Six Guys Who Randomly Met In FIFA 08 Pro Clubs Lobby Are Now Friends For Life
We live in a world where many friendships are forged online.
Back in 2015, a report from the Pew Research Center found that 57% of teenagers have built a friendship online, while 29% of those say they've made more than five friends in digital spaces like gaming.
That being said, only one in five have actually met that virtual mate in real life, which is where Puerto Rican-born Carlos Hernandez comes in and tells his story.
The Real Madrid fan was playing FIFA 08 one day in late 2007 when, after joining a random lobby, he came across a guy from Florida called Niko.
They soon hit it off and well, the rest is history. Hernandez now calls the people he met online "family" and it's easy to understand.
The meeting of these two normal guys in an online setting will resonate with many of you reading this at home, so let's go back to where it all began, when Xbox 360 user Niko was thrown into a lobby with Carlos and his best mate Eddie.
They never looked back, although it almost never happened.
"At first, he didn't talk through the mic or anything but when I began to talk Spanish to my friend, Niko turned his mic on and asked us if we played a lot." Carlos told SPORTbible.
"He told us that he too was a big Real Madrid fan, and we just spoke more and more after that.
"Eventually, we added each other to our friend lists and that's when it all started."
After several weeks of playing FIFA together, Carlos' new friend Niko introduced him to Faria, another keen gamer who often played with Niko online.
They instantly clicked and every night, all four of them would enjoy a game or two, sharing stories and chatting about their favourite teams.
In fact, more people wanted to get in on the action just so they could join in.
"More of my friends began to buy Xbox's, just so they could join us. And Niko's friends did the same thing." Carlos told us.
"There was a total of 13 people in the group. Me, Eddie, Fran, Trixx, Gaby, Armando, Marchesi, Luis, Onel, Niko, Faria, Sammy and Octavio.
"We even created a ping chat to communicate throughout the day to talk about FIFA, football, NFL and basketball."
Three years after meeting online, Carlos' family decided to take a vacation trip to Disney in Orlando, so he decided to plan their first ever meet up in real life.
"We couldn't stop talking about the meet up in the group chat." Carlos said.
"Then out of nowhere, all of our FIFA group made the arrangements to meet up, despite being so far away.
"Trixx would travel from Miami. Fran, who skipped celebrating his first wedding anniversary to meet up, would attend - and Faria made a 20 hour drive from Chicago to Orlando just so he could finally meet us all.
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"We arrived at the bar "Ale's House" in Orlando and it was priceless - like seeing your brothers that you haven't seen in a long time.
"It was non-stop hours of laughing and just talking about how this all began. The picture below is the first time we met, minus Faria who arrived in Orlando the night after."
The day after, everybody came together to watch the Champions League Final between Barcelona and Manchester United at Niko's house.
From speaking on a headset to interacting in real life, it was a surreal, but magical moment for everyone involved.
"It was awesome because we were all together with our families, and all of the spouses started talking about how they watched us play FIFA, scream, fight and laugh in the late hours. All good vibes!
"Faria, who is Niko's childhood friend, eventually arrived from his 20 hour drive from Chicago and Niko actually hadn't seen him for years, while most of us had never seen him before, so you can imagine our reactions when he finally arrived.
"We walked around Disney together the next day with our families and of course, continued to play FIFA every night."
In the same year as their first meet up, one of the guys, Eddie, was getting married, so Carlos called Niko, Faria, Octavio and Sammy and invited them to come to Puerto Rico for the wedding as a surprise for Eddie.
Some guys who also played FIFA with the group, who didn't have the opportunity to go to the meet up back in June, were also in on the surprise.
"It all went great." Carlos said. "We surprised Eddie and the others squad mates in the Bachelor party. Again, you can imagine how it went down. And that was the first time Niko, Faria, Octavio came to the island.
"We didn't let them stay in hotels or rent a car, they stayed with us in our houses, that's how you treat a family member.
"They all loved it, our culture, our island, the beaches, the food, you name it, especially Niko."
Niko also decided that if their beloved Real Madrid ever made it to a Champions League final, he would visit the lads in Puerto Rico and watch it with the group.
Of course, Los Blancos reached the final on numerous occasions after 2011 and Niko never broke his promise.
"And during all this time, we all continued to play FIFA." Carlos says.
There was another wedding on the horizon but before that, nine years after meeting for the first time on FIFA 08, Carlos received a call from Niko's wife, who said she was planning a birthday party for his 40th birthday, and that she would love it if their group could make it to the party as a surprise for him.
"We made the arrangements, travelled across to his home and well, his face when he saw us was priceless.
And just last year, Sammy, another member of the group, decided to get married in Puerto Rico, so again, the guys travelled thousands of miles and attended his wedding.
To this day, Carlos says the group are "basically a huge family" and now, after meeting on FIFA in 2008, their spouses are friends and often meet up.
Even one of his kids call one of the group "uncle" because they are so close.
"We might be in our mid 30's early 40's, with professional jobs in our own industry - and most of us married and with kids - but we always find time to keep playing with the boys." says Hernandez.
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