When David Bytheway arrived in Rio de Janeiro few people would have tipped him as a favourite to make it to the gold medal match of the FIFA Interactive World Cup 2014 Grand Final, which took place in Brazil from 1-3 July.
“There were a lot of people doubting my ability,” David told FIFA.com recently, reflecting on his experience in Rio. “I think a lot of people were thinking that the community qualifier guys wouldn’t be as good as the other players. I think we proved them all wrong.”
At present, over two million gamers compete in the FIWC annually in the hopes of claiming a seat at the Grand Final. “Skill overpowers quantity of games,” said David firmly, a philosophy he employed in both qualification and training for the world’s largest gaming tournament.
“It's about maximum concentration. I would only play a few games a day so that I wouldn’t lose focus,” said David, who first started playing the FIFA-series at the age of six. His main opponent back then, his Dad. “Whenever my Dad had free time he would come and play. He’d always pick Leeds and he’d always win. I don’t think I ever beat him.”
Confidence flows in Group stage
Looking back on his run in Brazil, the Englishman still considers his opening game as the critical moment. “I had to play Ovvy [Ovidiu Patrascu] in my first group match. Other than Bruce [Grannec], I think he was the biggest name in Brazil. I knew that if I beat him, I would get out the group.” David stunned the Romanian - attending his third Grand Final – in a nail-biting 2-1 match.
“It’s all to do with confidence,” said the boy from Wolverhampton. “If you lose your first game, I can’t see you getting through the group phase. It’s a mental state. As soon as I beat Ovvy the confidence was flowing.” David would progress undefeated from Group D. From there, technically proficient 1-0 wins in the quarters and semifinals secured him a seat alongside Rosenmeier in the final. “Just making it to a Grand Final is a massive achievement,” he said, “so to get to the final was special.”
The British gamer must have thought his dreams were on the verge of bursting into reality when his Germany team drew first blood against Rosenmeier’s Brazil only 17 minutes into the Final. The surprise goal came from a set-piece crossed in from deep by Mesut Ozil and headered home by Marco Reus. At the moment of impact, only 73 virtual minutes separated David from a Grand Prize that included the interactive world title, USD 20,000 and a trip to the next FIFA Ballon d’Or.
“I think the final was the worst game I played in the whole tournament,” Bytheway said, painfully recalling what happened next. “I managed to score early but it was at an awkward time of the game. It was too early to just try and defend it out. Usually when you take the lead the game gets better for you, you gain some momentum and you can start to control the game. For me however, everything went wrong as soon as the goal went in.”
A scrappy goal would draw Rosenmeier level before half-time and the Dane would go on to score another two (65’ and 76’) without reply in the second half. The final devastating blow was a sensational run by Neymar from the halfway line all the way into the box before the striker buried the ball into the net.
While the Final will perhaps haunt him for years to come, Bytheway will be able to draw some solace from FIWC history, where losing Grand Finalists have returned to the tournament and gone on to win it. “Finishing second in the biggest FIFA tournament in the world is a huge achievement and something I'm immensely proud of,” he said. "Hopefully I'll go on to win it in the future.”