Pinball Wizards: Carlos DeLaSerda

Erica Thompson

Carlos DeLaSerda is playing pinball with five balls. On a mid-February evening at Arcade Super Awesome, he progressed through a path of difficulty few have traveled on the “Star Wars” machine. In other words, while the average person is trying not to “die,” DeLaSerda is handling multiple tasks at once.

“It's very layered,” he said. “You could have a 40-times higher score than somebody who didn't do what you did. … Some people are stuck in the couple hundred millions and I'm doing pretty much the same thing, just multiplied by 40.”

DeLaSerda achieved a high score of about ten billion before the machine's last content update. He's a mainstay at the Olde Towne East establishment, playing in the pinball league each Thursday and competing in the monthly tournament (he's won three of them). He was also recruited to help run the league at Pins Mechanical Company.

Currently ranked around 183 in the world, he is slowly building a name — or, rather, initials (LOS) — for himself in Columbus' growing pinball community. And he's only been at it since 2015, when his friends suggested he try his hand at the game.

“I fell in love with it,” DeLaSerda said. “I hate being bad at things, so I just grinded it out until I was at least decent.”

DeLaSerda's previous passion was Mortal Kombat 3. He found that skills necessary for fighting games, like knowing when to press buttons offensively or defensively, were easily transferrable to pinball.

“Fighting games have combos and pinball machines also have combos,” he said. “It's more of hitting consecutive shots and just understanding the timing. … And knowing if you make an error, there can be consequences, sometimes fatal.”

DeLaSerda has honed his abilities through consistent practicing on his pinball machine at home — “I used to try to play at least one game a day, just to get my hands flipping,” he said — and arcades both local and regional.

“I'll travel to either Cincinnati or to Cleveland or to Akron,” he said. “They have really good communities in those places.”

But DeLaSerda's Columbus pinball peers have also served him well. “Everybody likes to see everybody get better,” he said of the local crew, a “mish-mash” of men, women and kids. “There are a lot of people here that are in the top 100 in the world, so I look up to them.”

The world's greatest players gather each year at the Pinburg tournament in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. DeLaSerda participated for the first time last year, and placed 190 out of about 800. “I could tell towards the end that I was playing against people that had been playing way longer than I have,” he said.

Another prestigious competition is the annual International Flipper Pinball Association (IFPA) US National Pinball Championship in Las Vegas. To qualify you must win an IFPA State Pinball Championship. This year DeLaSerda fell short, placing fifth at the Ohio tournament in Cleveland.

He said his fate may have been different had he selected different pinball machines and utilized the 30-second practice time preceding each game. He can also stand to be calmer when he's not playing well.

“I'm still trying to work on that, like going to the bathroom and just washing hands and taking a deep breath,” he said.

In pursuit of his goal to crack the top 100 in world rankings, DeLaSerda plays five days per week, never spending more than $5 each day, which is an impressive feat; the better you are, the more free games you earn. He is currently between jobs, which is actually advantageous to his gaming.

“I've been trying to keep my schedule as open as possible for traveling to tournaments,” he said.

He's also been streaming himself playing via the Twitch platform. “It has the opportunity for growing revenue,” he said. “If I get enough attention on the page … people can subscribe to my page for a monthly fee.”

Beyond his own personal aspirations, DeLaSerda hopes to see Columbus rival other parts of the state. “Right now, northern Ohio has been established longer than us,” he said. “They have a much deeper pool of people, but we see what they're doing and we are trying to do it, but better.”