Ephs ring in 2012 with global pong tournament in Sin City

For some, it’s an excuse to gulp down lukewarm Keystone, a frigid Friday night activity or a way to fritter away an afternoon during Winter Study.

Beer Pong
Zac Remillard ’12 and Luc Robinson ’12 were two of the 1000 competitors in the seventh annual World Series of Beer Pong. Photo courtesy of the National Beer Pong League.

But for Zac Remillard ’12 and Luc Robinson ’12, beer pong is something else entirely. In traveling to Las Vegas, Nev., this month to compete in the World Series of Beer Pong, the pair has taken the age-old common room favorite to a whole new level.

“We thought it was fake initially,” Robinson said, having heard rumors of the event. Naturally, they went to the Internet to find the answer, and there, in the glow of a laptop computer, they discovered something almost too good to be true: It was real. From that moment forward their desire to compete at the Series was a go-to topic of conversation. “The idea had been floating around for a long while and every night we saw each other we would talk about the fact that we actually wanted to go,” Remillard said.

The World Series of Beer Pong has been running since 2005. The event entices over 1000 players from 50 countries to pack their bags and head to the Flamingo Hotel in Vegas for four days of competition each year.

When the seniors finally registered and paid their $500 entrance fee in early December, the dream became reality. And, like all dedicated athletes, Remillard and Robinson committed themselves to a strict training regimen. “Every evening up through final exams we met up and played Ruit,” Robinson said.

While the rest of the world spent New Year’s Eve drafting resolutions and anticipating the ball drop, Remillard and Robinson were packing their bags and flexing their fingers, preparing for their first trip to Sin City. “It somehow came up in the bar where I spent New Year’s,” Robinson said. “People were whispering that someone here was going to the World Series of Beer Pong.  Everybody who heard about it either thought it was the stupidest thing they’d ever heard or the best idea.”

On the first day of the event, they arrived at the Flamingo Hotel, where they soon encountered swarms of other competitors.

“Everybody stays at the same hotel for liability reasons,” Remillard said. “So you have about 1000 people staying there who specifically came to Vegas to play beer pong. Just think about that. It’s a rowdy crowd.” Despite a shared interest in the sport, the participants spent that first day sizing one another up.

The pair began competition bright and early on their second day in Nevada, reporting to the main floor at 10 a.m. “It was humbling,” Robinson said, almost blushing. “I hadn’t even thrown a ping pong ball in two weeks. I know it sounds stupid, but it was tough. I was, like, missing the table … badly.” In desperate need of a remedy, they sought solace and comfort in a college favorite: beer. “We realized that we need to start drinking even though it was 10, so we went and bought a whole pitcher,” Robinson said. “And that helped,” he managed to choke out through a stifled giggle. “After that we both started to calm down a little bit and began to find our rhythm.”

Competition began for real, however, when the duo entered the ballroom (“Yes, it’s literally a ballroom,” Remillard said in reaction to my obvious disbelief) for their first official game. With a spread of 75 tables, the room was packed with competitors and spectators alike. Like all athletic competitions, each round began with the playing of our national anthem. And, though this aspect of the competition made it seem more familiar, there were rule changes in the Series that transformed the game we all know and love into something else entirely. This version of the game doesn’t include elbow rules or heating-up advantages, but does have a ‘you break it, you buy it’ clause in reference to pong table damage (an instant $120 penalty). The most interesting rule was that any and all distractions to the shooter were fair game. “People would splash water around, making faces, yelling at you,” Remillard explained. “There were some pretty innovative things.” When I asked for an example, Robinson was quick to describe a competitor with impressive tactics: “[He did] this insane trick with his stomach where he would randomly make his belly roll. He would just pull his shirt up and do it. It was pretty jarring to say the least.”

Additionally, in this version of the game, the team does not get both of the balls back after both partners sink their respective cups. Here, only one ball is given back between the pair, so the highest number of consecutive scored cups is three. While for most teams this would be difficult, the cohesion between Remillard and Robinson is unparalleled. When I ask if it was an issue ever came up for them, they said it was “never a problem,” chanting practically in unison. Remillard explained that their system was just based on “whoever was feeling it. One of us just did it. It always worked out really well.”

The pair capitalized on that momentum, securing a victory in that first game. “It must have been the most excitement of the whole thing because the other team was really good,” Remillard says, the pride spreading across his face in the form of a huge grin. They went on to win four of their six games during that first day of competition, a feat that was well above their own expectations.

The second day of competition, they went three and three, making their final record at the tournament 7-5, an outcome that eliminated them from the final day of competition in which only the top 160 teams take part. And though they only intended to swing by the final day of competition, they ended up watching until the final match, when a new Beer Pong World Champion was inaugurated.

When I asked the dynamic team if they were planning to return for next year’s World Series, their answers were immediate and devoid of any hesitation. “I’d love to go back,” Remillard said as Robinson nodded in eager approval. “I think we could do a lot better,” he noted. “We were quite happy with this time, but we want to go one more time at least.” Though they’ll both be pursuing careers by that time (Robinson will be in Boston and Remillard in Italy), the two plan to ring in 2013 back at the Flamingo. They won’t be concerned about the ball dropping … unless it’s into a little red Solo cup, that is.