When Bobby Reynolds started the Australian Beer Pong League in 2013, he ran into one fundamental problem.
“It turns out you can’t legally force somebody to drink alcohol in Australia,” he says. “So we weren’t allowed to put beer in the cups. When I first started hosting events, the pubs were saying, ‘You’re going to have to call it Water Pong’, and I was like, ‘If we call it Water Pong, nobody’s going to show up.’”
Competitive Beer Pong might sound like some ridiculous frat house fantasy—like becoming a jello shot sommelier or strip poker professional—but it’s been a legitimate global ‘sport’ since 2006, when the first World Series of Beer Pong (WSOBP) was held in Las Vegas. Champion players like Andrew Borys, regarded by some as the best player in the world, have turned Beer Pong into a semi-lucrative online career, and WSOBP events can draw up to 1000 competitors from countries all over the world. There’s even a standardised set of Official Beer Pong rules, which govern everything from cup size (16 oz.) to cup formation (a “tight triangle”) and whether or not you’re allowed to interfere with a bouncing ball (“Balls may not be interfered with while inside of a cup. I.e. No fingering.”)
“It’s genuinely huge in America,” Reynolds says. “That’s the home of the World Series, the biggest Beer Pong competition in the world. It’s a three-day event and first prize is $50,000. They take it really seriously over there.”
Reynolds’ dream was to bring some of that mainstream American professionalism to the Australian beer pong scene. For a few years, he organised competitive tournaments in bars and pubs up and down the country, from Townsville all the way to Perth, offering cash prizes for the best teams. “For a while there I was running the biggest tournaments in Australia,” he says, “but unfortunately, because of the strict drinking rules here, there was always a tension between players and establishments. People would wander over and go, ‘Oh, it’s just water in the cups. This is lame.’”
Reynolds solution was to host so-called ‘Black Label’ tournaments: underground, no-holds-barred, invite-only, beer pong deathmatches, usually held in private halls or domestic garages, where players could enjoy proper International Beer Pong Rules. That means real beer in the cups, WSOBP regulation 8ft Beer Pong tables, and aggressive psych outs ripped straight from the 1998 cinema classic, BASEketball.
“According to international rules, players can do almost anything to put their opponent off their shot,” Reynolds says. “The only rule is that you can’t cross your half of the table. So shit talk is definitely allowed. Anything that messes with their rhythm. We always said, no matter what happens, it’s just a game.”
Competitive Beer Pong has already spread to other countries, particular ones with relaxed liquor licencing laws, like Hong Kong. In fact, there’s a schism (ahem) brewing between Beer Pong ‘purists’ and Hong Kong ‘radicals’, who have tweaked the international rules to create faster games and—frankly—sell more beer. Honestly, you can’t make this shit up. Under official American WSOBP rules, players must “eliminate” all 10 of their opponents’ cups. But Hong Kong bar owners introduced the controversial ‘Double Cherry’ rule, where, if you’re able to hit the front cup twice on the first turn, you instantly wipe out six cups, rather than one. The logic being: the faster the games, the more beer you can sell.
Regardless of specific rules, Beer Pong players take their craft seriously. It’s comparable to professional darts or billiards and requires pretty much the same athletic physique. When Reynolds was immersed in the Australian pong scene, he was throwing over 100 practise balls every single day. It’s still his dream to roll up a stake and go all the way to the World Series in Vegas. “I was the President of the Australian Beer Pong League,” he says, “so I always had to be ready to face a challenger. I got pretty good at it. For me, the biggest thing was not just throwing the ball and hoping. The trick is always to aim for a single cup.”
The Australian Beer Pong League doesn’t run tournaments anymore—Reynolds was tired of banging his head against Australia’s draconian licence laws. But there’s still the Australian World Series of Beer Pong and random, unofficial satellite competitions. Reynolds says he still hosts the occasional ‘Black Label’ night too—for select guests. “We don’t advertise them. They’re still invite-only. You need to know somebody to get in.”
Want to give competitive Beer Pong a crack? Game Gang are hosting a Beer Pong Championship in Melbourne in April. Pre-registration is open now.
Image credit: Alicia Magnusson