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Unread 04-30-2013, 01:39 AM
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Re: Championships: Competition vs. Inspiration

Our team has a guideline: "if our robot does not make eliminations at a regional, we don't go to championships." Does not matter what award we win that gets our ticket, we won't go. We never have enacted it but it does put pressure on us to make a good robot. However, you might want to ask me again if we do qualify with a robot that did not make eliminations. This is an untested guideline.

Now, when I was on 766 this topic was heavily debated, in 05 I actually thought we should not go to champs despite wining a regional, of course we wound up going and got to win archimedes with 217 and 245. However all future times 766 qualified was by being the last pick of the alliance or via wait list. It sparked debate if we should even go if we were the 3rd member of the alliance. Its always the debate between going to champs, or investing the money for next year.

I just want explain there are team out there who debate this. You may ask, "why on earth would a team decline to attend if they earned it?" Well, i my opinion, and this is just my opinion. I have a duty to inspire and teach next year's members too. Sometimes tough decisions are made. I held a philosophy that a powerful way to inspire someone is to teach them. To give them power to change their surroundings. The line to go or not to go is different for every team. Ours choices reflect our philosophies. For us we debate the rewards of going versus the rewards of staying. The opportunities created by saving money could greatly out weight attending championships. If I could teach student better for the next 4 years by saving that money, now I have to consider it.

So to ultimately answer this question, I will modify a Muhammed Ali quote. Competitions are won or lost far away from witnesses, behind the computer, in the garage, and out there on the road, long before under those lights. In those long hours, is where we find inspiration in ourselves. For what inspires is not another's feats, but realize we have the power in ourselves to achieve that feat.

Thus I would make the championships more competitive for I chose to inspire my students by giving them strength. I know not all my student are inspired and there is more work to done. To achieve our duty, we don't need to be at championships.
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Unread 04-30-2013, 03:11 AM
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Re: Championships: Competition vs. Inspiration

I think there's value in letting a limited number of teams attend, despite their poor gameplay performance. Some of them are the winners of major judged awards—and I don't think these slots are particularly contentious. As for the ones who lack other redeeming characteristics and frankly drag down the level of competition (some qualify via the waitlist, while others are the weakest links in regional-winning/wildcard finalist alliances), as long as there aren't too many of them, I don't really mind.

One reason is the opportunity for spreading the inspiration around. I think others have amply argued that case. I think it's clearly plausible enough that FIRST should try to quantify its value and take that into account for the foreseeable future.

There's another reason, which is perhaps a bit more controversial, because it goes to the heart of what we expect a championship to be. At every other FIRST event, save perhaps the Michigan championship, there are several of these less successful teams. Through what might charitably be called entropy (less charitably: bumbling failure), they introduce uncertainty into the outcome. Uncertainty in appropriate measure is what distinguishes strategic, replayable games like poker or Magic from dreary algorithmic recitations like Sudoku or chess.1 I support the proposition that FRC is made better by the good teams having to overcome the obstacle of dealing with the bad ones.

It's like NASCAR vs. Formula 1: F1 is clearly the superior form of racing from a technical and strategic perspective, but over the last 20 or so years, has lost much of the uncertainty that comes from outlandish tactics and mechanical failures. By contrast, people watch NASCAR because of the crashes and the passing—things which are only made possible by the fact that the cars are bloated and archaic, and the tendency of the subset of drivers who are less skilled to make stupid mistakes that rearrange the running order by suddenly eliminating whole swaths of contenders. That sort of uncertainty makes it a little more rational to root for the underdog, and it also gives symbolic meaning to the competition—the winner is triumphing over both the competition and fate itself. A competition structure that better captures that balance is a major reason why the 24 Hours of Le Mans is better than either one.

In FRC, the moderate likelihood that entropy will strike down any given opponent makes the competition more fun (in aggregate) than if the best robot is always going to be the clear winner. It gives hope to the ones who fall short of greatness, and keeps the great ones from getting complacent about their odds of victory.

