In the beginning
It’s a Saturday afternoon on October 8, 2011. I’m sitting in my quaint little two bedroom apartment in Phoenix, AZ. My mind is racing with idea after idea, plan after plan. It’s been months in the making but I’ve pretty much nailed down the exact idea behind the Pongstars.net movement. I have decided well in advance that to be successful I would need the approval and support of Billy Gaines and Bpong.com.
Months earlier, Mr. Gaines and I had a random face to face conversation at “The Return to Mesquite $10k.” We had a conversation in a cafe of the hotel where BPong had just held the tournament. I expressed my original gung-ho plan over the length of a couple of hours. Billy seemed enthusiastic and understanding about the idea. At the time, I may not have understood how many of these conversations BPong had actually had with random individuals, especially during the peak of the sports popularity.
As a follow up to our conversation, I reached out via a very detailed email laying out my exact plans and how I want nothing more than to help the growth of the sport in any way I can. Being a noob I asked Billy if he has any ideas on how this can work. This email was just a reiteration of what I had explained in person. I didn’t expect to wait an entire month to go by before I received my less than pleased response. It seemed as though my first impressions of Billy’s opinion of the Pongstars idea may have been misguided.
Nonetheless, I followed through with my original plan, which was a content heavy platform from the get go. Pongstars delivered article after article about our sport. We also churned out prediction lists for any and all events that were deemed worthy. This was all made possible due to the hard work of the wonderfully passionate wordsmith Scott Frew. Without Frew Pongstars would not be where it is today. Everything began and ended with his illustrious content.
Unfortunately as time went on so did the major writing core’s passion for the game. As quality writing talent faded away, and demand for quality events rose, we at Pongstars chose to pivot the focus of the company. We shifted from content to hosting events due to a dearth of quality tournaments throughout the year. We lacked the manpower to produce that same high quality content while running successful events at the same time. I had to make a choice. Only years later did I realize I made the wrong one.
At the time the only real events going on other than the World Series were Beast of the East and the East Coast Beer Pong Championships. The Socal Open had taken place the year prior, but that braintrust had announced that it would not be happening again. We at Pongstars felt this was a prime opportunity to introduce a new annual mid major event dedicated to the West Coast. From the ashes of the Socal Open, the Pongstars.net Spring Classic Shootout was born in March of 2012.
From our very first large event, we realized the importance of partnerships and collaboration. Ocean Grown Pong provided invaluable assistance to the event. Being a local collaborator with knowledge of possible venues, as well as assisting in running the event, and getting local players to come out. Without the assistance of OGP, Pongstars likely could not have held many of the events that we have in the last seven years. But it was not always sunshine and candy.
That first event was a huge learning experience! Humbling to say the least. We were so in over our heads it wasn’t even funny. The only thing that saved us was the gracious community who understood even before we did that this was going to be less than a perfect event. To this day it’s the only tournament I’ve personally ran where we did not at least break even. We had a net loss of around $3,500 for that $10,000 prize pool yet still paid out in full within 30 days(our longest term to date).
Even though it was a 35% loss for us financially, the overall event became a very big success. Players loved the location in Southern California as well as the unconventional event structure we created. Pongstars took this momentum and ran with it for the next five years where we held this same event each Spring. Relocating it to sunny San Diego from 2013 through 2017.
During this same time our organization continued to reach out to others for collaborations. As a partnership we took over Best of the West with San Diego Pong Circuit, West Coast Pong, Nor Cal Pong and Ocean Grown Pong. More hands make less work, so they say.
However, at Pongstars.net our biggest attributes also became our biggest downfall. We became too focused on events and completely forgot what had made us who we were from 2012 to 2014. The absence of events became an oversaturation of events. Finally in 2017 we decided to cut down on an event and push our attention to more quality and not quantity. By combining the Spring Classic and the West Coast Championships, we were able to create the West Coast Classic $35k in March of 2018. To this day, that was the single greatest event I’ve ever been a part of. It’s also the basis of our “Pongstars Approval” platform.
