Qualifying Ladder Format


FSPA Qualifying Ladder Format

Last updated: 5/19/2024

Index: OverviewStructureScoringPlayer GroupingMachine SelectionPlayoffsAbsencesRevision Log

These are the comprehensive format details for the Qualifying Ladder Format. If you’re a player just trying to become familiar with the league, our Players Guide summarizes the most important things you need to know.

1. Overview

The new qualifying ladder format of FSPA places a focus on open qualifying of players during the first 4 weeks of league to determine their starting ladder position. This contrasts with the traditional ladder that places players into the ladder on week 1 using “outscore percentage” from previous seasons. Starting week 5, players begin the ladder for the remaining 6 weeks of league. The basic concept is if a player wins their group for the week, they move up the “ladder” and if they lose they move down the “ladder.”

2. Structure

League takes place over 10 weeks, with a “week 0” prior to week 1 that serves as a meet-and-greet, and opportunity for players to perform pre-plays (if that league uses pre-plays). Finals take place after week 10 is completed.

For week 1, players are randomly assigned to a group of 3 or 4 players. Weeks 2 through 4 will use one of the following methods to group players: completely random, balanced that avoids playing same player twice, or Swiss that places players with similar point totals together to group similarly skilled players. The version used in league will be determined in each league’s Rules Deviation section.

After week 4 is completed, players are assigned a “ladder position” based on their best 3 of 4 scores for weeks 1 through 4. This starts the “average ladder position” that continues to average each player’s ladder position through the end of week 9, to be inclusive of the player’s ladder position for week 10. This final “average ladder position” finalizes the players division they are assigned. Initial divisions are created after week 5 is completed, but players can move between these division as their “average ladder position” changes. See Ladder and Group Ranks for details.

After week 10 concludes, finals are determined by the top players in each division. The number of players in finals depends on the number of players in the league. See Awarding Playoff Spots.

3. Scoring

It is each player’s responsibility to be sure that their machine scores are recorded correctly on the scoresheet as each game is finished. Any possible scoring errors should be brought to the attention of the SLO as soon as possible. Once notified of a possible error, the SLO shall contact all the players in the affected group to determine their recollection of the scoring. If all players are in agreement, then the scoring will be corrected. However, if all players in the group do not concur with the reported error, then the scores as written on the scoresheet shall stand.

3.1 Game Points

For two-player games, the winner of the game is awarded three (3) points. A bonus point is awarded to the winner if his score exceeds three times the loser’s score. Otherwise, the bonus point is given to the loser.

For three-player games, the winner is awarded three (3) points, and the second-place player gets two (2) points. A bonus point is awarded to the winner if he exceeds the sum of the second- and third-place player’s scores. Otherwise, the bonus point is given to the third-place player.

For four-player games, the winner is awarded three (3) points, the second-place player two (2) points, and the third-place player one (1) point. One bonus point is allocated to either the first- or third-place player, as in a three-player match. Another bonus point is given to the second-place player if his score exceeds the sum of the third- and fourth-place players. Otherwise, the second bonus point is given to the fourth-place player.

Any ties in machine score will be resolved by a one ball playoff between the affected players on the same machine. If this does not resolve the tie, the playoff game continues, one ball at a time, until the tie is broken. All extra balls are unallowable and must be plunged during the tiebreaker playoff; points earned on the plunged ball count. In the event that two or more players with tied machine scores are not present for live league play (i.e. using preplays), the tie will be resolved by coin flip or similar random choice. The tiebreaker playoff affects the finish order but not the recorded machine scores for the original game.

3.2 Effective Points

To prevent players from being misgrouped due to game forfeits, any player who forfeits games of a match will receive two (2) effective points for each game forfeited. Players with valid scores for a game will receive effective points equal to their actual league point count for that game. Effective points are used solely for determining grouping.

3.3 Match Bonus Points

Match bonus points are awarded at the end of a league match to increase the reward of winning the overall match, and to keep players competitive through the end of the final game. Match bonus points have the same value as game points in determining league standings.

After all four games of a match are played, the actual (not effective) league points for the players are totaled. Match bonus points are allocated by treating these totals as machine scores for a “fifth” game. Match bonus points are awarded in a similar manner as game points. However, there is a difference in 4 player groups. The first match bonus point will be awarded to the first place player if he equals or exceeds the sum of the second and third place players’ scores; otherwise, the first match bonus point is awarded to the third place player. Likewise, the second match bonus point will be awarded to the second place player if he equals or exceeds the sum of the third and fourth place players’ scores; otherwise, the second match bonus point is awarded to the fourth place player.

