy component to the games as well. I experienced players passing and shooting faster than I could have imagined. I saw there was way more to foosball than I originally thought. I learned there were players even better than this. I wanted to be that good.
Deciding on "Vegas" in 2017
Over the years the better players I've met have always asked me: "Are you going to Vegas next year?" I always inquired as to what they meant. "Vegas" in foosball circles is a yearly competitive tournament that anyone serious about the sport (yes I said sport) comes out to compete. I thought about going every now and then but between work, meeting my wife, getting married, having kids, living overseas - just life in general - the time was never right or I felt selfish going to Las Vegas for just me and my foosball obsession. Plus if I'm being honest, I never felt like I was good enough.
Since moving back to North America, I re-engaged with foosball. I also became part of Vancouver Foosball hosting foosball events in the Vancouver area and helping players develop their skills and grow.
During the fall of 2016, my Vancouver Foosball partners Cam Burrows and Dylan Phuong asked me seriously if I was going to Vegas. I was feeling good about my skill level but found I was timid on committing. This was odd to me. My answer:
Through the remainder of the fall they would ask but I still wasn't committing. My wife Shauna was struggling to find me a gift for Christmas and announced with a huge smile that going to Vegas for foosball would be her gift to me.
Next, Faisal Rahman at work mentioned that if I went, he would go and we could partner on some events.
What was holding me back? It wasn't fear. Cam finally asked, "How many signs do you need to actually go to Vegas??"
I booked the next day. $50K Hall Of Fame Classic in Las Vegas 2017 - here I come! My first big tournament!!
I asked all kinds of questions as to what to expect from those that have been. I actually didn't get much but: "Drink lots of water.", "Don't stay on your feet all day." The more advice I got, the more I realized this event was more like a marathon. It wasn't about a single event but multiple events you sign up for over multiple days. So in the end, my prep consisted of practicing at work and walking to my local sports store to pick up some tennis wraps and a water bottle.
Tennis wraps are common in competitive foosball for grip and comfort on the handles. Players wrap between one and four handles. If you don't wrap, you can slip and miss execute a shot or pass. I'm used to players wrapping, but let me just say that EVERYONE in Las Vegas I played wrapped.
Since I decided late to actually commit and go, I had to be creative in getting to Las Vegas from Vancouver, BC. Faisal found a cheap flight from Seattle, WA so we agreed on that. I then had to get from Vancouver to Seattle (something that I do very regularly for work). It turned out that my best option was to fly down on Air Canada to Seattle at 8:40am. I was up at 4:00am due to excitement and anticipation. I didn't want to miss this flight! The good news is there were not many people up when I headed to YVR.
I also had to fly on a tiny plane to Seattle. I'm getting over some flying anxiety so this was me taking one for my foosball passion. Commitment!
I arrived in Seattle and met Faisal. We both laughed because we were both super tired. After a short wait we were on our way to Las Vegas.
We arrived in Las Vegas and took an Uber to the Flamingo Hotel which is where we were staying and where the tournament was held.
We checked into the hotel and dropped our bags off and headed straight down to the ballroom the tournament was in. I was planning to be overwhelmed, but to be honest I was ok. I was surrounded by people who were passionate about foosball and it was a friendly environment. We walked into the room and tried to register for multiple doubles and singles events. We were unclear what to do, but eventually got it taken care of by asking lots of questions. Everyone was very helpful.
The room had 61 Tornado T3000s set up for games.
When you register you get one foosball you use as part of the match.
The event had already been going for two days so we missed out on a couple of warm up events. The first event I registered for was Amateur Singles later in the evening. Faisal and I went to eat and mentally prep for our first competitive foosball match.
We came back and practiced on an open table for about an hour to warm up. Then Amateur Singles started.