This introduction is not about BPong. It is about Pongstars. I tell this story only as background for those of you who were not around for our inception. Our goal has always been to increase the joy that the players have for the game. We understood that BPong and the World Series of Beer Pong were the Holy Grail in terms of competitive beer pong. Pongstars hoped to complement BPong, not replace them. We hoped to have a mutually beneficial relationship with BPong. As you will see, BPong, and specifically Billy Gaines, did not have those same hopes.
The Meeting with Billy Gaines and BPong.com
From day one, Pongstars.net has wanted nothing but great things for our community. Everything we’ve done has been about what we thought was in the best interest of our sport. For years all we wanted was to be a part of the bigger picture and to “have a seat at the table”. That time seemed to finally be knocking at the door.
In the months leading up to WSOBP 8 the entire landscape of our sport had just been flipped upside down. Two iconic members of BPong had just left the company. Players had been preparing to travel East for an event but a disastrous storm hits and postponed ECBPC. Instead of staying home and sulking, I changed my destination to Las Vegas for a meeting between Billy Gaines, newly added Reed Slobusky, and OGP +1.
From the moment we entered the lavish apartment the vibe was out of this world. Ideas were being thrown around left and right, hours felt like minutes and things finally felt like they were coming together. I’ve never left a meeting with as much excitement as I did that day.
It wasn’t until I had a conversation with Billy in the kitchen many hours later that I realized the impact our brand was making on our sport. There came a point where I was asked, “What would it take for you to stop doing what you’re doing for you and instead do it for me?” These words caught me off guard. I had put so much time and effort into Pongstars that I was not prepared to give it up on a whim. My response was one of “I don’t think that’s something we should be discussing at this time” for many reasons that aren’t necessarily important right now. That was the last time this topic was ever brought up.
From what I gathered, we all left that night after an 8 hour meeting feeling great about the overall future of our sport. For the first time the major players seemed to finally be on the same page. But as time went on I quickly realized this wasn’t the case.
My experiences with Beer Pong Events LLC
I’ve been playing this sport in a professional manner for nearly a decade. In this time, I have seen and been a part of a fair share of Beer Pong drama. Many similar issues to what we see today have been prevalent for quite some time.
My very first WSOBP was VI. That was the largest turnout to date with 509 teams. The event was absolutely outstanding! World Series 6 and World Series 8 were the two most fun World Series events I have attended. Notably, this means that I had more fun at my second worst finish than I did at the event that I actually won.
The vibe back then was so much different. Insanely competitive, but so much more overall fun. What wasn’t different was much of the same we deal with today……payment delays and an utter lack of communication. I’m not sure exactly when we finally received our checks that year, but it was a significant wait.
Why and how?
Well I’ll never forget what was waiting for me inside my very first check I ever received from placing in a BPong event. Remember, this was my first WSOBP, I was a rookie and only my third heavily competitive tournament. When I opened my envelope, I had a handwritten post it note waiting for me attached to my check. The note was signed by Billy Gaines and stated, “Wait 366 more days before cashing, it won’t clear.” It wasn’t until a couple years ago that I actually asked him what that was about. His response was that someone had told him about some comments I had made about the delay. Billy thought this was a hilarious and proper way of handling it.
World Series of Beer Pong X was my worst showing ever for the main event, but still won about $3k+ from side events. Again, payments were taking a while and Hendo was just now getting his feet wet with BPong. This was the year that we had endless amounts of drama from the onstage debacle to Zach G being forcibly removed from the event.
Instead of waiting on my check, Hendo and I worked out a deal where I would exchange my entire check for equal amount of WSOBP XI bids. I would use these to run events and promotions with over the next year. Hendo and I came to an agreement for the cost per bid based upon Billy’s terms. I started running events and promotions (March Madness brackets, Willy Wonka Giveaways and so forth).
After I had already given away about 25% of my bids, Hendo came back to me with an adjusted price from Billy. He tried to charge me $50 more per bid. I give Hendo credit as he openly stated this was a bad move, but he had no choice other than to pass along what the owner of the company wanted. Things got heated and we eventually came to an agreement where I agreed to pay an additional $25 per bid. I was not the only one who had this same issue that year. It stretched all the way from Arizona to New Jersey.
