The forgotten factor to this year’s World Cup fever: a video game


World Cup fever causes more people to start playing virtual soccer video games. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)

You probably aren't good enough to play with the U.S. Soccer team as they battle Germany today, but that doesn't mean you can't play alongside them. Electronic Arts (EA), which makes the popular FIFA video game series, said that plenty of people do just that: log onto their games to play virtual soccer while they watch their teams battle it out on the playing field.

" Our game is inherently tied to the real world of football," said Nick Channon, who produces the FIFA games, in an interview with The Washington Post. (And yes, he uses the sports term for soccer that the rest of the world does.)  "When there's a big game on, our usage will drop. But when halftime comes around, it spikes," he said.

EA's seen its FIFA franchise grow in parallel with soccer's popularity in the United States over the past 10 to 15 years, Channon said. The company used to see a spike every four years in time with the World Cup, but growth accelerated as U.S. networks began showing more games from the English Premier League and La Liga, Spain's top professional league.

And the company has heard, at least anecdotally, that that growth may be a two-way street.

"I don't have numbers, but I've heard from fans that people are being driven from FIFA to the real thing," Channon said. " There are people playing our game, and that starts their interest in the sport as well. They might get a favorite team from within the game and then decide to watch them" in real life.

Taking note of the close relationship between the real-life sport and the main players of its game, EA has added a host of features that regularly pull information from what's going on in the world's soccer leagues to reflect how teams are faring in the video game. If a team is doing well in real life, their in-game rating often spikes as well.

Channon's team of choice is Liverpool, for example, and while the team hadn't been doing so well in the past few years, it had a very good run this past season. In past years, game producers would only be able to depict how teams have done the previous season in their games. Now all of that's changed.

"Five, six years ago where we'd put a game out, that was it really," he said.  "Today we're updating our game in terms of stats,  how players are playing, and we update that multiple times a week now."

So even if you can't be a part of the 12th man in Brazil Thursday, you can be a part of a digital 13th.

That is, if you were able to get out of work to watch the game.

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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