The fluorescent light from the Budweiser lamp made the cigarette smoke appear as if it were dancing in the back room of McMurphy's Pub in La Mesa. By the end of league night, puddles of beer and cracked plastic cups covered the four eight-foot-long regulation-sized tables.
A small crowd of adults, ranging from their early 20s to mid-30s, gathered around one of the tables to watch the final, most anticipated matchup of the night.
On one end of the table, Phillip Weisburd and A.J. Driscoll, aka the “Frat Boys,” set up ten cups in triangular formation and carefully poured each cup a quarter full with beer from a large pitcher. Weisburd and Driscoll, members of San Diego State’s Phi Kappa Psi Fraternity, are the first-place team in San Diego’s only competitive beer pong league.
On the opposite end of the table, a 22-year-old Marine, David Marsceau, of the third-place Shutout Kings, coached his replacement teammate, Robert Barriga. “Just concentrate, man. We can take these guys!”
His usual partner couldn’t attend because of martial-arts training at Camp Pendleton the following morning.
Marsceau and friends make the 40-mile trek from Oceanside every Wednesday night to the small, newly remodeled pub.
Ronny Rader, the 29-year-old organizer and co-founder of sdbeerpong.com, anticipated the matchup. “This one should be a good one. Both of these teams are pretty good shit-talkers.”
The talking, more like yelling, came mostly from short and scrappy Marsceau. “Hey, you guys have heard when people say they’re on fire, right? Well, I’m on it, right now!” he said over the combined noise of intoxicated patrons, jukebox music, and the sounds of a college basketball game on the big screen behind the beer pong tables.
The game is among college-aged youth. It consists of teams tossing a Ping-Pong ball into each of the ten cups belonging to their opponents. With each successful throw, the beer is consumed and the cup is removed from the table. First team to eliminate all of their opponents’ cups wins.
Unfortunately for Marsceau, the talking didn’t have much effect on the Frat Boys of Phi Psi. They were the ones on fire, missing only 3 of their 13 total shots. Within five minutes, the Frat Boys had shut down the Shutout Kings.
Rader and fellow SDSU alum Casey Webster formed the San Diego Beer Pong League last January while the two were trying to figure out ways to entice patrons to their friend Kory McMurphy’s bar.
On January 17 they organized the first tournament at McMurphy’s Pub. That day 18 teams competed for free entry into league play. Though the competition was much tougher than expected, the Frat Boys from Phi Psi won the tournament and a spot on Wednesday’s beer pong league.
Rader and Webster had a feeling that the response would be positive, though not to this degree. “The tournament was a lot larger than we had hoped. I knew beer pong was popular with the younger crowd, but I didn’t realize that even after the college years, people still play in their garages. The league allows these groups the opportunity to get out and meet up with people who have similar interests.”
The plan worked. On Wednesday nights the back room of the bar is filled with beer pong enthusiasts. They range from fraternity members, to Marines, to tattooed and pierced-lipped competitors. And while the vast percentage is male, four all-female teams are also part of the league.
The phenomenon, however, is not exclusive to San Diego. The popularity of the drinking game has grown on a national level, finding its way out of fraternity house garages and into busy bars and national tournaments.
In January, the oldest beer pong accessory website, BPONG.com, held the third annual World Series of Beer Pong at South Point Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. Over 296 teams paid the $1000 entry fee and competed in the four-day tournament. The winners were given a check for $50,000.
Jeremy Hughes and Michael Orr, better known by their beer pong moniker — Chauffeuring the Fat Kid — were the winners of the tournament. The two 24-year- olds moved to Tierrasanta a year and a half ago from the Pittsburgh area and have played in a few tournaments around town, as well as in the Los Angeles area.
Despite their recent win, Hughes remains modest in regard to their current skill level. “We’re not even as good as we used to be. When we were back in college, man, we were probably twice as good as we are now. We still play on weekends in our house. We have three tables and we invite people over and play, but back in college we were playing every night during the week.”
Unfortunately, the 50 grand didn’t go very far. “We both carried some credit-card debt and student loans that some of the money went to. Besides that, I personally bought a bed. I’ve been sleeping on the floor since we’ve moved out here.”
While having a good night’s rest is a healthy decision, some experts believe that competitive beer-drinking games are an unhealthy choice.
Drinking games have been said to contribute to excessive drinking, commonly associated with drunk driving and sexual assault, as well as other social issues. In a recent study published in the January issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, co-authored by San Diego State University’s J.D. Clapp, findings showed that drinking games are associated with higher levels of drinking. More importantly, it revealed that participants’ blood-alcohol concentrations are higher than those that don’t participate in drinking games.
According to World Series winner Hughes: “It depends on the individual. Whether it’s with beer pong or cards, if an individual’s going to binge drink, then they’ll binge drink. At the tournament there’ll be some drunk kids, but they’re always at the back. The ones serious about the tournament will get a little buzzed because it loosens you up and helps you play better, but they’re serious about the game and about winning.”
Billy Gaines, co-founder of beer pong accessory website BPONG.com and organizer of the World Series of Beer Pong Tournament, attributes the gaining interest in beer pong to the love of the game and not the opportunity to drink excessively. “We got into it because we love the game of beer pong. I don’t know why, but there’s something about the game. I think it’s really the competition. The media misrepresents the game so often. It’s not about chugging. We’re focused on the positive aspects, the socialization and the competition aspects of it.”
Webster, of the San Diego Beer Pong League, agrees. He says that the option to replace the beer with water is available to everyone. “I haven’t seen anyone using water yet, but they can.”
He also weighed in on the issue of excessive drinking. “It’s clear people are going to socially drink, whether they are playing games or not. Surprisingly, we find that a lot of teams in our leagues keep their drinking at reasonable level. There is nothing worse than letting your teammate down in double overtime because you are too drunk to focus.” — Dorian Hargrove