In 2008, 25,000 gamers put heart, soul and remote control into battling for a place in the FIFA Interactive World Cup 2008 Grand Final. In the first 60 days of our FIWC 2009 edition over 225,000 players have already registered. That's nine times more competitors battling it out for the same 32 spots!
With so much competition out there, there is no doubt that the May 2009 Grand Final will feature the cream of virtual football gamers. Competitors, be prepared to take EA SPORTS' FIFA 09 to a whole new level.
Tips from the top dogs
This week, FIFA.com managed to interview two members of the FIWC elite and ask them for tips, gaming advice and their feelings ahead of this year's tough competition.
Seventeen-year-old Andre Buffo was among the favourites to win the 2008 FIWC Grand Final, but fell in a show-stopping semi-final to the USA's Michael Ribeiro. Andre was also the only competitor in Berlin to beat reigning FIFA Interactive Champion Alfonso Ramos. The key to being the best, in the Brazilian's opinion, is "to be calm, concentrated and to defend well."
The Sao Paulo supporter has been playing EA SPORTS' FIFA since 1999. In preparation for online matches, Andre says: "I try to concentrate and make up my mind to play confidently."
When asked about how he feels to be up against more than 225,000 gamers, Andre had this to say: "I feel proud to be competing with so many people; to become one of the 32 best players in the world would be a great honour this year."
FIWC veteran Stephen Coorey has already qualified for the 2009 Grand Final by winning the New Zealand live qualifier; this will be his fourth FIWC Grand Final. Stephen discussed online qualifying with FIFA.com. "Qualifying online is a feat of endurance. You need to be the most consistent player over a long period of time, but you get a chance to make up for any mistakes or bad luck. At least online, there is always the next game!"
The Arsenal-loving Australian also commented on picking teams in EA SPORT'S FIFA 09: "The good thing about this year is that all the top teams are capable of beating each other, whether it be France, Spain, Man United, Inter, Chelsea, Barca, Liverpool or Bayern."
Coorey's tactics differ from Andres': "Sometimes I need to slap myself in the face to get myself concentrating properly!"
The story so far
The Dutch have a strong heritage when it comes to FIWC and this week is no exception. The top three places belong to a trio from the Netherlands: tek9nl, undercover_king and locolvor.
In fourth place, Spaniard 1-90 has burst onto the scene out of nowhere, proving that in FIWC it's never over 'til it's over. Rounding off Europe's current top five is Frenchman UTM-RaSta-BoB-fr.
In the North, Central America and Caribbean zone, two places are up for grabs. Mexican gamers are currently dominating both spots thanks to tenth-placed floera64, and zzerecero, currently in 21st spot.
The Asian zone, meanwhile, is currently the domain of two Australians: ThE_HaUnTeD_07, who sits eighth overall, and countryman MasoMarvel in 35th place.
The boys from Brazil are representing South America this week; both South American spots are currently there's for the taking. buffo2k8 (Andre Buffo's handle) holds one and dignitasmath the other.
As for Africa's current leader, that honour falls to mikkaeel; the South African is doing the FIFA World Cup 2010™ host nation proud and currently sits 14th overall.
Think you have what it takes to reach the Grand Final? There are two ways to qualify: enter one of the worldwide live qualifier events or qualify online via the PS network.
To view the latest leaderboard click on the link to the right.