RIO DE JANEIRO - Brazil, albeit with Danish help, have won the World Cup the interactive version, that is.
"Goal from Neymar for Brazil," screamed the commentator as August Rosenmeier, 18, opened the scoring before a 300-strong crowd on Thursday in the shadow of Rio's Sugarloaf Mountain. The real Brazil first has to get past Colombia in Friday's quarter-final before they can dream of closing in on world title number six. But Rosenmeier's interactive 'Selecao' earned him a winners prize of 44,000 reais ($20,000) after he showed masterful dexterity on his console to see off 20-year-old Briton David Bytheway.
The Dane's win makes him one in two million that being roughly the number of competitors who embarked on the road to the final a year ago, according to FIFA. Rosenmeier and Blytheway spent thousands of hours on their consoles battling through a morass of rivals to reach Thursday's showdown, which was streamed live to tens of thousands of online fans. Both made it through to the trophy match organized by FIFA and US electronic gaming giant Electronic Arts.
The level of interest in the soccer simulator can be gauged by the fact that the makers have sold some 4.5 million copies of FIFA 13, the penultimate version of the game. Europe provided many of the top protagonists with France contributing 11, 7 per cent of players and Spain nine per cent. “To reach the final, they had to be in the top two competitors across the globe having played 900 matches” in a month, explained Johann Simon, one of five Frenchmen present for the final venue held at the Moro da Urca, the mountain nestling underneath Sugarloaf Mountain.
Simon, 21, is one of a handful of interactive players who enjoys the luxury of a sponsor. He is with "Team Millennium," which finances his travel to events and also pays him a monthly allowance. "It's just a little not enough to live on," stressed Simon. Even so, over the past two years he has been able to travel to New York, Las Vegas, London and Amsterdam to participate in tournaments. Simon qualified after topping the monthly rankings with no less than 845 wins in his 900 matches, a record which impressed his rivals.
“It's not the hours you spend in front of your console which make the difference”. “Above all you have to keep calm, have a good sense of timing, anticipate well and know the game extremely well,” said Simon, who bowed out after a narrow first-round loss in Rio. "It's good to know the strengths and weaknesses of whichever player to know how to take advantage of them at the right moment," explained another French player, 23-year-old Adrien Viaud. He added it was also paramount to get as much match play as possible against the best players.
Johann and Adrien locked themselves away for an entire week to train intensively ahead of the competition using the latest edition of the game debuting in Rio. Those present took the event ultra seriously, as did organizers, who provided two giant screens for fans able to call on waiters for liquid refreshment. For the further pleasure of the audience, even live commentary was laid on, not least by former Manchester United striker Dwight Yorke.
For two days, the 20 players who made it through to Rio battled through matches lasting five to six minutes. That may seem a brief contest yet long enough to whip up no shortage of excitement and nervious tension. European competitors dominated the final 20 with five Frenchmen, three Dutchmen, two Bulgarians, two Romanians and two Danes involved. One American and one Mexican also made it to the final stages but nobody from Asia.
The groups were all well acquainted from previous matches against one another. Rosenmeier, the world number three eventually won out as he succeeded Bruce Grannec of France as champion to pocket a winning cheque handed over by former Brazil star Ronaldo no less. "Denmark weren't at the World Cup but at least they were well represented at interactive level," said the emotional champion.