When we think of eSports, games like Overwatch, League of Legends, and Fortnite spring to mind – not Farming Simulator 19. If we were to suggest the agricultural sim as an eSport, we’d expect a more muted response, if not one defined by utter confusion.
eSports hint at ever-larger stadiums packed to the rafters with adoring fans. They cheer on their favorite teams and are thrilled at the chance of meeting their favorite players. It’s a world of big-name investors from traditional sports, huge prize pools, and coverage that is seeping into the mainstream, not one of diesel-chugging tractors and bails.
Believe it or not, the agriculture simulator has its very own professional scene. The first season of its aptly titled Farming Simulator League (FSL) kicks off in earnest this coming week.
Combing over the marketing material published for the event, we started to wonder whether this was taking eSports too far? More crucially, is there enough of an audience for competitive Farming Simulator to make it a viable model? It appears so.
The Farming Simulator League Has the Hallmarks of a Genuine eSport
The first meeting of the FSL takes place at FarmCon 19, an event dedicated to the game’s community of developers, modders, and players. It sets the stage for a 14-tournament circuit around Europe that runs until summer 2020. The prize pool is a relatively large €250,000.
Big names from the agricultural industry like Trelleborg and John Deere are sponsoring teams and the events alongside more traditional eSports backers Logitech and Intel.
The Farming Simulator League is pleased to announce a new team for the FSL: the Trelleborg Team. @TrelleborgWheel https://t.co/LlckAxtw8D pic.twitter.com/Lv6MSHnTCj
— Farming Simulator League (@FSLeSports) July 11, 2019
The format is a reasonably in-depth affair. Facing off against one another in 15-minute matches, two teams of three players must harvest a field of wheat and deliver it to a barn as rapidly as possible to rack up points. Like a MOBA, Farming Simulator League has a pick and ban phase where teams can ban perceived over-powered vehicles of their choosing to hamper the opposition.
Tactics such as choosing the right harvester for the job, plotting the best course through a convoluted network of bridges that connect the various areas on the map, mid-game buff drops, and a system of multipliers than can boost or hamper yields add up to what is a surprisingly layered game.
A Healthy Viewership
Aside from the expected visitors to Farm Con 2019 and those watching from home (an embryonic competition streamed at least year’s conference brought in 115,000 viewers), the game itself regularly attracts over 15,000 players on digital platform Steam alone. Some 200,000 people actively follow the Farming Simulator 19 tag on Twitch with a concurrent viewer peak of 40,000 late last year.
These aren’t the 100 million viewers the League of Legends World Championship attracted in 2018, but they are respectable for what is a niche subcategory of the simulation genre.
Although it’s hard not to be a little dubious when looking in from the outside, Farming Simulator 2019 has an audience, and however bizarre that may seem, it justifies a foray into eSports.
There’s something innately wholesome about watching players living out their bucolic dreams and who knows, we might very well be looking at next big thing in eSports. Stranger things have happened. If anything, it’s a testament to how gaming can bring together people with very specific interests.