Make no mistake, I enjoy seeing robots dominate on technical and strategic merits (e.g. 47 in 2000, 71 in 2001 and 2002, 111 in 2003, etc.). I just don't think that their ability to rightfully succeed is diminished by the presence of a few lower-calibre robots.2 The odds strongly favour the idea that at least two of the FRC champions will have earned that result based on a clear history of technological and strategic achievement, and that all of the champions will have demonstrated those characteristics throughout the elimination rounds.

In the end, the Championship is mostly about showing off the best robots and best strategies. But you don't need to include the almost-as-good robots to prove that these are the best. Also, by allowing teams that exemplify other FIRST values to attend, along with their bad robots, FIRST provides fuel to power its engine of entropy. Conveniently, those teams with bad robots can still have a valuable experience by being in the presence of so many good robots, and by participating in the other activities that the FRC Championship offers them (from the conference to the socializing). This comes at the expense of the teams who have robots that are almost good enough, but now that FRC is as big as it is, there will always be teams left out—admitting them only shifts that painful burden to another team that didn't quite make it.

1 You don't have to be particularly mentally dexterous to have a clear idea of how chess can be won—and this high degree of certainty combined with the reality of inadequate computational resources sucks most of the fun out of it. In fact, the real challenge is in solving it efficiently, not in actually playing the game.
2 Provided that there are enough matches to adequately rank the divisions. Too few matches, and the competition suffers from outlier effects—which are distinct from entropy effects and are less desirable because they represent uncertainty due to a structural limitation of the event, rather than uncertainty due to surprises encountered during gameplay.

Last edited by Tristan Lall : 04-30-2013 at 03:21 AM. Reason: Adding another footnote.
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Unread 04-30-2013, 08:30 AM
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Re: Championships: Competition vs. Inspiration

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Originally Posted by Tristan Lall View Post
1 You don't have to be particularly mentally dexterous to have a clear idea of how chess can be won—and this high degree of certainty combined with the reality of inadequate computational resources sucks most of the fun out of it. In fact, the real challenge is in solving it efficiently, not in actually playing the game.
Out of curiosity, how much experience do you have actually playing chess?

Because I live with a FIDE master. Who is also a (winning) poker player. Who would take a whole lotta issue with this statement.

Mind, this has little bearing on your actual point - I'd just be careful with the broad-brush statements.
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Unread 04-30-2013, 08:39 AM
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Re: Championships: Competition vs. Inspiration

Let's not forget that one of the greatest chances for inspiration lie with the shear number of people gathered in one place. If you come to Champs and do not stroll through the pits sucking up inspiration from everyone you see and talk to, you are missing one of the best opportunities of your life.
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Unread 04-30-2013, 08:56 AM
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Re: Championships: Competition vs. Inspiration

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Originally Posted by Al Skierkiewicz View Post
Let's not forget that one of the greatest chances for inspiration lie with the shear number of people gathered in one place. If you come to Champs and do not stroll through the pits sucking up inspiration from everyone you see and talk to, you are missing one of the best opportunities of your life.
The reigning VOY speaks truth. Having been to two championships as a spectator, I have to admit I have not spectated any qualification matches. There is simply too much awesome in the convention center-half of the Championship experience. Strolling through the FRC, FTC, FLL, JFLL pits - I could (and have) spent days simply talking to kids and watching them get absolutely geeked about their work. Checking out Sponsor Row and seeing the awesome opportunities that wait - did anybody else notice that the President and CEO of Rockwell Automation was the guy handing out the yoyos at their booth? Multinational companies - world leaders in their fields - are fighting just to get an audience with these kids.
The experience of CMP isn't competition-only. Sure, there are great amounts to be learned by standing shoulder-to-shoulder with 111's drive team, or strategizing with 610. But at every event - district to offseason - the real gem is in the eliminations, and FRC is at the point scouting-wise where aside from the picking captains, we all realize that rank doesn't matter.

