Back in October, I started playing competitive pinball. (Believe me, I didn’t know it was a thing either until last year.) But in the six months since joining the Cleveland Belles & Chimes women’s pinball league, I’ve participated in several leagues in the area (and won B Division once!), played in numerous pinball tournaments in Northeast Ohio, and was named one of the International Flipper Pinball Association’s (IFPA) Biggest Movers in January 2024. 

Given my newfound love for competitive pinball, I was delighted to discover Kanopy had the documentary Wizard Mode  about pinball champion Robert Gagno. See, I come from a documentary-loving family; more often than not, if I text my sister about a documentary I recently watched she’ll tell me she’s already seen it and vice versa. In particular I adore documentaries that focus on specialty or hobby competitions like chess or spelling bees or pinball, which is why I was so excited to watch Wizard ModeLuckily, Kanopy has a wealth of titles that fit my love for documentaries about niche competitions, and I have spent many a weekend making my way through some of these films (with many more still to go!).

Whether you’re looking to give your community popular and award-winning films  or feed their love for truth-is-stranger-than-fiction documentaries, Kanopy is the grand champion (pun intended) of streaming service platforms for libraries. And now, thanks to Kanopy’s new ticket system, film fans like myself have more clarity on viewing periods and how many tickets a title will use. Visit the Kanopy website here to learn more about adding Kanopy to your library, and read on to learn some of my recommended competition films to add to your To Be Watched list.

Competition documentaries on Kanopy


View on Kanopy here

I first saw Spellbound at the Cleveland International Film Festival way back in 2003. It was my first entry into niche competition documentaries and the one that started my love for the genre. This documentary follows 8 teens and pre-teens as they work their way toward the finals of the Scripps Howard national spelling bee championship in Washington D.C.

Wicker Kittens 

View on Kanopy here

In Minnesota, the winters are long but the jigsaw puzzling is fierce. Join some of the top teams in competitive puzzling as they prepare for the largest contest in the country, the one that crowns the fastest puzzler around, in this quirky documentary from South By Southwest. 

Interested in learning more about competitive puzzling and how you can build it into your programming schedule? Check out an interview with competitive puzzler Sarah Schuler here. 

Ecstasy of Order: The Tetris Masters 

View on Kanopy here

While pinball has been seeing a resurgence over the past few years, back in the 1980s the industry took a hit thanks in large part to the increase of home video gaming systems and games like Tetris.

Tetris. We’ve all played it, rotating the pieces and dropping them in the perfect place, or despairing as we discover a piece won’t fit. You may have even joked about ‘mastering’ the game. But what about the people who’ve truly mastered Tetris? Ecstasy of Order takes us behind the scenes as record-holding Tetris masters prepare to compete in the 2010 Classic Tetris World Championship.

Wizard Mode 

View on Kanopy here

In the game of pinball, there is no greater reward than Wizard Mode – a hidden level that is only unlocked when a player completes a series of lightning-speed challenges. Robert Gagno has dedicated most of his life to mastering Wizard Mode, and is now one of the top pinball players in the world. He also happens to have autism. Wizard Mode  follows Robert as he seeks to balance his quest to become a world pinball champion and his growing real world responsibilities, culminating at the largest pinball tournament in the world, Pinburgh, in Pittsburgh, PA. 

Bible Quiz 

View on Kanopy here

An award-winning film exploring coming of age in the face of faith, doubt, fierce competition, and first love. High-school senior, Mikayla Irle, memorizes books of the Bible on her quest to win the National Bible Quiz Championship and the heart of her crush and Bible Quiz team captain JP O’Connor.  In order to succeed, they must compete against thousands of other teens across the US, including their biggest rival, Cedar Park. She hopes that if she can lead their team to victory she will find the belonging and support she lacks in her own family within the team, particularly JP. 

Word Wars

View on Kanopy here

Word Wars follows the lives of four of the top-rated Scrabble players in the country as they crisscross the United States in heated competitions culminating in their ultimate quest – the$25,000 top prize awarded at the national tournament in San Diego. With its tongue firmly planted in cheek, Word Wars uncovers the fiercely competitive, highly idiosyncratic world of professional Scrabble.


View on Kanopy here

Believe it or not, Kanopy has two documentaries about Barista Championships. There is this one, Baristas, which covers the World Barista Championship and is not to be confused with Barista, which focuses on the US National Barista Championships. I am choosing to highlight Baristas because this was such a unequally-presented documentary that employed storytelling and narrative devices I hadn’t seen in a documentary before. (That said, I have also seen Barista and recommend it!)

So what does it take to make the perfect cup of coffee? Four passionate National Barista Champions from the United States, Ireland, Germany and Japan represent their countries and their craft in an attempt to win the World Barista Championship in Seoul, South Korea.

The Lost Arcade 

View on Kanopy here

Okay, not a competition documentary but because of my love for pinball I had to include it. An intimate portrait of the passionate and exceptionally diverse community at the beloved Chinatown Fair, The Lost Arcade chronicles the evolution of arcades, while celebrating the camaraderie and history of a pop culture phenomenon. 

Looking for more documentaries to add to your digital library?

When it comes to documentaries, Kanopy has one of the best collections available on a streaming platform (and trust me, as a documentary fan I’ve tried them all). And now there is a new Documentaries PLUS Pack available to US and Canadian libraries! Kanopy’s Documentaries PLUS Pack includes up to 300 titles of Kanopy user favorites along with easy-watching docs.

Even better, between now and April 30, libraries that add 2 or more PLUS Packs get 20% off! Or, round out your collection and buy all PLUS Packs and get 30% off.  Contact us today to learn more! 

About the author: Jill Grunenwald is a Marketing & Communications Specialist on the North America Public Library Marketing Team. A former librarian, she joined OverDrive in 2015. Outside of the office she can be found writing, hanging out with her cats, collecting more Tarot decks than she has room for, and playing competitive pinball. Her favorite genre is something she calls “Murder at an educational institution that involves a close-knit group of suspicious characters.”