Did you know that Farming Simulator esports is a thing? Giants Software’s multi-million selling simulator franchise, which has yielded several editions since 2008, made its first competitive steps with a handful of events in 2017 and 2018. However, the developer has more ambitious plans ahead with today’s announcement of the Farming Simulator League.

Beginning this summer, the Farming Simulator League spans 10 tournaments across Europe, culminating with Giants’ own FarmCon in summer 2020. With €250K ($284K USD) up for grabs, it’s a significant leap beyond the smaller Farming Simulator Championship events of the past, the largest of which had a prize pool of €3K ($3.4K). And there’s more to the league itself, as well, thanks to a brand new 3v3 competitive mode and various sponsors in the mix.

“We just tried to build something, and then we started the first tournament.”

Ahead of the announcement, The Esports Observer spoke with Giants Software CEO Christian Ammann and PR and marketing manager Martin Rabl about the road to the Farming Simulator League, the various sponsors in play, and the value an esports push brings to the brand.

Planting the Seeds

Farming Simulator esports started within the player community, as fans began harnessing the series’ multiplayer functionality to play competitive events. Stacking hay bales became the basis for the early Farming Simulator Championship events. “We saw this phenomenon,” said Ammann. “We just tried to build something, and then we started the first tournament. The feedback was quite interesting.”

The first Championship event debuted at AgriTechnica 2017, a farm-tech expo in Hanover, Germany. Ammann said that the event organizers thought Farming Simulator‘s presence might interest younger attendees, but nobody anticipated the level of demand. As seen in the photo below, the regular-sized booth was packed wall-to-wall with viewers to watch the three-player bale-stacking battles.

Credit: Giants Software

“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,” said Rabl, pointing ahead to a Farming Simulator League event at AgriTechnica 2019. “Also, that’s when we realized that that’s something that we could potentially do on a bit more professional level.”

Giants Software began working behind the scenes to plot a larger-scale offering, from courting sponsors to designing a more compelling and strategic game mode for competition. Ammann and Rabl weren’t ready to divulge details, but said that the new 3v3 team offering will be an “interesting game mode that’s really fun for a long time.” Building a professional league was a new kind of challenge for the Swiss game studio.

“It was a very hard process, but we had a bit of time to work on the process and see which partners we could work with on the sponsor side, the stage construction side, and on the overall management of a full-fledged league,” said Ammann. “It was quite a steep learning curve for us, as well, but I think we are really on a good path to provide something that’s a good experience for the players and also for the audience.”

Harvesting Sponsors

“That’s why we completely concentrated all of the sponsoring on traditional endemic sponsors, and kept [farm-tech companies] out of the sponsorship of the league itself.”

The Farming Simulator League will kick off in Europe this summer with 10 events, including major gaming expos like Gamescom in Germany and Paris Games Week, plus there will also be online tournaments. The season includes the €100K ($114K) championship finals at FarmCon 2020.

The league will arrive with some key endemic sponsors in tow, most notably Logitech. The two companies previously collaborated on Logitech G-branded modular controllers for Farming Simulator, and earlier this month announced an expanded partnership that spans both hardware and esports activities. Giants had discussed sponsorships with other accessory makers, said Ammann, but the existing relationship with Logitech played a role in its choice.

Related Article: Logitech Q1 Fiscal Year 2019 Earnings Report: Gaming Sales Up 74% Year-Over-Year

“That’s something that was an influence on that decision,” he said. “We already worked with them for a couple of years on a special gear that is made for the game. That was also one of the reasons to work with them.” Ammann added that Logitech will play a larger role with the online tournaments, and that they’re working together on something else “that’s a bit bigger.”

Intel is another significant sponsor in the mix, joining gaming chair maker Noblechairs and server hosting company Nitrado. But you won’t find farm-tech manufacturers sponsoring the league—instead, they’ll back teams. Ammann said that three such currently-unannounced manufacturers have thus far agreed to sponsor teams to compete on their behalf at tournaments, which he compared to Formula One teams sponsoring F1 Esports drivers. However, teams won’t have secured league spots, thanks to open qualifiers at events.

“For us, it’s about enlarging our ecosystem to make the whole product more interesting.”

There may also be “semi-professional esports teams” in the mix, Ammann hinted, but the farm-tech opportunity is something very unique to the Farming Simulator League.

“They are really excited,” said Ammann about the participating manufacturers. “One problem we had was that they all wanted to sponsor the league, but this isn’t something we wanted—because if you want to send a team to the league and then sponsor the league, there is a conflict of interest. That’s why we completely concentrated all of the sponsoring on traditional endemic sponsors, and kept [farm-tech companies] out of the sponsorship of the league itself. Of course, it makes sense for them to sponsor that stuff. We thought it’s better to have them outside of that, if we find enough sponsors in the endemic area—which we did.”

Farming Simulator continues to thrive in the simulator market, with latest entry Farming Simulator 2019 selling 1M copies in its first 10 days of release last year. Even so, esports offers an opportunity for Giants Software to broaden the franchise’s horizons, both for existing fans and potential new ones along the way.

“For us, it’s about enlarging our ecosystem to make the whole product more interesting,” said Ammann. “And as a marketing channel, it’s a possibility to create a lot of stories and endless amounts of content.”

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