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Farming Esports Games Could Generate Bumper Crop of Interest in Ag Schools, Communities

7 Nov, 2020

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

Harvest moon. Harvest ball. Harvest windfall.

Fall is the season of harvest, so it is not surprising that esports farming simulator games are reaping the benefits. Yes, farming simulator games – in which competitors engage in farming activities.

 According to Forbes, traditional farmers have long been expected to run a farm, grow some crops and use tractors and other equipment.

“But the esports game,” the article notes, “turns this into a competition. Two teams, which feature three players, are given a field of wheat, and 15 minutes to score as many points as possible by turning the wheat into bales and storing them in a barn. To do this, they will have to use a range of farming tools from combine harvesters to balers and front loaders, forcing the players to move between different tractor setups each round.”

And, noted the article, it is surprisingly addictive.

The phenom first registered on the U.S. tournament radar in the summer of 2019 but it had become established in Europe:

The first championship event debuted at AgriTechnica 2017, a farm-tech expo in Hanover, Germany. And while event organizers thought the concept might be of interest to younger players, nobody was prepared when the exhibit booth suddenly became packed wall-to-wall with viewers to watch the three-player hay bale stacking battles.

“When the senior guys of AgriTechnica came by and saw how many people there were, I think that’s when they realized that they should do it again in two years on a bigger scale,” Swiss game developer GIANTS Software  marketing manager Martin Rabl told reporters at The Esports Observer. “Also, that’s when we realized that that’s something that we could potentially do on a bit more professional level.”

Three years later, the discipline is firmly established: The Farming Simulator League has some high-profile teams, including one sponsored by agricultural equipment giant, John Deere. Other big sponsor names include Lindner, Horsch, Bednar, and Krone, as well as Corteva Agriscience, a private company that was previously part of Dow DuPont.

An article in The Esports Observer says that Swiss game developer GIANTS Software has released details on the third season of its Farming Simulator League (FSL), set to begin in November, and tentative plans for the tractor-based esport in 2021. 

Season 3 of the esport dedicated to the game Farming Simulator 2019 will feature a total prize pool of 250K euros ($293,000) and will be sponsored by IntelCorteva Agriscience, noblechairs,  Deutsche Landwirtschafts-Gesellschaft (DLG), and Nitrado. Season 3 runs from November 2020 to November 2021.

Teams representing farming equipment manufacturers including John Deere, Lindner, Krone, Trelleborg, Valtra (comprised of players from Finnish esports organization KOVA Esports), Manitou, and Rudolf Hörmann will compete this year, with more teams to “be announced.”

Sponsorships have been eagerly sought after in the agricultural community and according to one sponsor, were a natural fit.

“The reasons for John Deere’s entry into esports are obvious: first and foremost the attractiveness of the detailed Farming Simulator within the agricultural sector and far beyond,” said John Deere public relations manager Ralf Lenge, in a release. “This is accompanied by the high level of acceptance of John Deere products in Farming Simulator and the ever-stronger interlocking of the real with the digital world.”

John Deere machinery was featured in Farming Simulator 19, and TEO notes that the company plans to expand the number of its vehicles included in the next entry of the game.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering about the appeal of this particular pastime outside of the trade show floor, Farming Simulator 2019 sold one million copies in its first 10 days of release.

The community can also take part and qualify by signing up for the event and downloading the recently released free tournament client DLC for Farming Simulator 19.

And that is part of the beauty of the concept, notes this post in GameGrin:

“The best thing about FSL by far is that literally anyone can sign up to it. There are seeded teams for every tournament, but teams of real life farmers could pick up the FSL client and enter if they wanted to. The beauty of the league is that it revolves around points scored from playing matches against others, and it’s entirely possible for a team from the middle of nowhere, say Salford in Oxfordshire, to rise through the ranks and beat the official John Deere team.”

The first tournaments will take place Nov. 28-29, (coincidentally, the Thanksgiving weekend in the U.S.) and will be broadcast on the official GIANTS Software Twitch channel, with the finals taking place at the digital version of AGRITECHNICA, an annual Hanover, Germany-based trade fair dedicated to all things related to agricultural machinery. (Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, AGRITECHNICA’s on-site festivities and exhibits have been canceled this year).

Given the timing of the championship and the growth of esports – and the increase of competitive college esports, the question must be asked: Is the U.S. seeing any interest in this? And it’s a valid question. According to Wikipedia, more than 75 colleges in the U.S. offer agricultural study programs (many programs, such as those offered at the University of Maryland, College Park) are part of a larger university while others (such as Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College) specifically address this field of study.

The concept of farming games isn’t limited to Farming Simulator, either. A number of games are available; several are reviewed here.

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