Another way of looking at it - compare how FTC teams get invited to championships. There's no end to the crying of how unfair that process is.
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Unread 04-30-2013, 09:05 AM
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Re: Championships: Competition vs. Inspiration

If First doesn't remain stagnant at the current # of total teams and grows as they want to, there is going to come a point where things have to change. Being in a district model (MAR), I believe the first step is going to the district model entirely. This as has been discussed in other threads is a major task. Then a district championship event can take on more of a worlds experience. This would allow more teams to share the experience as First grows.
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Unread 04-30-2013, 09:09 AM
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Re: Championships: Competition vs. Inspiration

Cory has a good point and can get his way* with just three mere words: I.R.I.

- No automatic HOF invitations
- No Original and Sustaining Invitations
- No invitations back just because a team did well last year

Make it an official FIRST event with no CA/EI/RAS (it practically is already...). Problem solved. IRI is so fun to watch, I bet we could even get ESPN, PBS, HBO, or some other network to broadcast it. And no snarking on PBS...

*Cory doesn't strike me as a guy who likes Unicorns or Rainbows, so I'm guessing he'd rather that Champs be purely a merit-based event...
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Unread 04-30-2013, 09:35 AM
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Re: Championships: Competition vs. Inspiration

This has been a really interesting thread to follow, with some good points.

Quote:
Our team has a guideline: "if our robot does not make eliminations at a regional, we don't go to championships." Does not matter what award we win that gets our ticket, we won't go. We never have enacted it but it does put pressure on us to make a good robot. However, you might want to ask me again if we do qualify with a robot that did not make eliminations. This is an untested guideline.
I am interested to know how your team came up with this guideline because its actually pretty intriguing.
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Unread 04-30-2013, 09:45 AM
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Re: Championships: Competition vs. Inspiration

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Originally Posted by sst.thad View Post
I would disagree completely with this. The teams that earn those awards are the teams that strive for excellence. If you look at the 4 teams that won RAS at championship this year (4488, 4451, 4472, 4731), None of them actually won a regional. 4451 went to 2 events, were alliance captains at both events from seeds 7 and 5, made it to the finals in one event, but did not with their way based on performance.
Just to clarify a bit on the behalf of 4451 (and to further your point), at Orlando they were the first pick by the #2 alliance (us). They did not lose based on their performance, they lost based on our performance. We picked them to score 54 points in each match and they did so in all nine elimination matches we played. If we hit our autonomous in finals 2 (or made the one shot we bounced off the bar), they would have qualified based on being a regional champion. Based on this, I don't think it's necessarily fair to lump them into the category of "rookie along for the ride at championships". I'm sure there are others that have similarly high performance.
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Unread 04-30-2013, 10:05 AM
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Re: Championships: Competition vs. Inspiration

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Originally Posted by Andrew Lawrence View Post
This reminded me of something brought up between some fellow FIRSTers and I. It wasn't necessarily any of our points of view, but it was brought up in our discussions:

What if only certain teams who qualify for champs via robot performance (ie regional winners, rookie all-star, etc.) were allowed to compete in matches, and teams that qualify in a non-robot-performance way are still invited for chairman's presentations, exhibitions, etc. Basically, let the teams who proved themselves during the competition season compete in what they excelled at, and let the teams who were outstanding representatives of FIRST compete in what they excelled at. That way, everyone who qualifies can go, and even those teams with a robot not at championship-competition caliber can still experience the championship event and compete in their own competition (chairman's, EI, etc.).

Multiple friends of mine who have gone to championships but didn't do the best in matches have told me that what inspired them the most was the atmosphere. The events, the presentations, the people, and the robots. What inspired them wasn't seeing their own team win a lot of matches, but experiencing the FIRST championship as a whole.

This is just an idea that we came up with. It's not any of our main points of view, but it's something.

My personal thoughts: FIRST needs to celebrate all kinds of teams: Those who perform above and beyond in the robot portion of the game, and those who perform above and beyond in the outreach portion. However, FRC is a robotics competition, and I want to see the highest-quality matches at the championship event. Watching a championship qualifier with low scores and little action doesn't excite me. I know Dean has said "it's not about the robots", but amazing robot matches is what we all want to see. If FIRST were a tree-planting competition, I wouldn't be here right now.
Personally, I don't think this would be good. I think the RAS/EI/CA teams would feel very left out. It also assumes that those teams do not have good robots. We won RCA in 2010, but were also in the quarterfinals at regionals, and an alliance captain on Curie that year (with, literally, a box on wheels mind you!)

