RIO DE JANEIRO – A Danish teenager has claimed the virtual World Cup by beating his English rival in the final of the online Playstation gaming competition, overcoming a field of almost two million entrants.
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While his nation did not make it to the real World Cup, 18-year-old August Rosenmeier did his bit for Danish pride by beating England's David Bytheway 3-1 on Thursday to win the FIFA Interactive World Cup (FIWC).
The FIWC, played exclusively with EA Sports' FIFA 14 game and on a Sony PlayStation 3, has grown from 28,000 entrants in the inaugural tournament in 2004.
Rosenmeier, who said he "trains" four to six hours a day, won $20,000.
Far from the image of gamers being glued to screens in darkened rooms, Thursday's final had a glamorous setting, halfway up the Sugarloaf Mountain; one of Rio's most iconic tourist destinations.
Former players Dwight Yorke and Alan McInally were on hand as commentators, but the biggest attraction was former Brazil great Ronaldo, who gave the two finalists a pre-match pep talk.
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Qualification for the final started back in October 13 for the first of six one-month long seasons played online, with competitors playing up to 900 12-minute games per season to accumulate as many points as possible. For those with less time on their hands, there was also a chance to progress based on the best winning percentage.
With the 2013 champion guaranteed a chance to defend his crown and the host nation given a slot, 20 gamers made it to Fluminese's home ground in Rio de Janeiro on Wednesday.
The first shock came quickly as Bruce Grannec, the FIFA 14 ranked world number one and defending champion, lost in the group stages. The lone Brazilian, Rafael Fortes, won all his group games, but lost in the quarterfinals. His countrymen hope that isn't a premonition for the real World Cup.
Four made it through to Thursday's showdown at Sugarloaf, and both remaining Dutchmen went out in the semifinals. The finalists were marked by very different approaches to virtual football.
"With FIFA (14) it's not the amount of hours you put in but who you play," Bytheway said. "I tend to play about five-eight games a week - not a lot - but because I am playing top players it keeps me at the top of my game. The 20 of us here, we all know each other so we can just ask each other for games."
Rosenmeier's approach was more about quantity than quality.
"When I am training, like for this tournament, I will play many hours, maybe four or six per day. In 2012 my mum and dad were like 'this is too much' but after seeing what a finals is like, they shut (up) pretty quick."
For Rosenmeier, online glory may be rewarding but he is still hoping to make it in the real thing.
"If I am honest, I prefer real football," said Rosenmeier, who plays for a local club in Denmark. "I am ambitious and I hope I can take some of my mental strengths here into the real game. Maybe if I am really lucky it will be me saying hello to the winner of FWIC 2015."