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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Beer pong heating up as sport

    Twenty-two red cups, a couple ping-pong balls and an eight-foot table – these items belong at fraternities and house parties.

    And those red cups? They should be filled with Keystone Light. Right?

    Wrong.

    “”The actual sport of it, it’s blown up competitively,”” said Chris Gracia, whose career revolves around planning tournaments as founder of Fast Times Entertainment in Phoenix. “”People are driven to win those prizes, they’re driven to take the trips and go compete in these massive tournaments.

    “”The drinking aspect is kind of second, where it’s really taken a backseat to what the game used to be,”” Gracia added.

    Beer pong has evolved from house-party drinking game into a cutthroat sport, and its popularity is on the rise.

    Despite Arizona law regulating the amount of drinks bar customers can consume per night and thus, disallowing drinking games, the water-only tournaments have found success. Partial thanks can be directed towards the World Series of Beer Pong (WSOBP), a highly organized league that will play its fifth national tournament in Las Vegas on Jan. 1-5.

    The Tucson beer pong scene hasn’t witnessed the same explosion as in the Phoenix metro area, tournament organizer Richard Henderson said, but the community has grown nonetheless. Because of a tight-knit beer pong community, the Phoenix-to-Tucson connection has strengthened.

    “”We’ve had four tournaments down here, big tournaments, and Phoenix has won every single one,”” Henderson said. “”They’re just stupid good up there.””

    But up north, Gracia remains humble despite his city’s talent.

    “”In Tucson, they’re still having fun,”” he said. “”They do very well at our tournaments, but our guys get really hurt when they lose. I don’t know what it is, they get really upset.””

    While Gracia’s Phoenix tournaments occur five nights a week – sometimes Wednesday nights draw 40 teams to a single bar, he said – the Tucson scene has it’s share of talent as well.

    Tucson hot-shots Rusty Caldwell and Joey Fontes took the step from play-to-drink beer pong events to playing for large sums of cash.

    “”When you start beating people (at house parties) that think they’re good, you’re like well, where can we go from here?”” Caldwell said. “”You look at it like, well, we’re professionals now, whereas most people think it’s just a college fraternity game.””

    Not only is it a sport, but it’s a team sport, too.

    Like basketball or football, beer pong teams require chemistry, momentum and sometimes luck. Crowds gather, pressure builds and the calmest, coolest team usually comes out on top.

    “”The lights are all focused on one table. Just when you get all of the people watching you, you start to realize, ‘Wow,'”” Caldwell said. “”You get nervous.””

    Composure and confidence are key. For one another, Caldwell and Fontes focus on hitting their shots, but more importantly, it’s essential they restrain each others’ emotions.

    “”My teammate seems to get nervous before tournaments, so you’ve got to keep him cool,”” Fontes said, half-jokingly. “”It’s good to let him know it’s a close shot, even if he misses or something like that, he’s got to keep his head up.””

    And like other sports, beer pong involves technique.

    Whether players shoot with high arching lob shots or the more direct laser shot, consistency in any shot type equates to success.

    Yes, we’re talking about practice.

    Fontes and Caldwell used to practice every other day, but taking a break helps. Recently, they’ve been taking it easy, which has allowed them to feel mentally fresh.

    “”It’s like when you work out constantly for a couple months and then you stop, you rest for like a week or so and you go back into it,”” Fontes explained. “”Not only are you feeling just as strong as you were before you took that break, but you feel more rejuvenated.””

    League further
    legitimizes beer pong

    Not everything that happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.

    For whoever takes this year’s WSOBP championship, the experience will be forever etched in beer pong’s history books.

    “”It’s the most amazing thing you’ll ever see,”” Gracia said of the world series. “”They have two big screens with rotating statistics. It’s very organized; it’s set up very well.””

    How do teams reach the WSOBP?

    At $35 per team entry, Tucson bars sometimes shell out $1,000 to the winners for their low-key tournaments, Caldwell said. But that’s small potatoes compared to the $50,000 grand prize at the end of the WSOBP tunnel.

    To reach the finals, the league sets up satellite tournaments throughout the country, giving the last team standing an automatic bid to the tournament in Las Vegas.

    There, two days of preliminary rounds will weed out about 300 teams into 96 that will be out for blood in a final third day. Those teams get chiseled down to a 64-team, double elimination bracket until only one team remains standing, the WSOBP website says.

    And not only does the WSOBP, which labels itself the “”governing body of beer pong,”” organize the national tournament scene. They also have given the sport a uniform set of rules.

    There’s no more discussing or refereeing when it comes to any competition under strict league rules. In addition, the rules are made to undermine would-be confrontational players.

    “”In the year in a half that I’ve been doing this…I’ve never had a fight at one of my events,”” Gracia said.

    If only the same could be said about house parties.

    Without the need for game officials, tournaments can run a number of tables at the same time without controversy. For example, Gracia said the world series shed the no leaning rule, which allows players to legally shoot anywhere beyond their end of the table.

    “”You know, you can’t enforce the leaning rules, you can’t enforce a lot of the rules that are at a house game,”” Henderson added. “”With six, seven, twelve tables going on at one time, you actually have to have a judge at every single table and that’s sometimes not feasible.””

    Under the unified WSOBP rules, what was once a “”get-drunk fest,”” as Gracia put it, has become a legitimate sport. Having an ultimate goal and a set destination, the league brings beer pong players from across the nation together and does the same for the more local satellite tournaments.

    And as beer pong’s popularity spreads, the level of competition can only increase, the stakes becoming ever greater.

    Said Caldwell: “”The future of it is brighter than most people think.””

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