In the event of a tie, finish order on the last game played by the tied players is used as a tiebreaker.

Players who forfeit three or more games in a match are not eligible to receive match bonus points for that match, and these players will be excluded from the match bonus point calculation for their group.

4. Player Grouping – Non-Playoff Matches

Players are arranged into groups of three or four, so that players of similar ability are playing against each other during any given match. A match consists of four games, played on four different machines (if possible) during a single meet. All games are played in multiplayer mode (players alternate turns and scores are displayed simultaneously on the machine). At the end of each match, players move between groups based on their performance in the current match.

4.1 Qualifying Rounds Groups

Weeks 1 through 4 are qualifying rounds to seed the starting ladder positions for all players.  Players are randomly grouped during week 1 and grouped according to method listed in the league’s Rules Deviation section.

4.2 Ladder and Group Ranks

Weeks 5 through 10, at each meet, all players in the league are ordered in a single ladder listing, beginning with the top player in group 1 and continuing down to the last player in the lowest group. This ladder is then divided into groups based on the league size, as shown above, and players within each group compete directly with each other during that meet.

Ladder rank is defined as the numerical order of all players as of the start of each meet, based on group order and rankings within each group. For example, if group 1 has three players, the top player (highest seed, or group winner from the previous match) has a ladder rank of 1 for that meet, with the other players in group 1 having ranks of 2 and 3. The top-ranked player in group 2 is assigned a rank of 4, etc., continuing down to the lowest-ranked player in the bottom group.

The initial assignment of ladder rankings begins on week 5 based on points earned through the best 3 weeks out weeks 1 through 4.   New players that start week 5 must be placed in the last spot in the ladder.  New players may not start after week 5 due to forfeit rules.

Group rank is the ordering of players within their groups based on the results of a match. It is used to determine who gets to select the first machine to be played and which players switch groups after each match.  League SLOs may not provide game picks based on league configuration and constraints such as number of machines at the location.

4.3 Group Movement

After each group match, players within each group are re-arranged in descending order based on their effective points earned in that match. In case of a tie, the player with the highest machine score in the last game commonly played by the tied players prevails. If this fails to resolve the tie, perhaps due to a full match forfeit, affected players will be ranked by their start-of-meet ladder orders. These group rankings are followed by switches between groups to determine that meet’s final ladder ranking, and groupings for the following meet.

Players are switched between each pair of adjacent groups according to the following rules:

  • If either or both of the groups have three or less players, the top-ranked player in the lower group (that match’s winner) switches places with the bottom-ranked player in the higher group (that match’s loser). The winner of group 1 does not move.
  • If both groups have four players, the two highest group-ranked players (winners) from the bottom group switch with the two lowest-scoring players from the next-higher group. Each pair of players moved maintain their relative rankings. Consider the following example of the bottom two groups of a league:
End-of-Match Ranking Next Meet’s Grouping/Ranking
Group Y Group Y
A (winner) [loser of group “X”]
Group Z Group Z
E (winner) C

4.4 Mid-Season Dropouts

If a player drops out of the league, new groupings are determined as follows: The groupings and group rankings based on the results of the previous meet are kept unchanged. Next, all switches between groups are made as specified above, except that any switch involving the player who dropped out is simply ignored. If the dropped player is part of a 4-player switch between two groups of four, that switch is treated as a two-player switch between the remaining top-ranked player in the lower group and the lowest-ranked player of the higher group. The dropped player is then removed from the roster, and groups are reformed from the new overall ladder listing as specified in section Group Sizes. Note that this regrouping may result in fewer groups for the remainder of the season.

5. Machine Selection and Play Order

Some leagues do not permit machine selection due to constraints of the league and/or location.

At each meet, the winner of each group who has moved up (except the winner of group 1) will choose their new group’s first machine to be played. In the lowest group, the lowest-ranked player will choose the first machine to be played. If there is a conflict due to dropouts and regrouping, then the lowest-ranked player in each affected group will have the machine pick. If that player is not present at game selection time or has dated preplays for the current match, the next lowest-ranked player in the group will make the choice. If no eligible player in a group is present, the group’s selection will be moved to the end of the game selection cycle and the next group gets the next machine pick. Selections can be made from any available game not already picked by other groups. If all games have not been selected at league start time, the remaining games will be selected randomly by the SLO.

