Mesquite, Nev. – An Olympic sport it is not, but the game of beer pong now has something that connects it to the world of athletics: a world champion.
Officially called The World Series of Beer Pong, 85 teams from across the continent convened in the deep outskirts of Las Vegas from Jan. 2-6 in hopes of claiming a $10,000 prize. Incidentally, the competition turned into a makeshift beer pong convention as players compared notes with fellow connoisseurs, modeled their favorite novelty beer T-shirts, boasted tastefully tasteless names (“Backdoor Equals No Babies,” “Off With Your Mom”) and drank their fair share of 120 kegs. In the midst of all the hops and barley lay a competition rife with tremendous skill (some players were estimated to have hit 60 percent of their cups), defensive passion, unique styles and – perhaps most shockingly – sportsmanship.
Team France, 2005 University of Michigan graduates Jason Coben and Nick Velissaris, proved to be the most precise ping-pong ball tossers at the event, losing just three times in 18 games. Using a style more similar to shooting a finger roll layup than a jump shot, a cocky and increasingly inebriated Coben played the foil to his calm and collected partner Velissaris.
After Team France sunk its final ball against runner-up Team Slippery Fetus, Coben and Velissaris shared a fratty embrace. Velissaris sported a grin that suggested he could have cared less, while Coben exclaimed repeatedly, “We [expletive] did it!”
When asked what he was going to do with his share of the $10,000, Velissaris simply replied, “I’m going to pay my rent,” while the more ambitious Coben conjectured he might start a new business.
In its first year, the World Series of Beer Pong drew men and two brave women aged 22-37 from across North America. New York, Virginia, Iowa, New Jersey, Arizona, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Missouri, South Carolina, Colorado, Ohio, Massachusetts, Texas, Florida and even Canada were all represented, some several times over. California produced the most participants, including a group of seven UCSB seniors. David Backens and Drew Hoekstra of Team Isla Vista carried the group, garnering an 8-3 record in pool play to earn the #9 seed in the final day’s 32-team double-elimination tournament. The Gauchos were unable to get past the Baltimore Solo Sinkers in the loser’s bracket, losing by a one-cup margin.
A group of ten young men from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) constituted the largest portion of the crowd in attendance, as well as the loudest.
“We drove 28 hours for this, nonstop from Milwaukee,” UWM senior Matt Salmon said. “When we found out about this, we knew it was our calling.”
Salmon and the nine others in attendance have played in a beer pong league for three years now and even started their own website in celebration of the game.
Brothers Greg, 29, and Timothy Orth, 33, of Lancaster, Pa., said they have been playing the game for 17 years now, and though they don’t play as much as they used to, they believe they are just as good as anyone in the country.
“I actually thought there was going to be some better teams out here. I really thought there were going to be some no-miss teams out here,” Timothy said.
Also in attendance was former UCSB track star Trent Bryson, a 1998 graduate currently residing in San Diego. Bryson, now 26, never played beer pong in college, but he suspects a similar game led to the affinity he acquired for the game as a post-graduate.
“We played caps (instead of ping pong balls, beer caps are thrown into a cup) in college,” Bryson said. “All those skills really transferred over, so I was a natural when I first played Beirut.”
Pressure? What Pressure?
Though Tracy Dyer and Jeremy Lauthers of Team BOHICA were listed to be from Toledo, Ohio, their home for the 15 months prior to the tournament was the deserts of Iraq. There, the two served as captains in the U.S. Army, seeing combat on several occasions. On a reconnaissance mission last August, Dyer took three bullets to his upper right arm and shoulder, which was – and still is – his throwing arm.
“Yeah, this is certainly a world away from Iraq,” Dyer said. “It’s nice to be able to come to something like this with a bunch of people who share the same hobby as you do and just forget about everything else.”
Sure enough, Team BOHICA advanced to the final day of the tournament along with 31 other teams. Dyer, who insists on a bouncing technique, made the lion’s share of his team’s cups and carried the duo to the round of 16 in the winner’s bracket before dropping to the loser’s bracket and eventually out of the tournament after a less-than-tragic one-cup loss.
“It’s disappointing, but it’s just beer pong, after all,” Lauthers said. “We had fun.”
Too Legit to Quit
Despite concerns from others over the legitimacy of the event, Bpong.com co-founder Duncan Carroll’s brainchild materialized just four months after its conception. Christian Adderson, head of event marketing at the Oasis Resort & Casino in Mesquite, Nev., approached Carroll after visiting Bpong.com with the idea of hosting an event of a larger scale than the ones Carroll was used to organizing in Pittsburgh bars.
Carroll, 24, along with Bpong.com co-founder Billy Gaines, visited Mesquite in August to finalize the deal to bring the World Series of Beer Pong to the Oasis. From there, Carroll’s next task was to find sponsors for the tournament. He found a few, even convincing a Las Vegas Coors Light distributor to sign on.
“They were all for it. They saw that we were limiting the games to one beer per person per hour and they jumped on right away,” Carroll said.
After day one of the World Series of Beer Pong, Coors Light’s national headquarters got wind of what its local distributor had latched their name onto and pulled the company’s sponsorship of the event, forcing Carroll to cover up all the Coors Light logos with “It’s Mesquite!” bumper stickers.
“They’re very worried about their image, understandably so,” Carroll said. “They have their markets. They’re in a defensive position – it’s not the safest thing in the world. I was actually surprised it didn’t happen earlier. To me though, it’s their loss.”
One contestant seized the opportunity for parody and placed one of the stickers over his Coors Light T-shirt.
Though not everyone was able to walk away with an oversized $10,000 check, most walked away with at least a half-drunk smile.
That the tournament didn’t end in a drunken brawl seemed to constitute a success in itself to most. Aside from a few instances of posturing, the mood of the tournament was lighthearted and enthusiastic.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” Adderson said. “My goal was for everyone to have a good time and enjoy themselves. The people I work for are very happy with the event and we look forward to being the home of the World Series of Beer Pong.”
Many players were impressed with the job Carroll, Gaines and Adderson did with the administration of the event.
“I think for the first year of this event, they did a terrific job. I think this is going to get huge,” Greg Orth said. “I think word of mouth alone will bring three times as many people here. For four months of work, they did a fabulous job.”
Adderson is intent on making the World Series of Beer Pong synonymous with Mesquite, a notion that sounded somewhat dubious to many participants who traveled across the heartland to get there.
“Obviously there’s a few things we can do better,” Adderson said. “Clearly we need more girls here, that would definitely add to the event so we’re going to work on getting more female teams here next year and more spectators.”
Chris Ehmann and teammate Justin Hanning of Lake Orion, Mich., thought Mesquite was a good beginning for the tournament, but that it should move on to a bigger stage.
“I think they should move it to Vegas, personally,” Ehmann said. “Mesquite just doesn’t have enough going on at night.”
As far as the future of the event is concerned, Carroll speaks as if the future isn’t even a question.
“This has gone beyond my expe
ctations,” Carroll said. “The sportsmanship displayed has been stellar. Next year, I think this is going to explode.”