The Aztecs had spiritual ballgames, games with physical displays of devotion and a struggle for collective triumph that remains central to our notions of sport. In the 3,000 years since, we’ve streamlined these fundamental concepts into FIFA 23 and beer pong. But I’m not complaining. I think it’s time for our definition of serious games to change.
Though we commemorate pro sports with billions of dollars and stadiums, and reward hardcore gaming with billions of dollars and Comic Con, more simple pleasures like beer pong go unrecognized in the tacitly agreed “game that’s not really a game” category. But our relaxed weekend bacchanal deserves recognition, too—a cool two Allagash Whites down provides the optimal state of play, anyway. In pursuit of this, I spoke to two beer pong champions, CEO of Pro Beer Sports Eric Kutche and United Kingdom-based Twitch streamer Bex Donald, on how to master beer pong, a frat house ritual most people have performed in a happy, messy haze at least once.
We should establish the basic rules of the game before we get into the details, though there are plenty of variations depending on what country you’re in and how creatively your friends want to get drunk. This is the bottom line:
- There are two teams of two
- Each team places 10 quarter-filled cups, ideally red Solo, in a pyramid shape at opposite ends of a table
- You alternate with your opponent, getting two turns to land a ping pong ball into their cup and eliminate it. Your opponent has to chug their eliminated cups.
- If your team lands both of your shots, the ping pong balls get “rolled back” and you receive two additional chances to sink your ball into an enemy cup
- When all of a team’s cups are gone, it’s game over
But your path to pong greatness is only getting started, young bar hopper.
Kutche’s love affair with beer pong started like any other fairytale—in college. “I was always one of the best players wherever I played,” he said. “I practiced all the time because my group of friends played so much, and I wanted to win.”
Eventually, Kutche and his friends sought a larger arena. “My friends and I always wished we could go to competitive beer pong tournaments, but there just wasn’t much around,” he said. They set up Pro Beer Sports, which currently runs a Beerlympics and weekly beer pong tournaments in an effort to turn the perhaps belittled game into something more serious, like esports has done for video games.
“I call our version of drinking games ‘bSports’ because we play the games at the highest level,” he said. “We are going to bring beer pong to ESPN.”
Enter that fighter mindset with Kutche’s first tip. “Always shoot at a specific cup,” he said. “If you want to be a true master of beer pong, practice hitting the last cup. If you can hit the last cup within three shots, you will win most of your beer pong games.”
There are three common beer pong throws: a graceful arc, a zingy fastball, or a nonchalant single bounce off the table. Kutche is partial to style and grace.
“The best shots are ones that arc through the air,” he said. “If you could trace the ball’s flight after it is shot, it should resemble a rainbow more than a straight line.”
To help you achieve that pleasant angle, “When shooting, keep your arm parallel with the table so that your arm is making a 90-degree angle with your body,” Kutche said.
Like Kutche, Bex Donald found beer pong in university. Playing well “came quite naturally,” she said, “I competed in shot put in high school so I think the skills transferred over a little, and as a gamer, I think my aim helped in real life.”
She eventually ran a nightclub’s beer pong table as a part-time gig and won “a few hundred pounds’ worth of beverages over the years.”
For her, the beer pong throw is an individualized pursuit. “Find your balance in your stance and the pose you’re comfortable with and that will help steer your winning shots,” she said.
“The most important rule of beer pong is to have fun!” Kutche said. Playing any game for the first time can feel intimidating, especially in a group-oriented drinking game that coming-of-age movies may have forever labeled for you as cool kids only.
But you shouldn’t “take the game too seriously,” Kutche said. “Everyone wins in a game of beer pong. I have seen so many people become friends, or even couples, after meeting at the beer pong table.”
Donald echoed the statement. “Don’t be peer pressured by the opponents or your team, take your time and focus up,” she said. “Even the pros miss a few shots, but practice makes perfect.”
Donald also introduced me to an important metric, something she calls the PPIP: Peak Performance Inebriation Point.
“This is the amount of drinks that take you to gain enough confidence but not enough to lose focus when participating in bar games,” she said. “Mine is two-and-a-half to three pints.”
“A lot of people think of frat parties and binge drinking when they think of beer pong, but Pro Beer Sports is changing that perspective by treating beer pong, and other drinking games, as sports,” Kutche said. “We play with water in the cups because I lived through the era of beer in the cups and looking back, it was gross.”
I play with water, too. But if you’re willing to seize the gross, you should take it all the way. Donald suggests players learn to guzzle beer well so that “it doesn’t distract you from the game at hand.”
“Some beer pong set ups will have lukewarm, flat, gross beer. Unfortunately, that’s a hazard of the sport,” she said. “A wee tip I have is sticking my pinky up while I drink and stare at it, almost like looking at the horizon to avoid travel sickness. That helps me.”
After internalizing all this advice, I, someone who is very OK at beer pong, decided to put it to the test…by playing the iMessage, Game Pigeon version of the game called Cup Pong. It’s far from a perfect substitute, I know, but it was my best, cleanest option at 12:00 p.m. on a Monday afternoon. Sober, unless you count the vodka sauce rigatoni leftovers I keep picking from.
Red cups, rainbow arcs, and peer pressure ping-ponged in my head. I was nervous at first, knowing myself to be a wildly inconsistent iPhone finger sportswoman.
Pick a cup. Shoot in an arc, I reminded myself. Incredibly, I won the game for the first time, so I can confirm that these tips work for both real and virtual cups. Next time I’m playing with Mark Zuckerberg in a 6D Farmville simulation.
But when you find yourself at a beer pong table IRL, remember these tips and try to enjoy it as a moment of easy bacchanal. The low-stakes games we constantly create throughout history—like beer pong, like iMessage volleys—aren’t really about winning, just loving to play.