Fifa Interactive World Cup: Meet the virtual footballers with their sights set on winning

The players are training hard for the tournament of their careers, which this year takes place in Brazil. On video games

Bruce Grannec is hoping to be a major star in Brazil this Summer. At 27 years old, he is the three-times champion of his nation, France, and he has four world titles behind him. Finding himself in the finals of a major Fifa tournament once more, he hopes to become the most successful footballer of all time.

He trains reasonably hard – "I usually play for one hour each day," he says – and he relies on the support of his coach, Zai, and sparring partner Brak. But those who discover that his training tends to consist of sitting in front of a games console, sweating over a controller, should know that Grannec is aiming to win the Fifa Interactive World Cup, a tournament that is attracting the attention of hundreds of thousands of fans across the globe.

Grannec, a professional gamer, won the tournament last year and he is defending his title against 19 other players who are well practised in EA Sports' Fifa 14 video game, including 20-year-old students David Bytheway and Ty Walton from England, and an 18-year-old investor, Adam Johnston, from Ireland.

For the first time since the tournament began in 2004, the Grand Final will be taking place in the host nation of the real World Cup and Grannec, who also won in 2009, is hoping for a hat-trick. When added to the Electronic Sports World Cup he won in 2006 and 2012, and the three championships he bagged in France in 2009, 2011 and 2012, he is the undoubted Messi of the virtual footballing world.

The Fifa Interactive World Cup is, according to Guinness World Records, the largest video game tournament in the world. Last year, the final was held in Madrid and a staggering 2.5 million people competed for a place, double that of the previous year. A similar number has again taken part in this year's contest, the final of which will be spread over two days on 2 and 3 July in Brazil.

Again, the overall winner will be invited to the Fifa Ballon d'Or, the annual best-player awards, and receive just shy of £13,000. While that may be a little over seven hours' salary for the England and Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney, for gamers such as Grannec, the money is secondary to the thrill of the competition. So, what is his secret?

"I don't really know." he says. "I think to go far in a competition you have to gather three conditions: be at your top level on the day, have a bit of luck, and most importantly, keep focused mentally."

 

I sense, though, that there is more to it than that. All of the finalists, it seems, dissect the (video) game and try to learn every new feature that is introduced. In the same way that a real footballer will practise penalties or perfect the curl of the ball, virtual players try to hone each of their required skills to perfection.

"When the new Fifa is out, I play a lot more in order to get used to the game and its new features," says Grannec, an AC Milan fan who started playing Fifa in 1995 on the Sega Mega Drive. "I test the different tactics and the teams. I look to find the best sensations and be sure of my choices. I try to improve in certain areas as well to add more strings to my bow."

The tournament is played using Fifa 14 on the PlayStation 3 and qualifiers began last October. Each of the competitors has had to go through a gruelling process, competing in six online qualification seasons with the top two on the leaderboard in each going through to the Grand Final. Six places are awarded to the victors of six live community qualifiers and the remaining two seats go to the defending champion and the winner of a tournament held in the host nation (which was won this year by Rafael Fortes from Rio de Janeiro).

As well as the main competition, the Fifa Interactive World Cup organisers also give out an award for the best goal of the tournament. Daniel Angeles Lujan, a 24-year-old from Peru who spends every Sunday playing real football with his friends, received 57 per cent of all votes for the tournament's six shortlisted goals. He is in Peru's national virtual-football team and he trains for up to 90 minutes each day. "I had a feeling my goal would win – it's hard to achieve and some Fifa professional gamers have told me this," he says.

It's all a far cry from the days when the Fifa games made their debut in the early Nineties, in a world where competitive gaming meant getting a few mates around to the house and sharing a couple of controllers. But it was a very different ball game then: Fifa had competition from the likes of Sensible Soccer and Kick-Off. These days, having emerged victorious in its more recent battles with Pro-Evolution Soccer, Fifa, in effect, has the pitch to itself.

Professional gamer: Last year's champion Bruce Grannec is defending his title against 19 other players Professional gamer: Last year's champion Bruce Grannec is defending his title against 19 other players
In the process, it has become the longest-running football video game series, and Fifa 13 was the best-selling football game of all time with 14.5 million sales. It has not only crossed into the mainstream but into the dressing rooms of real-life football. Last October, Leyton Orient banned its players from playing Fifa on a match day, believing it to be non-conducive to putting in a good real-life performance, and appearing on the cover of a Fifa game is seen as a badge of honour for the very best players (earning them extra cash in the process).

Such is EA Sports' dominance of the football market, it seized the World Cup licence from the former stalwart, the Birmingham-based publisher US Gold, in 1998 and has retained it ever since.

The Fifa Interactive World Cup was introduced when it became obvious that there was an intense level of competition among players, the average age of whom is 26, drawn primarily from Europe and North and South America.

"The popularity of any game is the core gameplay and core game mechanic and that's not just unique to Fifa, it's at the heart of all of the most popular games around," says Nick Channon, senior producer of Fifa 14. "But what we've seen over the past five years in particular is the proliferation of online play. There's a real competitive nature among those who play online, whether it is with a friend or with someone you don't know."

Indeed, e-sports is big business. There are many professional game tournaments taking place around the world and they appeal to both sexes (even though, disappointingly, the Fifa finals are made up of all men). The inaugural WorldWide Web Games in 2006 was won by Kavitha Yalavarthi, making her a dollar millionaire. Similar levels of prize money have been offered since.

Twitch.tv regularly shows highly competitive contests and, having doubled its community to 45 million monthly users thanks in part to being integrated into PS4 and Xbox One consoles, it has reportedly attracted a bid of more than $1bn (£596m) from Google. There is an appetite not only for showcasing video game skills but watching other people play and the tens of thousands of Fifa videos on YouTube is testament to that.

Having seen some of the most successful online players at first hand, Channon is full of admiration for those who prefer to play sitting down rather than in real-life. "You can't help but admire them," he says. "These players show that the key is to think quickly, they approach the game like real football. They show skill, they are disciplined in defence. They show that, just as in real sport, success comes with practice and hard work: the qualities you need in real football are the same as those needed to win the Fifa Interactive World Cup."

True, although they probably don't work up quite as much of a sweat as their real-life sporting counterparts.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Ashdown Group: Application Architect/Developer - Peterborough

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Application Architect/Developer - Peterborough, Cam...

    Ashdown Group: C# Developer - (C#, VB.Net, SQL, Git, TDD)

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Developer (C#, VB & ASP.Net, SQL Server, TSQL) - Pe...

    Recruitment Genius: Java Developer

    £26000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity for an ...

    Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst - Urgent - Cheshire - £25p/h

    £20 - £25 per hour: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group have been engaged by a hu...

    Day In a Page

    Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

    Greece elections

    In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
    Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

    Front National family feud?

    Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
    Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

    Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

    Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
    DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

    The inside track on France's trial of the year

    Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
    As provocative now as they ever were

    Sarah Kane season

    Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

    Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy