Farming Simulator League (FSL) is the esport based in the simulation game of the same name, but it’s a lot more exciting that it might sound. In FSL teams of three face off against one another in a battle of harvesting, baling, and efficiently organising wheat so that it can be properly transported in large containers.
At first I genuinely thought FSL was a gimmick, something developers Giants Software had come up with to sell more copies of the game. This is not the case though, with live finals taking place as recently as early November, at a farming trade show called Agritechnica.
So what do matches in FSL look like? Let me try to explain.
Each FSL match takes place on a field, with locations for five vehicles, and a huge field of wheat to harvest. The map is mirrored, so each team has the same amount of wheat to harvest, and the same vehicles to use. The goal is to harvest the field and transport the wheat to a lovely red wooden barn through one of two entrances faster than the opposing team. Each match lasts 15 minutes, and teams have until the end of that time to score the most points, with bales stored representing those points.
But there’s so much more to a match than this.
As in all competitive esports, teams have their preferred tactic, but a team can have their plan spoiled in the first few seconds of a match, so there are usually a number of backup strategies.
The first phase of a match is the banning phase. This is the point when team captains pick vehicles to ban for everyone, so neither team can use them. With some vehicles having narrower tires, higher horsepower, or a frontloader, this phase is key to blocking certain tactics the opposing team could use.
In the next phase, each team picks three vehicles they want to take into the match. Teams have to bear in mind that they need to be able to press and stack bales with these vehicles, so they must choose wisely.
The final pre-match phase sees each team pick two power plays. These are basically perks that a team can use to help them in the match. Power plays are made up of perks like Herbicide, which increases the grain yield, Slight Edge, which increases the top speed of a vehicle, or Transport Company, which makes the bale autoloader available. Once these are chosen, it’s into the match proper.
Players begin matches in their starter vehicles, but have ten seconds to swap between them, should tactics require it. Once the match begins, players need to rush to the pods, eight podiums placed in front of the field of wheat, with four harvesters and four balers randomly generated across them. When one team enters a harvester or baler, they claim it, locking the opposing team out of that vehicle on their side. It’s unsurprising then that a match can be won at this stage, using something called the ‘rush tactic’. Team’s using this tactic simply rush to claim all four harvesters and balers, preventing the opposition from using them, which causes an automatic win. That’s why at this stage each team will rush to get at least one of each vehicle, ensuring they aren’t caught out.
Now it’s onto the actual farming. Players need to harvest the wheat, bale it, and then deliver it, preferably using an autoloader, to the red barn. One player can harvest while another bales pretty easily, but the delivery is the most important part of the match, because it can hinder the enemy team as well.
The red barn that players deliver to lies across a short bridge, and when a player goes over that bridge, it will rise up for a few seconds before coming back down. The bridges are linked, so players from one team can directly influence the opposing team’s success, if they play things right. But it’s not all about waiting until the enemy is ready to deliver, halting them at the last second.
The red barn has two areas where bales can be delivered, a lower door at ground level, and a higher door at the top of a conveyor belt. The lower door grants 10 points per bale, while the upper door grants 10 points multiplied by your team’s current multiplier. That multiplier can be increased by delivering wheat from the harvesters to the silo in the nearby town, and as one team’s multiplier increases, the other team’s will decrease.
There’s a catch to manipulating multipliers though. The team with the higher multiplier will have a slower conveyor belt, making it harder to score points. The team with the lower multiplier however will have a faster conveyor belt, making scoring much easier. Reaching the maximum multiplier will also overheat and stop the opposing team’s belt for a short time, forcing them to increase their multiplier in order to fix it. The final nuance to this mechanic is that selling wheat directly from the harvester gives you less of a multiplier than you get by selling from the auger wagon, which is essential because it costs more and more wheat to increase your multiplier every time you sell.
There are some other mechanics to FSL matches that could make the difference between winning and losing in this high octane esport. For example, the first bale delivered counts for double points, so it’s worth cutting corners to nab a higher score in the beginning. There are also two drone drops per match, which occur at the six or seven minute mark. One drop boosts bale value, and the other increases wheat yield. The buff affects both teams, so whoever picks it up determines how the match is played for the next couple of minutes.
FSL is a free DLC for anyone who owns Farming Simulator 19 and signs up as a team. I’ve been watching the matches on the official site, and they’re honestly quite exciting. I can’t think of a game in which an esport is more unnecessary, yet here it is, appearing at huge agricultural shows no less.
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.