Could farming ever be done competitively? Even better, could a game about driving farm equipment ever be considered an esports title?
Well, Farming Simulator developer GIANTS Software has already answered these questions. The Farming Simulator League is a fully-fledged esports event and one that is steadily going strong despite being looked upon as niche to some esports audiences.
What are the specifics of the Farming Simulator League? Also, how is the title’s esports ecosystem different to other games when it comes to sponsorship opportunities?To find these answers, Esports Insider reached out to Claas Eilermann, Event and Esports Manager at GIANTS Software.
The title’s esports origins can date back to Farming Simulator 17, a game released in 2016. Prior to becoming an official esports event, Eilermann explained that the Farming Simulator League started out as a simple hay bale stacking competition for fans of the original game.
The competition was a standalone game mode built on a simple premise: you stack bales of hay and the player with the better score wins. There were no esports plans then, with the activity planned to be showcased at agricultural events to amuse and entertain. The first time the game’s developers started seeing the game’s esports potential was in 2017 at AgriTechnica, an agriculture fair in Germany.
The activity soon became so popular that the game’s developers decided to put more time into improving the bale-stacking mode, and thus the Farming Simulator League (FSL) was born. As such, the game formula was also changed.
Eilermann explained: “The idea expanded beyond just a simple bale stacking client into a competitive arena with not only bale stacking but harvesting and delivering grain and bales to score points and beat your opponent.”
This format remains the same to this day, with teams of three players competing in fast-paced agriculture. The teams harvest crops by driving combine harvesters, bale them into bales with tractor-pulled baling machines, and then transport bales to a certain point on the map where points are awarded.
Although incredibly simple, the game mode seems to have enticed players to the title, as well as a range of sponsors. As of this writing, the FSL has partnerships with traditional esports brands including Noblechairs and Intel. Moreover, the competition has also managed to team up with a variety of agricultural brands — such as Corteva and DLG — which are synergetic to the game. These types of partnerships follow a similar mindset to Rocket League’s recent sponsorships with automobile brands.
Family-friendly, but competitive
One of the defining characteristics behind Farming Simulator and its esports league is the title’s family-friendly orientation. Farming Simulator is, after all, a game about tending to crops. As such, the game needed to have the same friendly atmosphere even within its esports scene. Eilermann explained that the core values of the product remain extremely important to them as a developer.
Farming Simulator esports also isn’t purely based on driving and operating skills. The developers added team and player perks to emphasise teamwork and coordination; competence behind the wheel does not necessarily make a good FSL player.
Interestingly, the FSL has proven popular amongst agricultural manufacturers, with brands like John Deere, Valtra, Trelleborg and Krone fielding professional factory teams in the competition. Alongside potential financial benefits, competing in the FSL provides these companies with marketing opportunities that had previously not been attainable prior.
Eilermann said: “First, there are marketing opportunities for companies to be sponsors of the league. Beyond that, equipment manufacturers have machines that are getting more complex as time passes, and the FSL is a great way for their machines to be shown off in a fun and exciting way. They can also reach a younger generation through the FSL than a regular media medium can provide.
“As a simulation game, we occupy a genre of esports that is rather unique. We can include brands authentically within a family-friendly environment, their machines are actively operated in-game by players.”
Ploughing into 2022
During the pandemic, Farming Simulator esports continued its upward trend of years past. Eilermann told Esports Insider that the team ‘coped the best they could’ during the pandemic, and while the lack of LANs was certainly felt, it brought an interesting turn of events for the FSL.
In particular, Eilermann shared that online tournaments gave the FSL more of a competitive edge because players were able to spend more time honing their skills.
Regarding plans for the future, the FSL recently concluded its third competitive season. The Grand Finals of the league’s World Championship took place in early December in Switzerland, with a prize pool of €100,000 (~£84,700). The winner was one of the factory-backed teams founded by the company Trelleborg, a firm most known for producing wheels for farm equipment.
When talking about the future, Eilermann added that the main focus for the GIANTS Software team is working on the launch of its new core game, Farming Simulator 22. However, more esports plans are set to be announced next year.
Although the Farming Simulator League has been portrayed as a quirky esports title, the success of this game and its esports ecosystem highlights that there’s a place in the market not just for MOBAs, FGCs or FPS’, but other games with cult followings as well.
Continued growth, LAN events, and considerable prize pools are going to show that competitive farming isn’t just a fad — it’s starting to bear the hallmarks of a genuine, albeit niche, esport.