Then, WSOBP XII, Blitzkrieg’s holy grail! I checked the mail on December 27th (four days before BPong’s self-imposed deadline to deliver checks). I had received an envelope from Beer Pong Events but noticed that something was off. The check stock seemed very thin and was a shaded color rather than the normal light blue. I opened the envelope to find a photocopy of a real check with a bunch of marks all over it. Apparently, Billy and Hendo thought it would be funny to send me a fake check. This check read that I was receiving “BPong Bucks” instead of dollars. These “BPong Bucks” were not to be exchanged for cash value, nor used for entry into the WSOBP, nor or any satellites, nor were they valid for purchases on the Bpong.com store. Basically useless.
I ended up receiving my real check two days later, just barely beating the contractual deadline of December 31st. Since WSOBP 9 the only two event winners to be paid “on time” were Mike Vit/ Kris Fraser after WSOBP 10, and Kevin Kessler and I after WSOBP 12. Everyone knows the story of what happened with Hunter and Mark at WSOBP 9. However, most people don’t know that at after 11 when Pop and Brandon Clarke won, they received installment checks over the course of the year. They did not get their final check until the weeks leading up to WSOBP 12.
Obviously after WSOBP 13, Billy decided he would treat all players who won any money the same as he has been treating the winners for years. Delaying payments.
I have chosen to keep these incidents private over the years because, despite Billy’s actions, I believed that outing him would not help the growth of the sport. This has gone on long enough and the public deserves to know. I would be very interested to know what other kind of shenanigans are out there that relate to these, if any.
More lack of communication with Bpong.com
Again, from the beginning all I’ve ever wanted for Pongstars was to help BPong and the sport grow in anyway it could. Anyone who’s ever talked to me about it and/or worked with me on an event will easily vouch for that. During the times of 2012 to 2018 we never once tried to privately or publicly compete or battle with Billy and BPong. Were there times where I was critical in a public forum towards their business models. Absolutely! Were there times that I probably crossed the line and could’ve better used my influence in my earlier years? Most definitely! I was young, arrogant and passionate about something I felt deserved better than what it was getting. My bad!
At the time I didn’t know any better but as I got older I learned from those mistakes and changed for the better during WS 11 and 12. This was mainly in part to Hendo. He had became the middle man between Billy and I. Hendo did everything in his power to make things work between us. I had my doubts because every single conversation I’ve ever had with Billy over the last five years has been exactly the same. For anyone who’s had similar talks, you know exactly what I’m referring to.
Hendo kept telling me to trust him so I gave him the benefit of the doubt. I finally had what I thought were quality and heartfelt conversations with Billy – talks that put everything on the table from personal doubts to business goals. Things felt as if they had finally taken the right turn and we were headed in a golden direction.
I was wrong, again.
The same scenarios continued that we see today. Billy disappeared. Since day one on October 8th of 2011 nothing has ever materialized from any single conversation I have personally had with Billy.
The final conversation took place at BOMW last August. We sat down and had the same conversation from just a month prior. I tried to stay positive about things just like he had asked me to do that day he called me on stage to “make an example out of me” at WSOBP 10. You remember that, right? Our team went on to win the event and I had finally collected the last type of tournament that was left for me to claim, a 10v10. It happened in such a manner that made it even sweeter and in that moment walking off the stage I said to Billy, “Alright, that’s all I had left to accomplish as a player. I’m ready to take things to the next level so let’s make this happen.” He nodded and said “Alright!”.
That was the last word I ever heard from him.
Silent no more
It’s now 2019 and with a new year comes new resolutions, new ideas and a fresh take on all things life. Honestly I hit a wall. I hit my breaking point on the matter of BPong and the WS. I took it upon myself to start educating anyone I could on the current state of affairs. From player and organizers far and wide to former and potentially new companies that were getting involved. I was tired of the lies and wanted to make sure everyone knew the truths.
Bpong began setting an awful precedent that the more you complain and bash them, the quicker you would get paid. This was proven during Battle of Michigan 8 when Donnie Jones and Nick Trupiano received their checks before anyone else…..even the winners. Two guys who couldn’t have expressed their distaste for how things were being handle any more publicly. Even individuals living in Florida who kept the bashing private and direct received their checks before anyone else.
