At a defining moment of his pinball career, Raymond Davidson was in the final round of the 2017 Pinball World Championship tournament in Denmark. He was playing against his mentor.
Usually, there are only seven games. But now, Davidson faced Cayle George, his mentor, in the ninth game to break the tie for World Champion. Before Davidson knew it, he won the tournament and became the number one pinball player in the world.
Davidson, now 29 years old, has been the number one player ever since.
He now maintains his top status by playing in tournaments at Columbia’s Bang Back Pinball Lounge.
Davidson and many other nationally ranked players were present at the Strikes Tournament at Bang Back Pinball Lounge in Five Points in January 2022. Davidson won the Strikes Tournament, earning him IFPA points and a trophy in the shape of South Carolina.
Before Davidson was ranked No. 1 against the world's 88,000 other players, his pinball career started in his grandparents' house.
His grandparents had a 1976 Gottlieb Pioneer, one of the last electro-mechanical pinball machines, he said. Davidson's father taught him how to play it. He then got into modern pinball games, playing the machines at restaurants.
Compared to his father's 1976 Gottlieb, a modern pinball game machine is not the same. It has a light-emitting diode, or LED, playfield lighting and embedded liquid crystal display (LCD) monitors and backboards.
As he went and played at these restaurants, Davidson said he learned that you could win free games on the pinball machine as prizes, which encouraged him to play better.
"I was like, 'Oh, I can play this over and over again if I get good enough,' so I just kept gravitating towards them and playing them more and more," Davidson said.
In 2008, he began his competitive pinball career at the Northwest Pinball Championships. He qualified and earned a cash prize.
But when he competed in the Northwest the next year, he won nothing.
This stuck with him and became a motivating factor for the next stage in his career, he said. The loss hooked Davidson and fueled the fire for him to work harder. He said that because of this, he did well at most of the tournaments he participated in after.
"It motivated me to get better," Davidson said.
At his first tournament, Davidson met George, a fellow pinball competitor nationally ranked third in the world. At the registration table, George helped him sign up for the International Flipper Pinball Association.
As their friendship grew, George invited Davidson to his house and began to teach him the trade of being a competitive pinball player. At George's house, Davidson was able to enjoy his beautiful collection of games.
"He taught me a lot of pinball from a strategic, competitive stance," Davidson said.
Davidson currently creates videos on YouTube and on Twitch, and though he does not personally mentor, he regularly gives advice to future pinball players.
For Davidson to keep his top rank, he must continue to grow his IFPA points, which determines your placement in the ranking system. Due to the presence of Davidson and other highly ranked players, the points possible to earn at the Bang Back tournament have increased.
The Bang Back Pinball Lounge opened a year and a half ago, and it has held many tournaments since. However, this tournament was the first high stakes pinball event in the state of South Carolina. Fred Richardson, the owner of Bang Back expects to hold bigger tournaments in the future.
Richardson explained how he created the tournament that attracted top rank players like Davidson.
"In order for them (pinball competitors) to come and visit, I have to make it worth their time," Richardson stated.
The tournament included four competitions, one each day. Prizes like pinball playfields and backgrounds were given out, as well as points for the International Flipper Pinball Association (IFPA).
At the tournament, Davidson beat Steven Bowden, who is currently ranked 30th internationally and works for American Pinball Inc.
Bowden expressed his belief that players of any level can join pinball tournaments.
"You don't have to be good ... good games are made for multiple levels of players," Bowden stated.