Insert Token to Begin: South Side scores new arcade

By: Aaron Warnick | The Duquesne Duke

It’s like walking into fireworks. Lights of every color and unfamiliar noises bounce around the room from every direction. Immediately to your front, a row of machines, seemingly in a yelling match, shout “COMBO!” or “FIGHT!” The sound of several racecar games vrrmmm and hum together from the back of the room. Immediately to your left, a dumpster sized Transformers game has Bumblebee’s head peaking out of the vehicle with his cold, blue, blinking eyes staring off at the nearby pinball machines and their respective patrons.

Thanks to the imagination of one very motivated local, there is something fresh on East Carson Street: Victory Pointe Gaming Lounge.

The arcade has nearly 50 arcade machines spanning from Addams Family Pinball to a gigantic two-play Mario Kart machine. There is a parlor bar lining the side wall with affixed stools. Each stool has access to a small television and game consoles ranging from Xbox One to Sega Dreamcast.

(Aaron Warnick/The Duquesne Duke) Mario Kart racing cabinets will feed the needs of any competitive gamers.
(Aaron Warnick/The Duquesne Duke) Mario Kart racing cabinets will feed the needs of any competitive gamers.

Victory Pointe Arcade opened for business on Jan. 12. The owner Joe Dukovich, 31, says that the community has responded positively to the new business.

“It was shocking. Seeing how popular some of these machines are when they are in a space that’s well-maintained and approachable is heartwarming,” Dukovich said. “[This first Saturday] has been amazing.”

Beyond Pittsburgh and onto the web, Victory Pointe had a moment in the sun on popular internet forum Reddit. A post about the new arcade made the front page of /r/gaming, one of the site’s most active forums.

Broadly speaking, the reaction on the Reddit was positive. After seeing all of the positive feedback online, Joe joked, “well, maybe there’s a chance that this isn’t going to fail.”

Like vinyl records and food trucks, arcades are gaining popularity around the country. Denver’s The 1-Up “barcade” has inspired envy from those a mile-lower from coast to coast.

While the modern arcade for the aging millennial seems like a prime market to tap, it’s not an easy business to get into, especially without the advantage of being able to serve alcohol. Beyond the start-up expenses and that you’re relying on selling tokens for revenue, there are other, unseen challenges to running an arcade.

“We end up doing things in really old-fashioned, things that people don’t really do any more,” Dukovich said. “It’s not like you can go to school to learn how to repair arcade machines. Nobody does that anymore.”

Dan Hall, Victory Pointe’s chief technician, downplays the difficulty of his job.

“Well, a lot of it is common sense. It comes down to curiosity. It’s more simple than it seems,” Hall said. “Machines of any sort, no matter how big and intimidating, is just made of a series of smaller simpler machines. If all the simple, little, easy machines work and the connections are clean then the system as a whole will work.”

Despite these challenges, Victory Pointe has had success early

(Aaron Warnick/ The Duquesne Duke) A n X-Men pinball machine is one of many at Victory Pointe.
(Aaron Warnick/ The Duquesne Duke) An X-Men pinball machine is one of many at Victory Pointe.

on. Dukovich credits some of the arcade’s early victories to the curation of the games selected for the floor.

We went looking for games that give you a sense of awe. We wanted to give you something that you can’t replicate at home,” Dukovich explained. “An emulation at home isn’t the same thing a 7-foot tall machine that has two CRT TVs and has all of the artwork on the side.”

Victory Pointe will host different tournaments for games with a competitive following. Dukovich, a longtime Street Fighter enthusiast, has already hosted a Street Fighter tournament in the arcade.

The team at Victory Pointe has a grander vision for the two-story former Ukrainian Home. In the coming months, they are planning to open a coffee bar and a kitchen and open the second floor for tabletop games.

“Build your own mac-and-cheese is going to be the main attraction,” Allegra Fisher, Victory Pointe’s food service coordinator, said.

When the kitchen is operational in “the coming months,” Fisher will move from greeting patrons at the front-of-house to running Victory Pointe’s kitchen. Fisher helped craft a menu filled with nerd culture delights such as “Smegol’s Fish Fry & Sam’s Fried Taters.”

While not a “videogamer” herself, Fisher didn’t just join Victory Pointe for its kitchen. Fisher is a passionate tabletop gamer and once “GM’ed [Gamemaster, like a moderator] a game for three whole days.”

Features - arcade 1 - aw
(Aaron Warnick/The Duquense Duke) A long line of gaming cabinets stands at attention, ready for customers.

Fisher is going to provide creature comfort for similarly dedicated tabletop gamers who will occupy the second floor of Victory Pointe.

The main room of the second floor is large and has high-ceilings that you don’t often come across in such a densely packed urban area. The area is not yet open to the public, footsteps echo off of those high ceilings. From end to end, banquet tables covered with unpacked games and freshly painted figurines cover the floor.

Victory Pointe’s main floor arcade is enough to get excited about. The grander vision of Victory Pointe is exceptional.

While the community response to Victory Pointe has been positive, getting the business open to the public has been an uphill battle.

In Pittsburgh, any business that has electronic gaming machines must pay a fee of $323 per machine. Any business that owns more than six machines must apply for an amusement arcade specialty license that costs $864 and is assessed quarterly.

The barriers are not purely financial. On Wednesday, the city zoning office temporarily shut down Victory Pointe for a zoning violation. The Duke reviewed the arcade last Saturday.

In an e-mail to The Duke, a city spokesman said Victory Pointe currently does not have the proper city licenses to operate.

“We want businesses to succeed in the city, but those businesses also need to be compliant with our regulations,” spokesman Timothy McNulty said.