World Pinball Championship hits Fort Myers, Florida’s Pinball Asylum

World Pinball Championship hits Fort Myers, Florida's Pinball Asylum

It’s like the Super Bowl of pinball. Or maybe the Indy 500.

David Denholtz, president of Fort Myers’ The Pinball Asylum, calls it both those things.

But whatever analogy you use, there are two things for sure about the IFPA World Pinball Championship: It’s a huge deal for competitive pinball players. And it’s finally hitting Fort Myers after two years of COVID cancellations.

The annual tournament has visited major cities all over the world, Denholtz says. Now Southwest Florida is getting a turn next week.

“It’s been in Toronto,” Denholtz says. “It’s been in Milan, Italy. It’s been in Copenhagen. It’s been in Las Vegas.

“And here it is coming to little ol’ Fort Myers, Florida.”

Previously:Eric Stone is a SWFL TV weatherman by day, a pinball wizard by night

Fort Myers’ new amphitheater:Everything you need to know

Sixty-four of the world’s top pinball wizards are flying into Southwest Florida for four days of competition at The Pinball Asylum — a private, nonprofit club filled with cool pinball machines and the people who love to play them.

They’ll be competing for $20,000 in cash and prizes, including the grand prize: $1,000 in cash and a $7,000 pinball machine from event sponsor Stern Pinball.

The 2022 IFPA World Pinball Championship comes to Fort Myers next week. Sixty pinball machines have been set aside for the competition.

The championship takes place May 26-29 and is closed to the public. But you can watch the competition livestreamed on Twitch, and there are also four days of public, pre-tournament events from May 22-25.

The competitors will be traveling from as far away as Australia, New Zealand, Finland, Denmark, Canada, Austria and Germany.

“They’re the best in the world,” says Josh Sharpe, president of the International Flipper Pinball Association (IFPA). “These people are the best in the world at pinball.”

What makes these pinball players great?

One of those top-ranked players, Eric Stone, won’t have to travel anywhere near as far as the others. He already lives part-time in Fort Myers.

The former WINK News and FOX 4 News meteorologist also happens to be a world-class pinball player. He was ranked No. 1 in the world last summer, but has dropped to No. 29 after taking a demanding new job in Tampa and not having as much free time to compete in tournaments.

TV weatherman Eric Stone, formerly of WINK News, participates in a weekly league tournament at The Pinball Asylum in Fort Myers in 2019. He'll return to Fort Myers next week to compete in the 2022 IFPA World Pinball Championship.

Stone —who divides his time between Fort Myers and Tampa — says he can’t wait for next week’s tournament. But he won’t be doing any practice before the competition.

He never does.

He’s been playing pinball and racking up high scores since he was 4 years old and his mom bought him a pinball machine to help his hand/eye coordination.

“I started playing pinball as a little kid, just like Tiger Woods played golf as a little kid,” Stone says. “And I really believe that you develop extra-special skills when you do something as a very, very small child.”

Playing comes easily to Stone, he says. “I don’t practice — at all. The only time I practice a machine is when I don’t know the rules of a game and I’m trying to figure a strategy out.”

A lot of things separate the world’s top-ranked players from the rest of the pack, says Sharpe of the IFPA. There’s flipper accuracy. Ball control. Knowledge of each machine’s specific rules.

But more than anything, there’s the ability to perform under stress and pressure. It’s one thing to play pinball at home or in an arcade. It’s quite another to do it at tournaments.

“These people, when they have to perform — they perform,” Sharpe says.

Sharpe is competing, himself, next week. And he looks forward to testing his pinball skills against some of the world’s best players.

“It’s a challenge to do better than they’re doing,” he says. “It’s tough for me to turn the competitive juices off.

“Seeing someone play well, and then going up and playing even better — there’s no better feeling than coming back and beating someone that way.”

The Pinball Asylum readies its games

Meanwhile, The Pinball Asylum is preparing its 5,000-square-foot venue for the big event. That includes cleaning and waxing the games so the balls zip around faster, and further boosting the difficulty by doing things like taking out the extra balls and jacking up the machines’ back legs to make them steeper.

The 60 pinball machines set aside for championship — half of the Asylum’s private collection of about 120 machines — all have to play perfectly, Denholtz says.

“Pinball machines are very complex,” he says. “There’s hundreds of light bulbs, hundreds of switches, and all of those have to be working.”

The Asylum’s well-maintained collection of pinball machines was the biggest reason the IFPA decided to hold the championship in Fort Myers, Sharpe says. This is the first time the championship has come to Southwest Florida.

There aren’t many places in the world that have enough good-quality pinball machines for the tournament, he says. The Pinball Asylum is one of them.

“We need the games, right?” Sharpe says. “We need a place that has enough games to be able to accommodate us. … We go where the games are. That’s it.”

The 60 games set aside for the competition — only 48 will actually be used in tournament play — represent a mix of new and classic pinball machines, including electro-mechanical games from the ’60s and ’70s; newer, higher-tech games like “Avengers: Infinity Quest”; and rare games like 1982’s “Warlok,” one of only about 400 made.

“Real players, aficionados know that game,” Denholtz says. “It’s a cool game.”

The Pinball Asylum already hosts regular events, including casual, monthly league get-togethers and less-frequent, more-competitive tournaments (which draw players from throughout Florida and beyond). But this is the first time the venue has held a state or world championship, and the club’s members and players couldn’t be more proud.

For Denholtz, the championship represents everything The Pinball Asylum has been working toward since opening in 2011 in the second floor of a south Fort Myers warehouse. It’s a labor of love for Denholtz, the Asylum’s board of directors and its club members.

“It’s kind of a culmination of all the hard work we’ve put into it,” Denholtz says. “If we closed right after this, we’d be fine, because we put on the biggest pinball event in the world.”

Connect with this reporter: Charles Runnells is an arts and entertainment reporter for The News-Press and the Naples Daily News. Email him at or connect on Facebook (, Twitter (@charlesrunnells) and Instagram (@crunnells1).

If you go

What: 17th annual IFPA World Pinball Championship (also known as IFPA17)

When: Pre-tournament events take place Sunday through Wednesday, May 22-25, including a two-day match-play tournament (May 22-23) and a strike tournament (May 25). That’s followed by the Epstein Cup tournament on Thursday, May 26, and the main championship Friday through Sunday, May 27-29.

Where: The Pinball Asylum in south Fort Myers. Email to register and get the address for the private club.

Admission: Spectator admission for the pre-tournament events is $15. Advanced registration is required by emailing Pre-tournament competitions will feature about 50 top-ranked players from around the world, but they’re also open to other competitors (pending approval and space availability). Competition fees vary.

Live broadcast: The live broadcast takes place Thursday through Sunday, May 26-29. To watch, visit Twitch at It’s free to watch. or

Avi Adkins

Avi Adkins is a seasoned journalist with a passion for storytelling and a keen eye for detail. With years of experience in the field, Adkins has established himself as a respected figure in journalism.

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