Allen: I’m devastated but I’ll keep trying

“I’ve just been so close all of the time,” a frustrated Sean Allen tells FIFA.com. “I’ve always been so close, always played online, grinded out the games, always been near the top but just not enough to make it up there.”

It’s been weeks since the epic finale to the FIFA Interactive World Cup 2016, which took place at Harlem’s Apollo Theater, and silver-medalist Sean Allen is still trying to comprehend the sudden and strange shift of momentum in the dying minutes of the second-leg of his gold medal match against Denmark’s Mohammad Al-Bacha.

Until that infamous 88th minute, Allen was leading 3-1 and just a few phases away from being crowned the world champion of EA SPORTS™ FIFA 16. Then came a rapid-fire succession of goals, next the final whistle. Final score 3-3 and a victory for his opponent on away goals. Twenty-four-year-old Allen hunched forward in disbelief as 17-year old Mohammad Al-Bacha jumped off the stage, his glasses flying off his face and onto the theater floor as friends surrounded him to celebrate.

“I surprised myself,” the Englishman says of his performance in New York. “I surprise myself every day, how I play, how I do that to leads, I just surprise myself all the time.”

The phone call Every year, since 2008, Sean has been trying, unsuccessfully, to qualify for the Grand Final. “I always played in the UK live qualifiers," he said. “I always used to lose in the semi-finals, I’d always get so close but never make it.”

2016 followed a similar narrative for Allen whose third-place finish on the Xbox Online Season 2 leaderboard (Europe) left him just shy of claiming an elusive Grand Final ticket. Sean's FIWC dreams seemed paused for yet another year. That all changed only seven days before the opening match of the 2016 Grand Final in New York when a phone call informed him of a Grand Finalist's last-minute withdrawal. An unexpected journey ensued from the county town of Taunton in southwest England to the arrivals hall at JFK International.

“I never thought I’d make it there,” said the 24-year-old before taking a long pause. “I really just enjoyed playing and being there, even at the end.”

The pain of losing the world title in the final moments is clearly still something that weighs on him. Time will undoubtedly soften the blow and Allen will perhaps then be able to enjoy more freely his massive accomplishment - finishing in second place in a field of over 2.4 million registered FIWC players.

One person who intimately understands the early despair felt by the losing finalist is FIWC 2014 runner-up David Bytheway. “No-one wants to ever be the second best player in the world,” Bytheway tells FIFA.com. “After I lost in Brazil, for weeks, part of me was always thinking I’ve done amazing, second in over two million people. But then the other part of me, because I’m so competitive, is thinking I just want to be number one.”

Asked what he thought of the final, Bytheway couldn’t hold back his frustration. “Sean knows he threw it away. He’ll look back on that night and know, those final minutes, if he’d just kept it simple, kicked it up field, into the corners, he would have been the world champion.”

Losing a Grand Final in the knockout rounds has pushed some star e-sports players into taking a sabbatical from the game. Allen is defiant though, despite the difficult defeat. “I’m devastated at the end of the day, but definitely I’m going to pick myself up, I’m always going to be trying to qualify for this tournament, I loved every second of my week in New York.”