Each meet, the starting group for game picks should change (suggested: move down one place), so that a different group gets the initial game pick at each meet. As an example, a league with eight groups and a ten meet season might use the following pick order, with the first listed group getting the first game pick:

Meet 1: Games randomly chosen by SLO.

Meet 2: Group 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8

Meet 3: Group 2-3-4-5-6-7-8-1

Meet 4: Group 3-4-5-6-7-8-1-2

Meet 9: Group 8-1-2-3-4-5-6-7

Meet 10: Group 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8

Selected machines are distributed among all the groups by the SLO, according to a well-defined scheme.

5.1 Machine Play Order

After machines are selected, each group begins play on the machines assigned to it in the order listed on the score sheet. When a group finishes a game they move to the next machine assigned to their group. If another group is playing the next scheduled machine, the moving group must wait for the other group to finish. Groups may not skip machines. Groups should not cut ahead of other groups.

5.2 Machine Replacement Selection

If a machine should become unplayable during league play, a replacement machine must be designated by the SLO, subject to as many of the following constraints as possible.

The replacement machine:

  • Should be in good working order.
  • Should not be already scheduled for play by the affected group.
  • Should not be scheduled to be played by another group in the affected round.
  • Should be chosen to minimize group backlogs.

5.3 Individual Play Order

Order of play in a game is determined by player selection. For the first game, players sequentially select their play order in the reverse order of their group rankings on the score sheet. For subsequent games, choices for order of play are made in the reverse order of their scores on the previous game (i.e. the lowest-scoring player in a game receives first choice of play order in the subsequent game). If a player joins their group late (e.g. due to tardiness), they will get first choice of order for the first game they play.

6. Playoffs

6.1 Playoff Divisions

To provide a fair chance for players of all skill levels to participate in the playoffs, the league is separated into playoff divisions based on league size, as documented in section 6.2. Division sizes are determined by dividing the number of players into equal-sized groups, with any extras being allocated to the higher division. For example, an 11-player league will have a 6-player A Division and a 5-player B Division, and a 26-player league will have 9 players in both A and B Division, and 8 players in C Division.

Division qualification is determined by each player’s average ladder rank over the season. Ties in qualification are resolved by playing a tiebreaker either after conclusion of week 10 if all players are present, or before finals begin.

Division determination is finalized at the end of the second-to-last meet each season, which allows for one meet of direct competition for playoff qualification before the season ends. Ladder rankings for each player are averaged across all meets, excluding the rankings of the first four and last meet of the regular season. (For example, given a regular season of 10 meets, divisions will be based on the results from meets 4 through 9 inclusive.) At the end of the second-to-last meet, all league players are listed in descending order of average ladder ranking, and this listing is divided into divisions as specified above. Player dropouts in the final  meet do not affect the number of divisions or qualifiers in each division.

6.2 Awarding Playoff Spots

Within each division, players with the highest league point totals for the season qualify for playoff competition. There are between 3 and 6 playoff qualifiers in each division, based on division size. Each division in a given league will have the same number of qualifiers, with approximately 50% of the players qualifying for post-season play.

One exception to this rule is when a league has 40 or more players. These caveats are listed below, but A division finals will consist of a minimum of 10% of the total league size. For instance, 40-49 players will result in 5 players in A finals, and 50-59 players will result in 6 players in A finals. Other divisions will remain the same size as if total league size is less than 40 players.

5/6-player playoffs consist of a semifinal match, followed by a 3-player final match between the top three scorers in the semifinal match. 3- and 4-player playoffs consist of a single finals match. Based on these guidelines, the number of divisions and qualifiers per division are determined from the following table.


Players per Match per Division
5-6 n/a A-3
7-8 n/a A-4
9-14 n/a A-3, B-3
15-17 n/a A-4, B-4
18-21 n/a A-3, B-3, C-3
22-27 n/a A-4, B-4, C-4
28 n/a A-3, B-3, C-3, D-3
29-36 n/a A-4, B-4, C-4, D-4
37-39 n/a A-4, B-4, C-4, D-4, E-4
40-49 A-5 A-3, B-4, C-4, D-4, E-4
50-55 A-6 A-3, B-4, C-4, D-4, E-4
56-60 A-6, B-5, C-5, D-5, E-5 A-3, B-3, C-3, D-3, E-3

The winner of each final match is named Division Champion for the season. Results of the finals impacts the final results submitted to IFPA for World Pinball Player Rating (WPPR) points.

6.3 Playoff Format and Machine Selection

Each division playoff match consists of a series of games played between 2-6 players, using the same game scoring criteria as regular-season games. Match bonus points are not earned in playoff competition.