Then came Hong Kong. Billy and Hendo took Mike Pop to Hong Kong to compete in a new event on some bad ass tables. They had a great trip across the world. Yet last year’s players remained unpaid.
We all saw who attended and represented the US and there were a lot of questions about that. What really happened is Pong Connect paid the way for the entire team put together by BPong. Airfare, accommodations, spending money and entries to the events were all comped. The accusations that our money was being used to fuel this trip are incorrect, that was not the case at all. From the beginning Pop was never meant to be the one to represent us. One of the defending champs was first asked to join them and he declined for his personal reasons along with attending Splash at the Shore in AC the same weekend. Then I was asked to go a few days later.
It was sold to me as a way to sit down with Billy and once again hash everything out for us to work together. I declined. Honestly, I was fed up and knew in my heart that any prominent player attending this event with them would send a mixed signal. One that shows we support what they’re doing. I do not approve of anything BPong is currently doing nor are they Pongstars Approved!
Declining that offer was an internal struggle for me. I really wanted to go Hong Kong for…..personal reasons….. However, I did not want to support BPong based upon the way they have treated their customers. After a couple days of saying no they moved on to another prominent player/organizer/influencer and he declined as well. They decided to take Pop and the rest is history.
There’s two reasons why Hong Kong is at all relevant to the current state of BPong.
First, I was specifically told on March 2nd that my check would be arriving the following week. “Coincidentally” that was the same date that I was asked to go to Hong Kong. I gave my final decision to Hendo that it was a firm NO. As of the writing of this blog post, it is Mid-April and I still have not received a check.
Second, this prominent player who wishes to remain anonymous was asked to join the BPong crew in Hong Kong after me. His girlfriend was asked for her W9 during the time he was courted to attend Hong Kong and was told that she’d be receiving her check once that was returned. The W9 was sent, but the check has still not arrived. He told BPong that he would not be joining them in Hong Kong and his girlfriend still hasn’t received her check from the World Series. This is also the case for many other players who have also not been paid.
This was not the first time I have had to say no to BPong this year about possible business propositions. The first actually came a few months ago. I had reached out asking about cups and racks. Specifically where the hell I’m supposed to send these people who keep coming to me asking where they can get some. As some of you know, these items have not been available on the website store for some months and no one really knew why. [note: As of April 12, 2019 at 2:00 PST, Cups & Racks are still “Out Of Stock.”]. The response I got was one I could not have imagined. The text detailed that they only had about 100 or so racks left personally and followed with a request that I send them $15k-$20k to help with a plastics order. We would then spend $1,000 on ads to blow through the order, double up on our money and split the profits equally.
Now you’re probably wondering why a company who owes me exactly $2,250 from prize winnings is asking me for investment funds. I’m in the same boat. I still haven’t figured out the answer. Did they need help financially? Were they trying to mend our situation by lining my pockets? I have no clue but I declined the opportunity anyway and explained why. The response I got couldn’t have been a better indicator of what’s really going on over there, “Technically BPE LLC owes you money, you’d actually be rev sharing with BPong LLC.” I wasn’t the first one asked to do this and I most certainly was not the last. I know of multiple sources who were quoted needing anywhere from $15k to $30k for the same deal. Each one a member of this community as a player and/or organizer.
This is an important issue that should be restated. BPong owes several thousands of dollars to dozens of people in the beer pong community. BPong is 4 months overdue on those payments. BPong is also in the business of selling Beer Pong equipment to players and organizers across the country. Those Players and Organizers desperately need equipment and are willing to send money to BPong to buy their equipment. BPong has no stock of equipment. So, BPong’s solution to both problems, is to ask for money from the very people they owe in order to stock equipment for the people who want to pay them more money.
This is an incredibly subversive and shady business tactic.
Pushed beyond my limits
I have stayed quiet for too long. I have loyally supported BPong for years despite a failure to engage in fair business practices on their end. They do not care about me. They do not care about you. I have waited and waited for things to materialize as promised, and they never have and my personal belief is they never will.