Quote:
Originally Posted by JesseK View Post
Cory has a good point and can get his way* with just three mere words: I.R.I.

- No automatic HOF invitations
- No Original and Sustaining Invitations
- No invitations back just because a team did well last year

Make it an official FIRST event with no CA/EI/RAS (it practically is already...). Problem solved. IRI is so fun to watch, I bet we could even get ESPN, PBS, HBO, or some other network to broadcast it. And no snarking on PBS...

*Cory doesn't strike me as a guy who likes Unicorns or Rainbows, so I'm guessing he'd rather that Champs be purely a merit-based event...
I dig this idea, if you want competitive matches, IRI will deliver.

----------

If we're going to say that the Chairman's Award is the most prestigious and important award in FRC. And that the CA recognizes a model team that others should look up to and learn from, then I don't see how we could possibly suggest not giving CA winners a spot at CMP.

If we want less teams at CMP, the waitlist is the first thing that has to go. I don't know why anybody would suggest cutting teams that do amazing things, work hard, and actually qualify for CMP over teams that are, essentially, buying their way in.

I totally agree that 100 teams was too many, and 8 matches sucked. But honestly, the "elite" teams with fantastic robots still rose to the top. Yeah, maybe the rankings were skewed and who exactly was alliance captain was thrown off a little from what it would have been. But the finals were full of those elite teams.

Yeah, we were one of those robots this year, we went to CMP for RCA.
So I'm sorry that our robot might have brought yours down a little, but hey, the winning alliance from Curie was still all "elite" teams anyway, what difference did it really make?

Sorry if I come off as defensive or angry, it's because I'm defensive, and a little angry.
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Unread 04-30-2013, 12:11 PM
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Re: Championships: Competition vs. Inspiration

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Originally Posted by CENTURION View Post

Sorry if I come off as defensive or angry, it's because I'm defensive, and a little angry.
This is still an open-minded civil discussion, nobody is saying anyone has the wrong opinion.

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Unread 04-30-2013, 12:16 PM
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Re: Championships: Competition vs. Inspiration

The difference between 400 teams 8 matches and 360 teams 9 matches is not just each team get one match difference. That does not seem like a lot. However the whole purpose of qualifying round is to bubble up the deserving teams to be alliance captains.

I am neutral on the topic on which teams should be invited to the championship. To me that is not as important. I see both sides of the argument and both are valid. What is important in my viewpoint is to bubble up the deserving teams to be alliance captains so they can pick good robots as their partners and have an awesome and competitive elimination round to make it exciting.

Having 400 teams and 8 matches will not allow only derseving teams to be alliance captains. A weak alliance captain who gets there due to luck of schedule will not be able to put together a competitive alliance and the elimination match will be one sided. 360 teams with 9 matches is still not ideal but is a lot better.

To people who says it is not about the robot and championship is a showcase, celebration or science fair, I have this to say. I have no problem with teams with varying capability at the championship. However qualifying round means just that. The best teams should qualify for elimination round. They should be alliance captains. Hence the number of teams and matches per team must allow this to happen. Otherwise, why have qualifying and elimination rounds. We can just all show up and play some friendly matches to showcase and celebrate. And to take it to the extreme, why even bother to keep score!
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Unread 04-30-2013, 12:48 PM
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Re: Championships: Competition vs. Inspiration

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Originally Posted by Ed Law View Post
To people who says it is not about the robot and championship is a showcase, celebration or science fair, I have this to say. I have no problem with teams with varying capability at the championship. However qualifying round means just that. The best teams should qualify for elimination round. They should be alliance captains. Hence the number of teams and matches per team must allow this to happen. Otherwise, why have qualifying and elimination rounds. We can just all show up and play some friendly matches to showcase and celebrate. And to take it to the extreme, why even bother to keep score!
This brings up an important point about the inspiration of competition. Yes, Worlds can be inspiring to all teams in and of itself. "Lower level" (however you'd like to define it) teams can learn a lot and be motivated to work harder and try more simply by attending.

