Quebec pinball wizards face off in provincial championship at Montreal bar

The top 16 ranked pinball players in Quebec battled it out on Saturday in the provincial championship held at North Star bar and arcade. (Valeria Cori-Manocchio/CBC - image credit)
The top 16 ranked pinball players in Quebec battled it out on Saturday in the provincial championship held at North Star bar and arcade. (Valeria Cori-Manocchio/CBC - image credit)

While flashing lights, bells and chimes have come to be expected at North Star bar and arcade in Montreal's Plateau–Mont-Royal borough, so too has Benoit Bisson.

Every Wednesday for the past six years, Bisson has come to the pinball-themed bar on Saint-Laurent Boulevard to hone his skills.

"It's just something about the physicality of [pinball] which is a little different from all the video games that we encounter at all times," said Bisson, organizer of Montreal Major League Pinball, a league for players of all skill levels.

"Some of the skills, some of the anticipation, the chaotic nature of it."

This year, Bisson's skills landed him among the top 16 ranked players in the province who took part in the Quebec Provincial Pinball Championship held at North Star on Saturday.

Players qualified based on results from monthly tournaments held across Quebec throughout 2022, and Saturday's winner will face off against the best of the best at the IFPA North American Pinball Championship in Wisconsin later this year.

North Star worker Lucien Robitaille, who co-directed the Quebec tournament and also played in it Saturday, says his favourite part of pinball is its social aspect.

"That's what keeps me loving more and more the game — playing with other people that like it, playing together to understand the game and [trying] to beat the games and [beating] your fellow players too."

CBC
CBC

Robitaille says each pinball machine at his arcade and bar — some of which are from the 1960s — has its own theme, storyline and design.

And those differences, he says, make the game exciting.

"They all have different sets of rules and learning them can be long, but the more you know the rules, the better you'll get at pinball," he said.

According to some patrons, the favourite at North Star is the Dolly Parton machine.

"It's one of those beautiful, classic machines that has little spinners, little targets," said Bisson. "You don't need to know in-depth rules. It's just a lot of fun to play."

Charlotte Fillmore-Handlon, co-director of Saturday's Quebec tournament, agrees.

Playing pinball competitively since 2014, she says she remembers learning how to play on such classic games and seeing herself improve.

"The more that I practised, the better that I got," she said. "It's just a great feeling."

CBC
CBC

On Sunday, Fillmore-Handlon will be participating in the first-ever Quebec Provincial Women's Pinball Championship, which will pit the top eight ranked women in the province against each other based on their competitive play in 2022.

After hosting a women's pinball league in 2016, Fillmore-Handlon says she's excited to finally see women getting the chance to play the game competitively in Quebec.

"Pinball has traditionally been male-dominated, and so my goal has always been to make a place that's very inclusive for anyone to see themselves being able to play," she said.