American agriculture may be in crisis, but virtual agriculture is experiencing a bit of a heyday (No, I won’t apologize for that). With the announcement of a new Farm Simulator League, online cultivation aspirants are finally getting a shot at the e-sports big leagues.
Earlier today, Giants Software introduced the creation of a 10-tournament Farm Simulator League, whose season will begin this summer and will culminate in the Giants’-sponsored FarmCon 2020. At stake? Nearly $300,000 in prize money, close to a 100 fold increase from the game’s previous top prize of $3,000. It’s a purse that has the potential to help move Farm Simulator gamers toward something resembling viable e-sports careers.
Since its launch in 2008, Farm Simulator, whose latest version, FS19, sold one million copies in its first ten days, has attracted both players and spectators eager to turn a game whose stakes can literally be raised by altering the “plant withering” setting into a competitive arena. Multiplayer functionality was initially introduced with the game’s 14th edition; at FS’s first championship, at AgriTechnica 2017, fans unexpectedly crammed into the Swiss game manufacturer’s booth for a glimpse at three-person “bale-stacking battles.”
Giants Software took note. They’ve emphasized FS’s “missions,” tasks, like weeding and water fields, that need to be completed as quickly as possible in order to gain a monetary advantage. Tasks that, with the game’s multiplayer functionality, can take on the same amount of dramatic tension as, say, an actual car race. They even market Farm Simulator equipment like fancy sports cars.
Farm Simulator, though popular, has yet to enter Esporting’s upper echelons, at the moment, even the game’s top streamer on Twitch attracts just a fraction of the crowds drawn by the site’s top overall streamers. But a $300K purse is only one of the ways the company is trying to change that.
Ahead of its league opening, Giants has reportedly reworked Farm Simulator specifically with league play in mind, including a new 3v3 competitive mode built to accommodate marathon streaming, a necessary key to building a career as a Farm Simulator e-sports professional, a job that relies heavily on a curated fan base for both individual contributions and attention from corporate sponsors. “Professional e-sports player” may sound like a dream career for avid gamers, but the reality - the industry’s prevailing tactic for snagging subscriptions remains streaming continuously for hours at a time - can be massively depleting, both physically and emotionally. In order to maintain a loyal fan base, many gamers play a variety of games, rather than focusing exclusively on just one, whose popularity could drop unexpectedly.