Vancouver's first pinball club is out to prove the game's resurgence is more than just a nostalgia kick.
In the past 12 months, the Vancouver Regional Pinball Association (VRPA) has established Vancouver's first "pinbar" and propelled one of its members to a top 10 world ranking. Last summer, the club marked its 10th anniversary.
"When I started it, I never expected it to become as mainstream as it is now," said club founder Kyle Seller. "It’s really taken off again in the past five or six years."
Founded in 2002, the club has since started wait-listing interested players. Members are expected to own their own machines, and inter-league tournaments are held at members homes.
Earlier this year, Seller started to look for new ways to keep up with demand.
He approached the management at Pub 340 in January to see about installing several machines in a corner room of the bar. A year and several municipal permitting issues later, Seller is finally putting the finishing touches on Vancouver's first pinbar. The level of interest has pleasantly surprised employees at the Cambie Street pub.
"We've got a great group of people coming in, all kinds of different folks," said John Fraser who works at the pub. "The age range is just incredible. From people in their early 20s, to two seniors who come in everyday. They're in their 70s."
Seller plans on putting one or two more machines in the Pub 340 space.
"Now there is an outlet in Vancouver where they can play a really good quality game," he said. "I don't like turning people away, and now we can say we have a waiting list, but also say, 'Hey, check out this pinbar.'"
VPRA members themselves are in for a bit more than a casual game at the pub. The league wrapped up its 13-date tournament schedule earlier this month, with club member Robert Gagno coming out on top. The 24-year-old is ranked 10th in the world by the International Flipper Pinball Association (IFPA), and just swept first place at three northwest regional tournaments. He is the only Canadian currently in the top 20.
While rookies at a pub might play for a few minutes, Seller points out that players like Gagno can play a single game for over an hour. At a tournament in Seattle on Dec. 8, Gagno played for over 12 hours to take first place.
"It went on ‘til three in the morning,” said Gagno. “I got this really bad side cramp. But I managed to fight through it after five minutes.”
Gagno plans to play at the 2013 IFPA world tournament. For Seller, who sold the Gagno family a pinball machine when the player was younger, things have come full circle.
"Now he's unstoppable."
Younger players like Gagno have Seller convinced that pinball's resurgence has staying power.
"I think people are coming back to their roots with gaming," he said. "It's not like memorizing the kinds of patterns in video games. It's more about physical skill."
"It's good to see people breaking from video games."