Michigan Pinball Expo returns for fifth year

Stephanie Sokol and Stevie Thieda for The Pit

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Five years ago, John Kosmal started the Michigan Pinball Expo to unite local pinball machine collectors, and increase the sport’s popularity among people of all ages.

“The idea behind it was, we had a bunch of collectors in the area that were into collecting pinball machines,” Kosmal said. “We just wanted to get everyone together, to do a show for the public and try to build the hobby, the sport– get people playing pinball again. Because to be honest, people 20-years-old and younger really haven’t seen pinball machines around.”

Since then, through social media and word of mouth, the event has grown and evolved.

With more than 110 machines from the Brighton Arcade, Marvin’s Marvels and Kosmal himself, the expo offers patrons the chance to enjoy more than 57 hours of game play this weekend, in a fun environment that brings back the love of the game.

“We want this to be a family-friendly event,” he said. “We want people to bring their kids and experience the things that they experienced, whether it was in the 60s, 70s, or 80s. We have old women coming in, saying they used to play it with their dad, or grandpa.”

“It’s really something that touches all ages, because pinball’s been around with flippers since 1947, but it’s been around since the 1800s, so pretty much everybody alive has probably played or seen a pinball machine at some point– there’s nobody older than pinball.”

The Michigan Pinball Expo hosted Oakland University's Oakland Center, is in its 5th year. Photo/STEPHANIE SOKOL

The expo gives people access to antique games dating back 50-70 years, including the 1947 Humpty Dumpty, in addition to wood-rail games from the 50s and 60s. While there are a lot of vintage machines available for play, there are also newer games to try, like this year’s Ford-sponsored pinball that projects onto a screen above.

Doug Schildercrout and Mike Herr are two Ford employees who have been coming to the expo every year after seeing a poster at work advertising the event.

Not only did they come to the expo this year to try out the Ford Mustang pinball machine, which just-so-happens to be the newest pinball machine on the market, but they also came for their love and appreciation of the game itself.

“There was a time period in the 90s when all of the good machines were made- the newer ones aren’t as difficult,” Herr said.  “We come here to play on a wide variety of machines that usually work very well.”

Another draw to the expo is the competition. Kosmal said the constantly-evolving show brings people from around the world to compete in the daily and main tournaments, which offer cash prizes of $500 and $1,000 for first place at the different levels.

“I’ve been playing pinball since I was a kid,” said Sean Pitzer, a Troy, Mich. resident.  “The tournaments are fun since they are based on skill, but I’ve never won any money from them.”

Parker Thomas, from Commerce Township, has been a part of the expo every year.  He helps fix as well as maintains the machines.

“What I like about pinball is that it’s still a physical game, unlike video games,” Thomas said.  “That being said, the machines need a lot of maintenance.  They need to be cleaned about once a week and the rubber parts have to be replaced frequently.”

Marco Specialties is a company based out of South Carolina that travels with the expo, selling general parts to collectors who may want or need to improve the appearance of their pinball machines.

Company representatives have the ability to take orders and send out products directly from the expos, since they tend to draw crowds from all over the world.

“Its fun to educate people on pinball,” said company representative Brennan Smith.  “Many people still don’t know that (the machines) are still being made today.”

While Texas has drawn one of the expo’s largest crowds, the Michigan show has proven to be smaller in scale, with a more personable environment– providing a great pinball experience.

“Pinball just has a randomness to it that you can’t program,”  Kosmal said. “It’s physics and geometry gone wild. Video games are programmed, you can find programs, then you throw the cartridge away because you’re bored with it. But with pinball, there’s guys that collect games that are older than they are. There’s randomness to it– no two games are ever the same. No two machines are ever the same. Everything’s different, the sounds the lights, the scoring the strategy. Video games are checkers, while pinball’s chess. You can develop different ways to play the game. In pinball there are no patterns, if anything there’s just total chaos.”

The Expo continues Saturday, April 5 until midnight,  and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Oakland University’s Oakland Center. Tickets are $20 for 16 and older, $15 for age 4 to 15, I.D. required at the door. For more information about Michigan Pinball Expo, check out their website, follow them on Twitter and Facebook.

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