TERRI RICHARDSON | The Journal Gazette
Mike Burgess loves pinball.
He has spent years driving to such places as Indianapolis, Lafayette and Lansing, Michigan, to play in tournaments. It was when he realized he was driving two hours one way to Lafayette to play that he decided to open an arcade in Fort Wayne and start his own pinball league and tournaments.
“I had the collection and just decided to start looking for a place,” Burgess says.
His collection includes 130 pinball machines. The best of that collection – from the 1970s to current – can be found in his newly opened arcade, Fort Wayne Pinball Wizards World on Lima Road.
And so far, his passion is paying off. Burgess says the response to the arcade has been good and the first tournament he held in December was the third largest tournament in Indiana for 2017.
The old-school arcade game of pinball is coming back into vogue. Interest has skyrocketed over the past decade or so, with the number of players and competitions growing worldwide, according to the International Flipper Pinball Association. There were 500 players in 50 competitions worldwide in 2006, according to the IFPA. In 2017, there were nearly 4,500 competitions and more than 55,000 players.
“It is having a resurgence,” says Bret Almashie, owner of Ace Game Room Gallery in Fort Wayne. Almashie says he can tell by not only the increase in money in the games' cash boxes, but also through comments left on Facebook from people letting the business know if something is wrong with a certain game. “We've not had that happen before,” he says.
Almashie says while everything is cyclical, he believes pinball is making a comeback because it's interactive and a player can't duplicate a game like in a video game.
“Pinball is unique in a sense that you are interacting with the silver ball; every game is different,” Almashie says. “(It's) the nostalgic of it. People have nostalgia for the silver ball and flipper.”
Opening up his own pinball arcade is something Burgess always wanted to do, he says. When his children began moving out of the house, he found himself with some free time and an opportunity. That and the fact his wife wanted him to do something with the large collection of pinball machines he had amassed in their home.
“Us kids from the '80s hung out in the arcades,” Burgess says of pinball's resurgence. “We're finally at that age that our kids are grown up and we can get back in it.”
Many of Burgess' pinball games, including some antique machines from the '40s, are located in his man cave at home.
About 30 have been relocated to Fort Wayne Pinball and include games that range from classic to newer machines such as “Star Wars” and “Lord of the Rings,” says Larry Schmitt, director of leagues and tournaments. He says the newer machines are part video game and very interactive. The cost to play the games range from a quarter to $1.
So far, the arcade has attracted all ages, from adults to 3- and 4-year-olds, who stand on a milk crate to play, Schmitt says.
Fort Wayne Pinball's next tournament is Monday, Burgess says. People can find out more information on the arcade's Facebook page.
Pinball players can also find out where to play in the area and across the state on several pinball websites and apps dedicated to enthusiasts that track where machines are located. Almashie lists the locations of his games on such sites.
But many of his pinball machines are sold to home customers who put them in their basements and game rooms, he says.
Some of those customers include doctors, who use the games for stress relief, Almashie says. “What better release than to play pinball?” he says.
Almashie says that pinball games have been increasing in value. The machines tend to hold their value, even those that have been in a customer's home for 15 to 20 years, he says.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.