03/07/2004versione stampabilestampainvia paginainvia



Hattrick, online game with hundreds of thousands of players
There is a parallell world where soccer is still only a game and, like the games kids play in the street, a place to make friends. Where jubilant fans crowd the stadiums and no one battles in the street. Where squads with big holes in their lineups fail because no saints in paradise can step in to save them. And the best part of all is that this world is made of matches and players who no one will ever see, because they exist only in a server in Sweden and the only human beings involved, instead of running out onto the field, are sitting with their fingers on their keyboards and their eyes fixed on the screen. They quail and cheer just like when their favourite team plays, because this parallel world, for those eternal children known as soccer fans, can seem truer than the real one.
          
This is Hattrick. Usually, when trying to explain it to friends, you just say, “It’s an on-line soccer league,” but that’s a reductive definition. Technically, it goes like this: you sign up, you receive a team of imaginary players of whom you become simultaneously president, general manager, and coach. You play a season against other the teams of other members, you have to keep track of budgets, salaries, management expenses, and at the end of the season you can be either promoted to a higher-level league or demoted to a lower one. There are various levels, and the highest one consists of national teams, coached by a head coach selected democratically by the members from each country. With more that 365 thousand members from all over the world, the Hattrick planet is most of all an enormous community of people united by an insane passion for soccer, who use their shared passion to meet, make friends, and talk about everything.
           
That’s the way Tawfik from Pakistan, 19 years old, lives Hattrick. He is proprietor of a team named ‘Palestine’ in the Jerusalem division of the Israel league, and in his own small way, he has become a peace mediator. He has met many Israelis through the site and he talks with them about the various problems that grip the Middle East. “I try to make them understand,” he says, “that not all Muslims want to exterminate the Jews, and you’d be surprised how many of them believe that. I try to change their resolutely anti-Arab attitude and make them understand the point of view of the Palestinians. But then when I speak with Palestinians I find out that, even though there are those who want to “push Israel into the sea,” I find others who are absolutely opposed to the suicide attacks and who understand the feelings of Israelis and the dilemma of the Tel Aviv government.”
           
Tawfik is not the only one who uses Hattrick as a community for finding people with similar interests. Other Israeli and Egyptian members, for example, have organized a “Peace Trophy” series of friendly matches to symbolize the fact that rival peoples can work in agreement. With thousands of people in contact with the site, anything can happen. Just ask Bjorn and Malin, two Swedes who met through Hattrick, got married, and now have a child, Miranda, whose birth was announced by the site’s managers as proudly as if they were godparents.
“It’s soccer that opens the door to new users, but it’s the community that excites people and makes them want to play,” explains Johan Gustafson, the administrator of the group that runs the site. Born in 1997 as an idea of Swede Bjorn Homer, Hattrick has grown exponentially ever since Gustafson, at the time a journalist who played the regular Swedish fantasy league, interviewed Holmer for a magazine. The two gave birth to a society that brought Hattrick, first known only in Scandanavia, to international fame. The site’s success has been amazing: with only eight employees, it is now translated into 23 languages and grows every day. “For now, we’re at 365 thousand members,” Gustafson says, “but at this pace, within two years we could reach over a million.”
           
For a site with zero publicity, based exclusively on word of mouth, their success is incredible. Especially since playing costs nothing; all you need is an internet connection and you can run your own team. Then, if you really get into it, you can choose to become a “supporter”. With a modest contribution ( 6 Euro for three months, 20 Euro for a year) – not much, considering how much fun it is. Finally, the Hattrick maniac can go all the way, see the actual faces of the players, access an infinity of statistics on players and teams, and interact in still greater detail with other members.

  Once you give it a try, the game wins you over little by little. Often, a friend of a member might sign up out of curiosity, and after a few weeks find himself setting his alarm to wake up in the middle of the night so as not to miss the chance to buy that Indonesian forward with an unpronounceable name who could be just the piece needed to create an unbeatable team. But then the new fanatic might discover that another ten players from around the world have had the same idea and bid the price into the stratosphere and out of reach.
Those who haven’t caught Hattrick fever tend to treat its adepts with the compassion we reserve for those whose brain is slipping pistons: usually, the first test is the girlfriend. Sure, it might seem barely rational for a grown man to go crazy for an imaginary team created in a computer database, to care more about his team’s budget than his own bank account, who chews his nails worrying about whether his players are in shape for a big game, like some sort of big kid on Christmas morning.
           
It might be more logical if, like millions of other people, he thrilled to follow a real team, not from the parallel world but from the actual one. The real world, that is, where they teach you to be aggressive from childhood because winning is the only thing. Where the smaller teams have no hope, the final scores are sometimes set before the match begins, and where even the worst players act like prima donnas. All very different from Hattrick, with its good spirit, respect for rules, and healthy rivalry. That kind of sport should be left to those who still want to dream.
 
Alessandro Ursic