Friday 24 February 2017, 15:29

RayZiaaH combining FIFA 17 and football smarts

His name is Florian Maridat, but his FIFA 17 rivals know him better as 'RayZiaaH'. One of France's leading talents in the game for just over a year, his status has taken on a whole new dimension since he qualified for the FIFA 17 Ultimate Team Championship in Berlin on 20 and 21 May.

The Monaco eSports Club player sealed his place thanks to some brilliant performances at the FUT Champions regional final in Paris on 4 February. Despite his lack of experience in high-stakes competition, 'RayZiaaH' clinched one of just eight tickets to the German capital. "It was my first international event," he told "I began playing eSports in October 2015. Before that, I played with my friends online. I was always the one who beat everybody else, so no one wanted to play with me any more. Playing FIFA 16 online, I had just one defeat and 250 wins."

There is a world of difference between excelling in the comfort of your own home and shining at a live tournament, but 'RayZiaaH' made the transition in no time. "Above all I made progress on a mental level," he explained. "I had a reputation for mostly being good in my own bedroom. At my first live tournaments, I lost composure and played badly. I told myself I was going to change that and I started to get good results. I began to rack up 40-0s (wins to losses) at FUT Champions and wanted to prove my worth at live events."

Although a newcomer on the eSports scene, 'RayZiaaH' has a long history of gaming behind him. "I've been playing video games since I was five years old. I started with the first FIFA game and I've always had a soft spot for football games." He also has a talent for the sport itself and plays at a fairly high level, combining his experiences with a ball at his feet and a controller in his hands to good effect. "When I started playing football, I told myself I'd try to apply what I knew about football in FIFA and vice versa. My experience as a footballer helps me tactically in terms of having a game plan, defending, attacking, beating a defence and keeping the ball. FIFA gives me an overall vision of the game that you don't have when you're on a pitch. I draw inspiration from the game in terms of positioning and movement."

Perhaps unsurprisingly given his football pedigree – which is rare among top-level FIFA players – the 20-year-old winger feels no need to spend hours practising on his console. As a business student, he also has other priorities. "During the week I go to classes and don't really feel like playing, especially as I have a girlfriend. I only play at weekends. You have to play FIFA a lot when it first comes out to understand how it works. Once I've done that, I no longer need to play a lot and I'm happy enough to just maintain my level. I think I'm among the players who play the least."

That approach may change in the coming months as 'RayZiaaH' prepares to take on the world's strongest players in Berlin – unless, of course, he opts to stick to a winning formula. "I think it's going to be tough and everyone will be good, even if the standard is highest on the European scene," he said. "I think I'm good enough to come out on top there, though anything can happen on the day of a tournament. I dream about taking part in the FIFA Interactive World Cup. For me, that's the ultimate goal."