But what about the teams that are already that inspired and worked their tails off to make the best robot they've ever made? Organizing a qualifying round that can't give them a fair shot can--and has, I heard to examples just this year--led to students on the verge of the "next level" becoming demotivated and uninspired. If you put all that work in and get hurt by the number of quals and your allies' caliber, is it any surprise that some students lose faith? Is more always better*, or is it such a stretch to see the uninspiring downsides?

*Note that I'm not saying 400 is necessarily too many or 8 is necessarily too few. (I happen to believe that's so, but I'm more concerned about the concept than the threshold.)
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Unread 04-30-2013, 12:58 PM
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Re: Championships: Competition vs. Inspiration

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Originally Posted by Oblarg View Post
Out of curiosity, how much experience do you have actually playing chess?
Relatively little. Enough to know that I don't particularly like it. It's hard to be enthusiastic about a game which the principal challenge is in out-computing the opponent.

I know enough people who are clearly better than I am at that kind of computation, and doubt my own ability and motivation to hone my skills to that level; competing against them is no fun, and the outcome is basically a foregone conclusion. By contrast, competing against fellow novices is a less banal undertaking, specifically because we don't know what we're doing and/or can't be bothered to try to play efficiently—and that kind of outlook virtually guarantees we'll never be any good at it, even if we have somewhat more fun.

As I hinted at before, for those who enjoy programming, it's more fulfilling to focus on something that people are good at—conceiving and implementing efficient algorithms and effective heuristics—while offloading the computational chores to a computer. Chess makes a better computer science problem than it does a game.

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Originally Posted by Oblarg View Post
Because I live with a FIDE master. Who is also a (winning) poker player.
I'm not asserting that these are mutually exclusive skills. Poker is nice because, in addition to valuing computational ability (expected values of hands given the situation), it traditionally emphasizes the ability to interpret your opponents' behaviour and incorporates a high degree of uncertainty in individual hands (which can be won or lost independently of your ability to master the game). It's that uncertainty that allows a novice to have fun playing against an expert, because there's a plausible chance that they'll win any given hand, even when the odds are against them.
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Unread 04-30-2013, 01:15 PM
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Re: Championships: Competition vs. Inspiration

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Originally Posted by Tristan Lall View Post
I'm not asserting that these are mutually exclusive skills.
Quite the contrary, they tend to go hand-in-hand. I can tell you from personal experience that poker is pervasive through a large portion of the chess community; I doubt this is purely coincidence.

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Poker is nice because, in addition to valuing computational ability (expected values of hands given the situation), it traditionally emphasizes the ability to interpret your opponents' behaviour and incorporates a high degree of uncertainty in individual hands (which can be won or lost independently of your ability to master the game).
Interestingly, winning poker players complain about variance, probably more than anything else. Probably falsely so; it's the variance that keeps the fish playing and allows them to make money, but it is simultaneously the single most frustrating part of the game. It no longer contributes to "fun" once you reach a certain skill level - at best, it's a necessary evil.

Quote:
It's that uncertainty that allows a novice to have fun playing against an expert, because there's a plausible chance that they'll win any given hand, even when the odds are against them.
This is certainly true, and is the likely the sole reason poker is such a profitable game.

I could discuss this at length, but I fear this is going off-topic. At any rate, I do not think the introduction of randomness into FRC championships is the proper motivation for allowing teams with less-than-impressive robots to attend nationals; at most, it's a secondary effect. What is important is the experience afforded to those teams, the and the very real beneficial effects they see as a result of it. This must be weighed against the logistics of the competition itself, and the result is, as others have mentioned, essentially an optimization problem. I am of the opinion that the balance ought to be in favor of including more teams rather than optimal competitiveness; this seems to best match both my experience at championships and my conception of what the entire purpose of FIRST is.
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