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Is Air Hockey a Sport? (Sport or Arcade Game Explained)

Are you an avid air hockey player? If so, I bet you highly rate your physical attributes in terms of shot selection, finesse, reaction speeds, and hand-eye coordination. This isn’t because you’ve got an ego either, it’s just a fact that you need these skills to be good at air hockey! 

If you’ve built up these skills, it’s a matter of pride to not have them underestimated. This leads many keen players to wonder whether air hockey is an arcade game (as it was originally intended) or whether it’s evolved over the years to become something more competitive and serious…

This, therefore, begs the question, Is air hockey a sport? Under the dictionary definition of the term, air hockey can be classed as a sport. It’s a game that requires competition through leagues and tournaments, it requires some physical effort, and is played following strict rules and regulations. 

Are you surprised by the above ^^ then read on, we’ll be providing some detail to show why air hockey might be classed as a modern sport and justify whether or not this is the case. 

Is Air Hockey a Sport

It’s best to start off with the dictionary definition of the term sport

“A game, competition, or activity needing physical effort and skill that is played or done according to rules, for enjoyment and/or as a job”

With a clear definition, we can at least back up (or dismiss) anything that can confirm Air hockeys status as a sport or not. Let’s break it down section by section. 

Firstly, a sport is a game, competition, or activity and air hockey certainly matches that criteria. It started out as an arcade game (more on that later) and while this is still the case, it’s now also an activity due to many homeowners keeping one in a game or rec room and it also now has a competitive element through leagues and tournaments. 

Next, it requires physical effort or skill. 

Now we know you won’t be running around the table or exerting too much energy but there are definitely physical aspects and skills needed to play and be good. Shot selection, reactions, reflexes, timing, and hand-eye coordination are all needed to be competitive and practice is definitely needed to achieve many of these skill sets. 

For competitive play, there are strict rules and regulations that need to be adhered to. You can get tabletop air hockey tables but for competing, the table dimensions are uniform along with the puck and handles. 

Finally, air hockey is of course played for enjoyment, that’s why the game was invented! As it became more popular and more importantly – competitive – air hockey became an enjoyable pastime but also a career for some people. Now, the earning potential and number of professional air hockey players are rather limited but the opportunity is still there. 

We’ll now get into the finer points of air hockey when viewed as a sport. 

What Are The Rules?

The common denominator with all sports is competition. Who will outscore their opponent first? Air Hockey is no different as the goal is to put the puck into the other players’ net as many times as you can.

What is needed for an air hockey game between two players?

  • Air hockey table
  • Two mallets (aka strikers)
  • One puck

According to the United States Air Hockey Association, a game begins with a face-off where the referee releases the puck at the centerline for the players to try and gain first possession.

The first player to score seven points wins. Points are tallied by shooting the puck into your opponent’s net (slot) and possession of the puck for the next shot is decided by who was scored on last.

The following are considered game fouls:

  • Standing past the center line the divides the table
  • Topping the puck by placing the mallet on top of the puck
  • Palming- when any part of the player’s body touches the puck
  • Intentional lifting of the puck
  • Taking longer than 10 seconds to retrieve the puck after a goal and put it into play

What is Air Hockey’s History?

The beginnings of air hockey started in 1969 when three employees of the table game company,  Brunswick Billiards started developing the first air hockey table prototype. They based their design on technology originally designed for air tables. 

Air Tables were used as a lift, or move-assist for large boxes within factories or shipping warehouses. Light pressure compressed air was forced in between two layers of plexiglass or pressboard where the top layer had holes drilled in which the air traveled and created a frictionless surface for the heavy object to be pushed freely. 

This design is how the puck seamlessly floats across the surface of the air hockey table.

Leave it to a group of engineers to run with the idea of taking a game played on ice and skate blades to a wholly accessible game played on a cloud of compressed air. 

Once introduced into arcades and bars in the early 1970’s air hockey tables were a big financial success and spread throughout the popular culture to become a sought-after game to have in your rec room at home.

Primarily, air hockey was considered to be an arcade game so this is definitely worth keeping in mind when viewing the game from a “sporting” perspective. 

What Are The Player Rankings?

The experience of an air hockey player is separated into five different categories. Beginner, Amateur, Pro, Master, Grandmaster. According to the Air Hockey Players Association, there are only 24 players titled as professional, with the top 10 players in the world (winners placing in 10th-1st place in the world Championship) of them holding the coveted recognized title of master. 

A Grandmaster is anyone within the top five rankings.

How Do They Compete?

There are two major world championship competitions for air hockey. They are hosted by the Air Hockey Players Association and the United States Airhockey Association. The biggest is the AHPA Championship which is hosted in Colorado Springs, Colorado every year. 

It attracts competitors from all over the world and offers competitor categories ranging in age, gender, and skill level. 

These tournaments are heavily regulated, from the type of puck being used, the weight of the mallets (6oz regulation,) down to the type of overhead light being used during the match. 

With rules and governance like this, it is easy to see why the game of air hockey is considered a sport. This directly links with some (arguably all) of the factors that by definition make something a sport and this is why a solid argument can and is made to say that air hockey is a sport.

Who Is The Best Player?

The beauty of air hockey is that it is more based on skill and dexterity, rather than physical strength. This allows for a wider range of potential players and more accessibility when rising through the ranks no matter your age. 

The current world champion and #1 ranked Grandmaster of air hockey is 20-year-old Colin Cummings from Beaumont, Texas. He first started playing at the age of 10 and won his first junior title at 12 years old. 

By the time he was 16, he had become the youngest world champion in air hockey history. To date, he has claimed seven world championship victories and shows no signs of slowing down 

What Are The Types of Shots?

The methods used by the top competitors in the world vary from the striking force, bank shots, and even puck handling to deceive your opponent. The three different styles of shots range between how and where you hit on the table. Straights, Under, and Overs. 

Here are a few examples of the type of shots you can take to try and score:

  • Swing Cut
  • Push Cut
  • The Cross Straight 
  • Front and Back Hands
  • Right and Left Over
  • Right and Left Under
  • Offspeed

Why is this relevant? 

It clearly demonstrates that an array of physical skills are needed to perform different types of shots. This is no different to a tennis player utilizing top spin, side spin, or backspin when striking a tennis ball. 

What Are The Best Tables?

A good unit of measurement for determining the best tables in the sport is by seeing which tables are used in championship play.  It’s no surprise that the company the founders of air hockey worked for are included in the list below:

  • Brunswick
  • Gold Standard Games
  • Valley Dynamo

As with the above section on shot types, the fact that there are trusted brands and regulation tables that are used for air hockey competitions further demonstrates that it is something that can be classed as a sport. 

If you need to meet specific criteria and regulations in order to compete, it’s hard to argue against these criteria. 


We at Game Room Hideaway don’t have the authority to say whether or not something should be considered a sport and you as a reader most likely don’t care for opinion, therefore, we are just using some factually based criteria and dictionary-based definitions to state that air hockey can be classed as a sport. 

The reasoning behind this is as follows:

  1. Air hockey is a competitive game 
  2. It requires physical skill 
  3. It can be played for competition to earn prize money

While it’s possible to make an argument against this, it’s very hard to argue that in modern sports the skill level and heightened level of competition are much higher than what they might have been when they were first classed as “arcade” games. The evolution of esports has clearly demonstrated this.