What began in 2001 as an online community for beer pong enthusiasts has evolved into a brand selling a line of tournament-ready cups, racks, tables and balls, not to mention an annual event that attracts hundreds of players. And it is as legitimate as any other sport, says BPONG Founder and CEO Billy Gaines, who launched the first World Series of Beer Pong in 2006. Gaines spilled the tea (er, beer) to Connect Sports about the history of the organization ahead of the June 1-5 event at Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino, explaining why the game is more than a frat party staple.
When were you first introduced to beer pong?
I was in college in Pittsburgh and on the varsity swim team. Through that I got introduced to beer pong and spent a lot of time playing in college. It was an awesome game. It wasn’t the partying; it wasn’t the drinking. It was a game of skill. People in general, especially varsity athletes, are naturally competitive. That’s what hooked me. We not only got to know each other in the pool, but at the beer pong table too. It helped strengthen friendships and it was fun and competitive.
Why did you create BPONG.com?
We knew people were playing in Pittsburgh at house parties, but we didn’t know who they were. We felt there needed to be a way to unite all these people who have a common interest, just as swimming united us. That was the foundation of the website. The goal was never to create an event or products; the goal was to create a platform through which players could unite and upload pictures and stories. One of the ideas we had was to enable people to ask where they can find other people to play beer pong with.
How has The World Series of Beer Pong changed over the years?
You have to remember that back in the early 2000s the internet was very different. People used made-up screen names on online forums. We wanted to connect people, but it had this false sense about it. Beer pong is a real-world game. We felt we needed something to bring these people together into one place.
The other thing that’s changed dramatically is, at the time, we didn’t feel like it would be easy to get a hotel for a big beer pong tournament because of preconceived misconceptions. About that time, a casino in Mesquite, Nevada, reached out to us. At that time, a $10,000 beer pong tournament was unheard of. A lot of people thought we couldn’t pull it off, but we tripled in size from year one to year two because we proved we were legitimate and able to execute an event like this. From there the event grew considerably. Our peak was 500 teams.
What challenges do you face?
One of our goals was to rip this drinking game out of the college environment and make it a mainstream sport. We were successful in doing that, but our next challenge is that beer pong has almost lost its edginess now. Now people are like, “My grandma plays beer pong.” How do we capture people and make it cool again and make it exciting enough again to make people travel a greater distance for it?