Player seeding in the first playoff match is determined by total league points accumulated during the season. Seeding in the second playoff match (if any) is determined by league points accumulated in the first playoff match. Machine picks and play order are selected by the first player listed for each game in the charts below. (Numbers indicate seed positions.) Machine selections will begin 15 minutes before the scheduled start of a playoff match. All selections must be recorded prior to the start of the match. If a second match (i.e. finals) is scheduled immediately after the first match (semi-finals), machine selections for the second match will begin upon the conclusion of the first match.

Playoff Matchups – Numbers Indicate Seed Positions
Players Round 1 Round 2 Round 3 Round 4 Round 5
Two (*) 1-2 2-1 1-2 2-1 1-2
Three 2-1-3 2-3 1-3 1-2 1-2-3
Four 2-1-3-4 1-4; 2-3 1-3; 2-4 1-2; 3-4 1-2-3-4
Five 2-5; 3-4 1-5; 2-3 1-4; 3-5 1-3; 2-4 1-2; 4-5
Six 1-6; 2-5; 3-4 1-5; 2-4; 3-6 1-4; 2-3; 5-6 1-3; 2-6; 4-5 1-2; 3-5; 4-6

(*) There may be only two players in a playoff match if one of the qualifiers is absent or drops out and no eligible substitute is available; see section 6.6.

The highest seeded player in each division makes all of his machine picks first, followed by the next highest seeded player, and so on. Players’ machine picks must adhere to the following rules as much as possible, subject to machine availability:

  • Players must select different machines for each game in a match.
  • A player may not select a machine already chosen for the same round by a higher seeded player in the same division. (ex: in a five player match, if the #2 seed chooses to play Addams Family in round 1, the #3 seed may not choose Addams Family in round 1.)
  • A player may not select a machine he is already scheduled to play twice in a match due to picks by higher seeded players. (ex: in a five player match, if the #4 seed is scheduled to play Twilight Zone in rounds 1 and 3, he may not select Twilight Zone for round 5.)
  • A player may not select the same machine for a head-to-head (2-player) game against the same opponent in both the semifinals and finals.

If a player is not present when it is time for their machine selections, that player will drop to the lowest playoff seed in their division. All lower seeded players will advance one seed, and the next seeded player will immediately be asked to provide machine selections.

If a machine is declared unplayable by the SLO due to malfunction, the player who chose that machine may select a replacement machine, subject to the restrictions listed above, unless that player has no permissible options, or the SLO determines that operational issues (e.g. location closing times) preclude the alternate selection. In these events, the SLO shall randomly select a replacement machine.

6.4 Ties in Playoff Qualification

If there is a tie in divisional standings based on total league points, the players will play a tie breaker game.  The game and player order will be chosen at random.

6.5 Ties in Playoff Results

Ties to advance in semi-finals, and to determine first place in the finals, will be broken with a tie breaker game with all tied players.  The choice of game or order will be chosen by the player that won the head-to-head match.  The remaining option goes to the other player.  If the tie involves more than two players, game and order will be chosen randomly.

Ties will not be resolved to determine final finishing order in semi-finals or finals for any position other than first.

6.6 Tardy or Missing from Playoffs

Tardy players may request a 15 minute delay in their match start time per section Comprehensive Rules – Attendance and Tardiness, though this does not prevent any drop in seeding, as described in section 6.3. If a player is not present for their match start time, they are immediately disqualified from the match, all lower-seeded players advance one spot, and the next highest ranked player from the division becomes the lowest-ranked playoff player.

For all divisions, the highest ranked player present that did not make finals for that division may take the missing players spot (last seed).

For A-division only, if not enough players are available to meet the minimum of 10% of the total number of league players, the highest ranked B-division player present may move up to play in the A-player’s spot (last).  All lower divisions may follow suit by moving the highest qualified player in each division up on division to the last spot.  The last division will then have one less player unless a another player from that division is present.

If a player is dropped from the match, other players will be permitted to change their machine selections for games involving the dropped player. Machine selections for games not involving the dropped player may not be changed.

7. Absences

League formats allow for player absences to diminish impact to their overall scores for the season. There are multiple methods such as dropping lowest scores for the season, allowing players to pre-play games and record their scores for use during an absence, and hybrid versions that combine these two methods. These formats to handle absences are discussed in the Absence Rules.

Appendix A – Revision Log

This section lists summaries of changes made to this document.

May 2024

  • Created separate page for Qualifying Ladder format, removing rules from main FSPA rules page.