It’s been a few years since beer pong left the frat house basement for the greener pastures of neighborhood bars, pubs and regular tournaments, and this past weekend the favorite collegiate extra-curricular landed in full force on the Las Vegas Strip.
Offering a $50,000 grand prize to the pair of players to win the tournament, the fourth annual World Series of Beer Pong brought over 800 players to throw ping-pong balls at plastic cups during three days of competition.
In case you stumbled over that big number, here it is again - $50,000, and that meant serious competition, serious crowds and one ambiguous attempt at cheating the system to take home the all too serious cash.
In a very Vegas moment this Sunday afternoon at the Flamingo, somebody made an unfortunate misrepresentation. Two somebodies, actually. As the competition filtered down to the final teams from a starting crop of 414, a pair from Baltimore, Md. made an “unfortunate misrepresentation” when reporting the results from their previous game: They said they won.
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In most big dollar competitions, saying it doesn’t make it so. Imagine trying to claim you’d won during the World Series of Poker. A dealer, a handful of other players, plenty of fans and a slew of ESPN cameras would point out the discrepancy.
But over the course of the three-day WSOBP so many games were played (a guaranteed 12 per team over the first two days before any eliminations take place) that the tournament relied on an honor system to score the competition’s progress and decide who moved on to the third and final day of pong.
Much like golf tournaments in which players are trusted to report their own strokes, no referees watched over the more than 80 regulation tables set out across the ballroom floor. Instead, teams were asked to fill out a small sheet after each game, marking down the competing teams, the winning team and the number of cups they won by with a member of both teams certifying the accuracy of the stats with their initials.
It seemed to work smoothly … until it didn’t.
“A team had misrepresented the outcome of one of the games,” said WSOBP co-founder Billy Gaines. “Based on that misrepresentation that team ended up playing another team when they were really out of the tournament.”
While the offending team never explicitly admitted cheating, they did acknowledge their mistake, but only after they had already moved on to the next round and lost.
Gaines refused to speculate that the hefty price tag of the grand prize might have influenced the players to report a W where they should have had an L.
“I’m fairly confident that it was unintentional,” Gaines said Monday afternoon. “It was very unfortunate that there was a misrepresentation.”
However, tempers ran more hotly when the discrepancy was first discovered. Gaines and his co-founder, Duncan Carroll, addressed the pong players Sunday, announcing that the team had been banned for life from competitive beer pong and the WSOBP, and the players were escorted out of the ballroom by security guards.
To maintain the credibility of the entire tournament, WSOBP staff determined the game would have to be replayed – the actual victors of the misrepresented first game against the winners of the second. With a few grumbles the tournament picked itself up and moved on, a short while later awarding the winning team, Smashing Time, with an oversized check.
It seems that having left the basement firmly behind, beer pong is subject to some of the same risks as any high stakes Vegas game. Most of the time that translates to passionate play, but on occasion it can lead to the type of misrepresentation that stalled the tournament on Sunday.
Generally, Gaines emphasized, “The people that come to our tournament have a tremendous amount of respect for us and a tremendous amount of respect for the competition.”
Still, he added, “My dream is to actually have a guy with a handheld device at every table. Imagine if we could actually capture every shot – Did it bounce off the rim? Who shot it? Did they bounce it?”
Armed with those extremely detailed statistics, the WSOBP would be better protected against stumbles, intentional or otherwise. For 2009, however the slight stain could be banished with two simple steps – a call to security and a fresh glass of PBR.