Steve Webb has long been a fan of video games but in recent years, he's gained an appreciation for the more tactile appeal of pinball.
"It's like a very finely-tuned piece of machinery that someone's put a lot of effort and energy into building and tuning up, and then you let a steel ball, just unleash it inside and do as much damage as possible," said Webb, the co-owner of Quazar's Arcade in Victoria, B.C.
"There's something just so chaotic about it."
That sense of chaos will be unleashed at the Vancouver Island Pinball Championship, which is set to take place at the Powerhouse Pinball Club, also in Victoria. The venue that has become home to a pinball league that grew during the pandemic.
According to its website, the top 24 players based on event results from the year 2020-21 are qualified for the tournament. Matches will take place at any time at Quazar's Arcade, before the grand finals at the Powerhouse on Sunday, May 1.
Webb had moved some of his pinball machines from the arcade to the Powerhouse building on Store Street, so people could play at a safe distance, he said.
A tactile — and social — game
Dan Bitterlich says he likes the social aspect of the league.
"The competitive nature of it isn't really that strong," he said. "We try to keep it much more about fun than about competition."
Like Webb, Bitterlich says pinball has an appeal that can't be found in the digital world.
"Part of it is that it's tactile," he said. "Pinball is physical."
He notes that though the machines may be identical, everyone plays differently and will play differently over time as the parts wear down or get dirty.
"It's often been referred to as 'a world under glass,'" he said.
"So what you've got there is something that's very physical, that has laws and rules of nature that apply to it but you can never quite control it. You can never quite master it."
What are some good rules of thumb for a pinball novice?
"There are a couple very simple, straightforward rules," Bitterlich said, adding that new pinball players are welcome to the league.
"You're not hitting flippers with no reason. And then things like you're not pressing both buttons at the same time because you're actually increasing the space in between the flippers, so that's actually to your detriment."
After a delay of more than two years, the tournament is back with 24 players set to square off in head-to-head matchups, with the winner of each best-of-seven series advancing to the next round.
Bitterlich says some of the league newcomers he's played with have gone on to compete in tournaments.
"It's the sense of accomplishment because you can learn little skills and all of a sudden you'll see your game getting better," he said.
A winner will be handed a silver-plated championship belt on Sunday night.