The last straw for me is the attempt to bait me into a trip to Hong Kong by dangling the promise of an overdue check I am owed. After I declined, they promised my partner that his check would be arriving the following week. [Update: As of 4/12/19 he has still not received his promised check either] This is more fuel to the fire.
Why cherry pick who gets paid?
Why Kessler before me?
Why anyone before any one else?
Why not pay out all winners at the same time like every other organizer does?
The only legitimate reason I can come up with is I’m a threat. I’m the competition. I say this because I’ve been told on numerous occasions that Pongstars is viewed by Bpong in this manner. My biggest problem with this is that those two statements didn’t become factual until this year. Specifically over the last few months. I never wanted to compete, I only wanted to help. I still want it that way. But I have now been forced to make a decision on which way to go. I was going to wait until the day I got paid to announce this but it can’t wait any longer.
Officially I renounce any remaining support that I had for Billy Gaines, BPong and the WSOBP. They are no longer a thought or presence within our sport as far as I’m concerned. We, as a community, owe them absolutely nothing at this point. Pongstars will continue on the path I have laid out for it. Pongstars will continue to support the community as a whole like we’ve always done.
Meanwhile our support from the global community will only become stronger. My only hope is that this new found competition created by the self inflicting damage of BPong will help them make better decisions down the line. In the end getting them back to the great company they once were so many years ago. If not, WE will still survive.
As for the question I’ve been getting asked a lot lately, “Are you going to the series?”. My answer is Yes, unless I somehow become banned after this. Which, I don’t believe will be the case considering this is the same business who twice refused to be a part of the Organizers National Ban List created for the most severe circumstances. To this date only two players have ever been placed on this list, one of which still remains. When asked about participating and supporting what the community wanted, Billy refused. We’re talking about a player who physically harmed another while getting an entire event shut down ruining everyone’s trip. While another threatened to kill specific players and shoot up events. To ban me for simply being Pongstars and disagreeing with how they handle things would be no different than banning the entire community.
Anyway, yes I plan to attend and for these simple reasons: (1) My entry is free via satellite win. (2) My flight and hotel stay are free thanks to points and it’s a quick 55 minute flight. (3) I will have a lot of friends there, and (4) I will still have a great time regardless of so many big name players/influencers already publicly stating they aren’t going.
But to be completely honest, I’m attending this event full well knowing that there’s a good chance that if I win anything I may not ever be paid. This is my own personal assumption based solely upon the things I know compiled with the most basic level of common sense.
I know that Billy Gaines has no appreciation for his own contracts that he has made with the community. He has promised payment by certain dates in the past, and has repeatedly failed to follow through. I am confident he will continue this practice so long as he remains in this industry. It is in his nature as the unethical egotistical person that he is, to hold the players who attend his events to a higher standard than he holds himself.
If you’re still reading at this point, congratulations you’ve made it to the end. Originally this was just supposed to be a series of answers to questions I’ve been getting from the masses. It has blossomed into much more than I anticipated. Personally, I felt it was time for everyone to know the truths, at least my truths, so you can better understand where I’m coming from. I want the same thing everyone else does. I want for for this game to become what we all believe it should and can be. Together we can still Make Beer Pong Great Again!
[EDIT: After posting this article, Billy Gaines and BPong.com in fact did ban me from competing and attending The World Series of Beer Pong XIV. They also banned the use of my personal name and business from being used in any team names that participated in the competition. But that wasn’t all, they also banned the use of ANY and ALL Pongstars gear to be worn by the players inside the ballroom. After the dust settled, this years WSOBP was the worst turnout they’ve had in over a decade. It was also the worst showing of participants year over year that they’ve ever had in 14 years. As of 8/9/2019 several individuals have still not been paid out from WSOBP XIII which took place 13 months ago. Billy Gaines and his second in command, Josh Hendo, continue to blatantly ignore these individuals who are rightfully owed their winnings.]
[EDIT: As of 10/16/2019 we have been informed that the remaining players from WS XIII back in July of 2018 have finally been paid. However, costume winners from WS XII in 2017 are still awaiting payment. In regards to the most recent WS XIV in July of this year, only the main event has been paid out. Side events are owed by 12/31/2019; 6.5 months AFTER the event has taken place. ]