Monday, July 15, 2013

More Golden Age Tournaments

Here's a summary of a few other major 1980s video game tournaments.

Putt Putt National Tournaments

Putt Putt $10,000 Pac-Man Tournament
             On of the earliest big-money national tournaments was the Putt Putt $10,000 Pac-Man Tournament in the summer of 1981. Local and regional qualifiers were held at Putt Putt Golf & Games locations nationwide to pick three finalists, who competed in Fayetteville, NC (Putt Putt headquarters) on August 30th to crown a champion. 17-year-old Steve Hair of Columbia scored 372,600 points, edging out Chris Johnson and Mark Spina for the $5,500 first-place prize. The tournament did well enough that Putt Putt announced that they would be offering over $50,000 in prize money in 1982 in a series of $10,000 tournaments. The tournaments ended up being only $5,000 tourneys rather than $10,000. The Centipede tournament took place in January of 1982 with the finals on January 31st. Finalists played a 20-minute game at their local Putt Putt locations with their scores being called in to Putt Putt HQ. Larry Henderson of El Paso won the $2,000 first prize with a score of 299,816. The Tempest finals took place on March 28th with Curtis Kidwell of Arlington, TX taking home the two grand, scoring 409,381 points in 20 minutes. A third $5,000 tournament was scheduled for later in the spring but it isn't known if it ever took place.

 1981 California State Championships
            The summer of 1981 also saw one of the earliest large-scale state competitions when operator Silco West conducted a California state championship. Silco West was a spinoff of Silco Vending, which had been formed in New Jersey in 1920. In 1981, Silco West was one of California's largest operators with over 400 locations in the state (many of them 7-11s, though other clients included Circle K, Denny's Alpha Beta supermarkets, and Winchell's Donuts). Earlier in the year, Silco had formed an in-house promotion department headed by foosball champion Johnny Lott. Their first program was a state video game championship with proceeds going to the Muscular Dystrophy Association (Lott and Silco president Clyde Love even appeared on the Jerry Lewis telethon). Qualifying rounds were held at over 300 Silco-West locations in southern California over a period of eight weeks. Each week, the two highest scores at each location were recorded on a poster and at the end of 8 weeks, the 16 high scores faced off in a five-minute playoff to determine who would go to the 64-player single-elimination finals at the Sheraton Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles on August 29th. The main event was a single-elimination Asteroids tournament with two three-minute games per match. Consolation events were held on Defender and Pac-Man. The tournament also included a celebrity event featuring the ubiquitous Matthew Laborteaux, star of Little House on the Prairie and probably the famous (and avid) celebrity gamer of the era. After taking on all comers in Missile Command (he lost only once in 3 hours), Laborteaux faced DJ Rick Dees in a celebrity match. In the finals, John Conley scored 24,170 points in three minutes to beat out Charlie Wells for the grand prize - an Asteroids Deluxe machine and airfare for two to the Atari World Championships in October. The tournament was promoted on local television programs, KIIS FM radio, and even had a spot on the Jerry Lewis telethon.

            A few months later husband-and-wife operators David and Marianne Davidson, hoping to repair the black eye the industry had received at the Atari $50,000 World Championships in October (see below), spent $60,000 of their own money to organize another California State Championship held at 200 Stop N Go locations with the finals at the Ramada Inn in Culver City on December 19 on Defender. Fifteen-year-old Jeff Davis won the contest and a new Defender arcade game.

1984 March of Dimes International Konami/Centuri Track & Field Challenge


            Held in spring of 1984, this tournament not only had the longest name of any tournament but it is considered history's largest arcade video game tournament with over a million contestants (800,000 in the U.S. and 200,000 in Japan). The U.S. Qualifying rounds took place from April 30 to May 25 at Aladdin's Castle and National Convenience Store locations (like Stop N Go and Hot Stop Markets). One qualifier from each of the 14 regions went to the four-round finals in Houston on May 26. Winner Gary West along with runners-up Phil Britt and Mike Mallory, travelled to Tokyo to face the top three Japanese finishers - Shinichi Takahashi, Akihiro Oozono, and 14-year-old champion Hideki Houchi . The three were put up at the Grand Palace Hotel (the event venue), given a two-day tour of the resort town of Nikko, and feted at a ceremonial dinner complete with Japanese performers. The presidents of Konami and Centuri were on hand for the main event, which took place on June 9. In the first round, players competed individually on each of the game's six events with Phil Britt winning four of them. The U.S. won the second round, in which each team was given twenty minutes to rack up as many points as possible, 220,000 - 140,000 (interestingly, the Japanese team played on cocktail machines while the US chose uprights). In the final round, each player played three games with only their top score counting. Using their "finger roll" technique, Britt and West finished first and second. All contestants won medals and loving cups and the US team got Seiko watches.


And here are some assorted pictures from other tourneys
First up, here's the winner of the 1974 Japan tournament I posted about earlier:
This wasn't a video game tournament, but here's Ken Lunceford, winner of the 1978 Bally Supershooter Tournament (billed as the first national pinball tournament).
Here's a picture from the Atari $50,000 World Championship fiasco:
Did you know that Billy Mitchell had a Siamese Twin? Here's proof from before the separation in 1984.

And here's another shot of the US National Video Game Team, circa March, 1984:
Houston Malibu Gran Prix Armor Attack Tourney - August, 1981
Tron World Championship - May, 1982
Captain Video Scramble Tournament - August, 1980
Stop N Go Krull Tourament, December 1983.

Easter Seals 10-Yard Fight Championship, August, 1984
First Annual Vs. Tennis Open, August 1984
Olympic Arcade Tricathalon - 1980

Not a tourney, but here's Craig Steele setting a record on Star Castle in 1981

Finally, here's an article from Vending Times about an all-but-forgotten attempt at an early attempt at forming a video game player's league


  1. OMG! I remember DeNure in that Madison WI article! He interviewed a few of us Village Lanes/Voyager I players for input/advice... 83-84, or so... Can't remember exactly. Yeah, he was a little strange...

    Good stuff. Neat site.


    1. Yeah, it looks like he was a bit odd, alright:

  2. oh yeah, the mural incident... haha!

    Do you know, and can you tell me PRETTY PLEASE, the date of the magazine issue with the DeNure clipping? Thanks, I would really appreciate any more info you have on this. I can't believe I bumped in to this!
    I love this type of research on the history of coin-op! Well done!

  3. I don't know where you scared up some of these photos (for example, I've *never* seen a single one from the Atari $50K Championship), but... well done !

  4. Super impressed to find this Blog! I am the Mark Spina mentioned in the first article about the Pac-Man Tournament and remember that summer of the game vividly!!! Reading this brought back tremendous the picture, I am the one just off center playing the game, wearing a shirt with the name of the company I worked for on the back. I cannot believe you actually found a picture from the tournament!!!

  5. I have one for you. I won the Silco West tourney at Great America in Ca on 7/2/83. I Still have the Defender I won, playing against about 400 people. 5 games, 3 minutes each. The scores combined.

    I have the poster from the comp as well if you would like a pic.

    I went on to get into the gaming industry, and make a few games:)

    I'm Ken Lobb, CD for Xbox Game Studios. But back then? KAL high scores on Defender, Robotron, etc, etc..
    Played arcades all around Phoenix 79-early '83, then Sunnycale Ca, where Sunnyvale Golfland was my fav arcade.

    Now? I miss the arcades, but I get to play basically everything on console, PC, handheld whatever, I'll play! :)

    1. That's excellent! Always happy to see the veterans out there remembering their time in the circuit well, and an industry alumni I know and respect to boot! I think anyone would love to see the picture.