Arcade bars are popping up all over the west coast and bringing a mix of nostalgia and fun to a Friday night out. So when Dan Bitterlich moved to Victoria a few years ago, he was surprised at the lack of pinball available on Vancouver Island.
"The west coast is actually quite renowned for pinball," said Bitterlich. "Vancouver, Seattle and Portland have a lot of pinball but we didn’t have any here."
Quazar’s Arcade opened last summer with multiple machines, and it was all Bitterlich needed to start up the largest pinball league in Victoria.
Combined with his smaller league at Peacock Billiards, more than 30 players have joined since January.
Although the pinball leagues were growing quickly, Bitterlich recognized a lack of diversity in the group. Last month, he started an additional women’s league to encourage female and non-binary islanders to join.
"We want to be as open and inclusive as we can," said Bitterlich.
Karrie Hill is one of the original members of the group and says she is thrilled with the inclusive approach to a traditionally male-dominated game.
"[Arcades were] a place women didn’t go back in the day, so [pinball] became like a men’s thing to do," said Hill. "So for women to come and take up space is amazing."
She attends all three of the leagues offered by the group with her partner, Ashleigh. The two have become regular high-scorers in the community.
"It’s a social thing, you play pinball with folks," Hill said. "It’s a lot different than sitting in the basement in front of a video game. You really get to know folks you typically wouldn’t talk to in your daily life."
The league is also seeking to draw younger players who are new to the game. Bitterlich says his love of pinball started as a child, and the passion many older pinballers have for the sport is something they want to pass on.
"There’s a huge youth movement," said Bitterlich. "You get nine- and 10-year olds kicking 55-year-old’s butts."
The leagues aren’t just fun and games either. The group regularly hosts charity tournaments and recently raised $1,000 for the B.C. Children’s Hospital.
If you ask anyone at Quazar’s Arcade, they’ll all likely agree on one thing: Dan Bitterlich has brought pinball back to the mainstream.
And with it, a nostalgic way to bring the community together.