Sunday 01 January 2017, 03:06

FIFA eSports: A brief history

Held from 2004 to 2017, the FIFA Interactive World Cup was an annual tournament bringing together the world’s best EA Sports FIFA players to compete for the official world title.

In 2017, the tournament was relaunched as the FIFA eWorld Cup - the official World Cup tournament for the EA SPORTS FIFA series .

As with many great success stories, the competition emerged from humble beginnings. takes a tour through the tournament's history, starting with the very first edition of the FIFA Interactive World Cup.

The inaugural FIWC Live qualification event took place in 2004 at the tip of the African continent. South Africa had just won the bid to host the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ making Johannesburg the perfect place to launch the first ever Interactive World Cup. Back then, qualification for the FIWC Grand Final was only possible via regional qualification tournaments. While today's participants hail from every corner of the globe, just a few thousands players from nine different countries competed for the inaugural FIWC crown.

Brazilian crowned inaugural FIWC champion (2004) As with every tournament, the first edition of the FIWC concluded with the Grand Final, which was staged at the Home of FIFA in Zurich, Switzerland. Eight finalists fought it out to become the maiden FIWC champion, with Thiago Carrico de Azevedo of Brazil emerging victorious and earning the chance to mingle with his idols at the FIFA World Player Gala.

Today's gamers may imitate the skills of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi but for Thiago the world's best was Ronaldinho. "I can't wait to get up on the same stage as Ronaldinho. He's one of my heroes," said Thiago, after winning the final in Zurich. The first FIWC champion got even more than he bargained for as he watched Ronaldinho crowned the world's best player in 2004!

2005 and 2006: The local heroes years The second Grand Final in 2005, held in London, brought together the ten best gamers in the world. Local boy Chris Bullard made the most of home advantage to secure the coveted trophy. The following year also produced a home-grown winner, with Dutch whizz Andries Smit victorious at the 2006 edition in Amsterdam.

Tradition continues in 2008 The number of participants at the FIWC has risen year on year and in 2008 the figure had already reached 28,000. The best 32 were invited to compete in the Grand Final.  A staggering 20,000 spectators at the Sony Centre in Berlin watched the event. Alfonso Ramos' victory ensured he became the first Spaniard to lift the trophy.

Half a million players in 2009 The introduction of online qualification seasons for FIWC saw the number of participants boom to over half-a-million in 2009. The 2009 Grand Final, held in Barcelona, capped off a fantastic season. Beach soccer, cheerleaders, freestylers and DJs ensured that there was plenty of action to be enjoyed both on and off the virtual pitch in Barcelona. Frenchman Bruce Grannec walked away with the title after defeating Mexico's Ruben Zerecero 3-1 in an unforgettable final. But, anyone thinking 2009 could not be topped in terms of entertainment had a big surprise heading their way the following year.

Records shattered in 2010** **The 2010 edition of the FIWC set a new standard for the global tournament. An incredible 775,000 gamers helped the FIFA Interactive World Cup cement its place in the Guinness Book of Records as the biggest gaming tournament on earth - a distinction that the FIWC holds to this day. USA’s Nenad Stojkovic won FIWC 2010 in front of 11,000 spectators on the beach in Barcelona, becoming the first ever North American to win the world title.

FIWC 2011 hits Hollywood 869,543 gamers competed in FIWC 2011, once again breaking the tournament record for participants. A breath-taking Grand Final was held in the city of Los Angeles where 24 finalists enjoyed mansions, limousines, yachts and helicopters during the glamorous tournament. “I never could have dreamed I would experience anything like this,” said 2011 champion Francisco Cruz. The then 16-year-old Portuguese remains the youngest player to ever win the virtual world cup.

One million reached in 2012 The tournament finally surpassed the one-million players mark in 2012, with over 1.3 million gamers competing in the hopes of making the trip to 2012 Grand Final in Dubai. For the first time, the three-day Grand Final was streamed live on - a tradition that continues to this day. Dubai 2012 ended in a nail-biting penalty shoot-out between two former world champions to decide the winner. Alfonso Ramos defeated Bruce Grannec to become the first ever player win two FIWC titles and was handed his trophy by none other than 2006 FIFA World Cup™ winner Luca Toni.

The double machine in 2013 France’s long wait for a second virtual world cup finally ended at FIWC 2013. Having lost the 2012 final on penalties, Frenchman Bruce ‘The Machine’ Grannec clawed his way back from the brink of elimination in the group stage to win the title in style in Spain’s capital. To date, Grannec and Ramos are the only two players to ever reach the status of FIWC double champion.

2014 World Cup fever  The virtual and real FIFA World Cup™ merged for the first time in 2014 with Brazil serving as host of both the 2014 FIFA World Cup™ and FIWC 2014 Grand Final. Rio De Janeiro was packed with both virtual and real World Cup fever and the 20 Grand Finalists were able to enjoy an unforgettable World Cup experience. World Cup legend Ronaldo handed a star-struck August Rosenmeier (Denmark) the winner’s trophy.

The day after his victory on Sugarloaf Mountain the 18-year-old attended the German-France quarterfinal along with the other Grand Finalists. Inside the fabled Maracana, August was stunned shortly before kick-off when a highlights video of the FIWC 2015 Final popped up on the giant screens of the Maracana. Some 74,220 football fans cheered as they watched footage of the Danish teenager score, win and receive his world cup title from Ronaldo on Sugarloaf Mountain.

Home of the world champions (2015) For FIWC 2015, the tournament travelled to the home of the current FIFA World Cup champions, Germany. Held in Munich, the 2015 Grand Final would mark the first time a player from Asia was crowned world champion of EA SPORTS™ FIFA. A quarter-finalist in 2012, semi-finalist in 2013 and finally world champion in 2015, Abdulaziz Alshehri’s performance in Munich epitomized the strength of character it takes to become an FIWC champion. “Never give up,” were the Saudi Arabian’s words on stage at Munich’s Volkstheater, “Never, ever give up”.

All consoles go in 2016 FIWC 2016 will go down in virtual football history as the first edition of the FIFA Interactive World Cup to ever be played on multiple gaming platforms. The world's best Xbox One and PlayStation®4 E-Sports players attempted to qualify for the Grand Final, held in New York from 20-22 March. Over 2.4 million players attempted to secure one of the 32 Grand Final seats. 17-year-old Mohamad Al-Bacha won the world title, the second-ever for Denmark, in a sensational two-legged final that many believe to be the greatest gold medal final to date at the world’s largest gaming tournament.

2017 embraces eSports rise 2017 is the year that the FIWC embraced the surge in interest and expansion of eSports. Cash prizes for the world's largest gaming tournament have been increased to USD 300,000; the first ever FIFA Interactive Club World Cup has been added to the Grand Final qualification journey - which will see 24 players from 19 professional football clubs compete for seats at the final - and the Grand Final (16-18 August) will once again be played across both the PlayStation®4 and Xbox One.