Stepping up to a table
I'm not going to lie. I was nervous. I didn't know what to expect and "Amateur" was two levels higher than where I rate currently. I assumed my opponent was going to crush me. But something happened. I passed just liked I practiced. I calmed down after I saw that I could still pass successfully. I don't have a strong shot so I took my time on shots from the front and the back. I won my first match with two straight wins. My passing was strong and I used mental shots over speed. I just realized that I can do this!
The event is held over four days. You are given a rank based on where you are most competitive:
- 550-700 Beginner (<-- this was me)
- 701-1000 Rookie
- 1001-1500 Amateur
- 1501-2500 Expert
- 2501-4500 Pro
- 4501-6500 Elite
- 6501-up Master
The games are mostly singles and doubles tournaments for the various ranks. You can play in any tournament at or above your current rank. (This meant I could play in all of them if I wanted to!)
Tournaments were double elimination. There were a lot of players so some events had over 100 players!
Matches were best of three games. Each game was to five points.
When it was time for your match you would hear this over the speaker system:
Craig Cook versus Cam Burrows on table 23
Cook versus Burrows table 23
After your match is finished, it is the responsibility of the winner to report who won.
This type of setup allowed me to play in multiple tournaments at the same time. As a beginner, they offered a tournament package that let me pick six events to participate in. I chose seven events over two days:
- Beginner Singles
- Beginner Doubles
- Rookie Doubles
- Amateur Singles
- Amateur Doubles
- Expert Doubles
- Pro Doubles
Over two days even at two games per event minimum, that's a lot of foosball!
So How Did I Do?
Did I win? Did I win? Not even close. I came in 9th in both Beginner Singles and Beginner Doubles events. Faisal and I made a good showing in the others doubles events until we got to the Pro and Expert levels. Then we seriously got spanked.
The best matches Faisal and I had were ones we lost. I'm not kidding. A Beginner Doubles game where we were evenly paired with another team (Min! I'm talking about you!) came down to strategy where Faisal and I had to be creative against the other team while assessing our skills at the same time. It literally came down to the final ball. We realized we were a great team together.
The other most memorable game was against two expert level players. We got smacked the first game and regrouped. We won the second game. The third game we huddled. We knew we had no chance of winning Expert Doubles. But we were here, in this moment, and we had a shot to win this match. We gave it everything we had. We passed well. We shot well. This game, too, came down to the last ball. We lost, but honestly - we were elated. We played awesome. The expert team shook our hands and congratulated us on giving our all. They were impressed with our drive to win. They admitted they were nervous - we could have won. This match validated my coming to Vegas to compete. I cannot believe I felt this positive about losing - but it's true.
So What's Next?
So what is next? First I need a week off of foosball. I was bruised and bloody from just my two days at the event.
Seriously though, I have found a new drive. I want consistency in my game. I want to improve and frankly, I want to win.
Cam, Dylan and Ab have all recommended the following book to work on my personal mental game:
Purchased during my week of downtime
I need to find a consistent shot. I plan to play regularly at Vancouver Foosball Pro/Am Monday night tournaments hosted at 12 Kings. These are good for anyone wanting more exposure to the game. The pick up games after this event is where a lot of real learning happens. There is also a monthly Vancouver Am tournament that I will participate in more.
2017 is my year to focus. I will be back to compete in Vegas. This I commit to now. No more "50%"...
14 of us went to Las Vegas from Vancouver, BC in the end and we are all supportive of each other. The $50K HOF Classic held in Vegas was good for me and it was good for Vancouver Foosball.
A special shout out to Vancouver players: Victor, Jamie, Stevie, Cam, Dylan, John, Ab, Terry, Paul, John (#2), Jeff, Stanley and Faisal for supporting each other during the tournament.
For those that are just starting at foosball. For those that are good at foosball. For those that want to get better. This is my self reflective view of my experience getting more serious about foosball. Foosball is competitive. It is also a friendly environment. Everyone wants everyone to get better and they are keen to help. I've experienced first hand that foosball is accessible to anyone. Don't be afraid. Participate in your local foosball community. You will learn a lot and I'll see you at the tables in the next competition.