Courtesy of Sean Fisher
This spring, 88 teams from four regions will convene in Columbus to compete in one of college students’ most beloved sports: beer pong.
The fifth Pong Madness, a tournament created by two Ohio State students featuring the popular drinking game, is slated to take place at Big Bar & Grill on May 2 and is expected to feature more teams, more upsets and more celebratory beer showers than ever.
Danny Khourie, a fourth-year in political science and economics, and Sean Fisher, a fourth-year in accounting, got the idea for Pong Madness after witnessing a similar event during a visit to Xavier University in Cincinnati their freshman year.
“It seems like all the other schools in Ohio hate OSU students because we think we’re better than everybody else. So we thought, ‘We have to bring this to Ohio State because we’ll make it even bigger,'” Khourie said. “It was just to get a one-up on our friends, and it started off as a joke but then snowballed into something way bigger.”
Khourie and Fisher hosted the first Pong Madness tournament at their off-campus house in May 2011, and since then, it has increased in size and popularity. For the fourth tournament, which took place last fall, they increased the number of teams to 72 from 64, and searched for a larger venue to house the event.
Bryan Kovach, a supervisor at Big Bar & Grill, said he quick to hop on board after Fisher and Khourie approached him about sponsoring the event in the fall.
“It seemed like it would be a good fit and bring a lot of people to the bar,” Kovach said. “It went really well in the fall – there was a big crowd and we had people watching the final game from our VIP section – so it’s just a good event all around.”
For a $20 fee ($40 for each team), each player receives free beer for the duration of the tournament, a T-shirt and food and liquor specials at Big Bar & Grill. The bar also clears out its main dance floor and sets up four tables, one for each “region” on the bracket. Eventually, the setup is pared down to one main table for the final three rounds of play.
“The first two rounds take forever – last year they were about three to three-and-a-half hours,” Khourie said. “But once you get to the Elite Eight, everyone’s in their groove and it starts speeding up faster.”
Though past year’s tournaments have started in the evening, this year’s is scheduled to kick off at 2 p.m. to accommodate the record number of participants. When Khourie and Fisher made the online sign-up form available at 6 p.m. on April 4, all 72 spots filled up in just 1 minute and 46 seconds. By 10:30 p.m., 97 teams had signed up.
“We couldn’t believe it,” Khourie said. “Sean and I just sat looking at the computer in shock as the posts kept coming in and the numbers started getting bigger.”
Khourie and Fisher subsequently expanded the bracket to 88 teams and have placed 13 teams on a waiting list in case any teams do not show up.
Though Khourie and Fisher use a seeding system to determine the match-ups, – which is based on the total amount of wins both partners have, thus favoring past Pong Madness players – as with any sport, upsets are common. And, in the case of Pong Madness, Khourie said they are fiercely celebrated.
“We have a microphone at Big Bar and we announce ‘upset alerts’ on it,” Khourie said. “Last year we used it when the two-time defending champs were getting upset by a team of girls, and people were just going crazy. People definitely get most excited when the girls teams do really well.”
This year, 17 all-girl teams are signed up to participate, which is more than any past tournament.
“The farther the girls go, the more people are watching,” said Eve Horbol, a fourth-year in marketing who has played in all four past tournaments. “Seeing the guys’ faces when they lose against girls is so funny – they have to walk away, and they might throw something.”
This year, Khourie and Fisher created a website with a comprehensive list of statistics, which includes every player’s record and each bracket from all four past tournaments.
Khourie said this has only made the anticipation greater.
“I think this year’s going to be really heated. On the Twitter handle, people have already started trash-talking each other, so it’s been blowing up, and I think it’s going to be the biggest and best one yet because everyone’s so hyped up,” Khourie said.
Pat Foley, a December 2012 OSU graduate who has played in the last three tournaments and was a runner-up in November’s tournament, said he is excited to return to campus for this year’s Pong Madness.
“I hesitated when I heard it was on a Thursday because of work, but it only comes twice a year and you can’t miss out on it. It’s the only party I look forward to,” Foley said. “There’s always great people, great music, a little competition … so I’m definitely coming back to take the title this year.”
This year’s tournament is also set to feature sponsorships from companies like En-de-yo, which will supply T-shirts, and Moocho, a company that provides discounts for students. There will also be cash prizes. The first place prize is $1,000, second place is $400 and third and fourth place winners are awarded with $100 and $50 bar tabs at Big Bar & Grill, respectively.
Though Fisher plans to graduate this spring and Khourie plans to graduate at the end of the summer, both said they hope the legacy of Pong Madness will live on at OSU, and maybe even other schools.
“We’re still in the early stages of planning, but we’d love to travel to places like (University of) Wisconsin, Penn State, Purdue (University) and (University of) Michigan, set up tournaments there, and eventually blow it up to make a Big Ten Championship,” Khourie said. “Our goal is to make Columbus a mecca of college beer pong.”