2015 Lessons Learned: The Negative

What things do you feel FIRST could improve upon for future years?

FIRST needs to put their long standing teams at a higher priority than mass expansion, and they need to hold some real feedback sessions with teams or an advisory panel of teams, because it seems they have a mission of what they’re trying to do, and it doesn’t always align with what the teams want and need. And I don’t mean this about the two champs thing, but I speak on other factors. They need more integration into education.

Also, the timing of the Chairman’s Award and other top awards needs to be communicated clearly, before any music festival or dance party, and certainly before everyone leaves.

Well to start they need to make autonomous less important, this year and last year if you missed in auto the game was over and that is not fun for that alliance or anyone watching. Going into the finals of Einstein, it was obvious that Newton was going to use every tote. As soon as they got three cans in tbe first match it was all over. In the second match, there was an even split but Hopper did not get their auto so everyone knew it was over then as well.

I also feel like far too many things were left to the refs discretion this year. Refs need to make calls in regard to penalties but they should not get to decide what scores and what does not. At the end of the season I was left wondering so many things about what counts and what does not. Can I be touching the auton stack if I am not supporting it? Does the same apply to last second cans on stacks? What does fully supported even mean? Now the point is not that there are no objective answers to these questions but that refs can and have given me different answers.

Also transport configuration was a cool idea that was implemented so poorly that it sucked what little fun this game had to offer out before the match even began. Frank said at the drivers meeting at Champs that teams have 1 minute to setup as soon as they are allowed on the field. This is however ‘just a guideline’ and a ridiculous one at that. To be clear, our team used every second of that minute to just unfold our robot normally. Now add that 5 robots are moving around you along with a plethora of volunteer carrying stacks of totes around and you would be lucky if robots were ready after three minutes.

The tournament structure was awful, it just does not feel rewarding making it to the finals and losing. In all honesty it felt like a challenge more than a competition and I was pretty sure that the ‘c’ in frc is not for coopertition.

FIRST should realize they can keep it simple, there is no need to add unnecessary game pieces that no one wants and are worth far too many points (litter).

Finally, for the love of bot just let there be some defense. This game was so boring to watch, or should I say wait becuase all I did was wait for one side to mess up and then stop caring becuase the match was over if auton had not already decided that.

I’ll add quickly that while the championship in person is a great experience, I feel like those unable to attend and have to watch through the webcasts were treated somewhat poorly.

I understand some technical faults and whatnot through webcasts (dropped webcasts, cameras failing, etc.). I want to make clear that I am okay with the parts we can’t fix, but rather what we can actually fix itself.

There’s already been complaints of poor quality of the webcast. When I can say I prefer the Chezy Champs and PNW among others over how the championships were streamed, something isn’t right about how FIRST streams. FIRST has to set a standard for streaming (and I mean in the sense that they have to be far more distinguished, not regulation)- it just looks so odd when another robotics team/organization is performing far more vastly than FIRST itself.

Also, there was just poor scheduling on the behalf of award announcements. Not once throughout the entire Einstein broadcast was it mentioned that Chairman’s would be presented at the concert, and that concert in turn is streamed on the exact same stream. At the very least, it could be mentioned in the passing when the awards will be announced, instead of leaving all of us viewers confused about when it will happened.

There were also divisions being streamed through other division webcasts. I don’t know if this was to entertain the crowd while the matches were starting since this was on Thursday, but that just seemed like a silly mistake to make.

Either stick to the published schedule, or have ubiquitous video screens showing when things are really going to happen.

I don’t quite agree with you. Although I think autonomous shouldn’t fully determine the winner of the match - it is no fun knowing who’d win after 15 seconds - I must say the programming in FRC is in general almost trivial.
As a programmer joining a FRC team, I felt both great joy when seeing all the awesome elements the competition has to offer, but I was also disappointed to just program couple of Talons/Victors. It was just sad to see all the potential and programming knowledge of my teammate being thrown away, redundant, like that.

Well, You might say, “there always computer vision (CV) if you want to do something complex”. And you’ll be both right and wrong. CV is extremely interesting and challenging (we even reached out to NVIDIA), but generally it doesn’t provide any actual advantage to the robot -especially this year, when the only vision hints where the idiotic reflectors on the yellow totes.

So, to wrap up - yes, it may be better to let the auto be a little less crucial but programming must be kicked up a notch.

This is not true at all. Driver control is only so useful. Lots of teams take advantage of sensors to automate stacking and scoring routines, feedback control is very useful in giving a smooth driving experience, and providing an easy to use interface for the drivers to use is essential for top teams.

They need to do something about having super large student body teams taking completely over all the prime seating in venues. Its ridiculous.

I get the team spirit stuff…but in no way should one two or three teams take up for the entire days competition all the best central seats. I was looking for a single seat to scout and thy were all saved by various teams with enormous student bodies. One day I found a central seat and would not budge all day.

All teams deserve some of the prime space. Fix it. That aspect was really bad this year.

There is no seat saving…

If there is an empty seat you have the right to take it.

Have a spot for all the eliminations where the 4th alliance member can be with their robot to be introduced, they deserve that.

If you want to get an advantage w/ programming focus on controls not CV.

I did…that does not change the issue when you have hundred same team members taking up an entire prime seating section. There are 40-60 teams not just 3 huge student body ones.

The idea of moving thousands of people from one end of the dome to another in the middle of closing needs to be revisited. I felt bad for the winners and finalists of Einstein getting their award in front of a empty stands. Breaking up the closing activities with another 45 minutes of pounding DJ music before continuing with the program seems like a poor choice. Finally if you aren’t going to provide food for everyone then there needs to be a LOT more concessions open with better options.

FIRST has struggled to recreate the finale in Atlanta in St. Louis. This year’s event was another attempt but by starting so crazy late after people had been sitting for over six hours didn’t work out for many. Well over half the dome emptied.

Looking back over my last 11 years of leading a FRC team things that seem to make good games are:

  1. The outcome shouldn’t be decided by what happens in autonomous or endgame. This year’s can grabbing auto and minibots come to mind as bad game design.

  2. There needs to be defense! It’s not really a game without it. This year was more of a robot demonstration.

  3. Games constantly decided by penalties are frustrating especially in the early weeks. That wasn’t a problem this year but was last year.

  4. The engineering challenge needs to be different and interesting. This year was good in that regard. Totes and Cans were hard to manipulate.

  5. Auto should be worth the trouble. This year’s game was fine in that regard.

In my opinion this year’s game was one of the worst and the engineering challenge among the best so I guess it averages out. Hopefully we’ll return to an actual game next year.

Posting on mobile on the bus home so please forgive some typos.

  1. Don’t have the Einstien matches on one side of the stadium and closing ceremonies on the other. It messes with the flow of the event, adds more time delays go an already behind schedule (probably) evening, and moving a group of students through those crowds efficiently and safely is a nightmare. Also it left few people to cheer for this year’s Champion Alliance as they got their award.

  2. If you want FIRST to grow outside the usual crowd someone must provide a better home viewing experience. That means tailoring a broadcast too a remot audience instead of pumping out the in-stadium feed on a webcast. The FRC Live bit is a step in the right direction but the desk commentators were grossly underutilized and the on field interviews didn’t really provide any nuance or useful insight. That’s not entirely the field reporters fault BTW, that’s a much harder job than people think and FIRST should have prepped her better or got someone whose done more of those type of standup reports before.

  3. there needs to be more arena staff at Champs, especially in the upper bowl on Sat. There was no one to be found as people sat in the aisles, threw toilet paper (don’t know where they got that) over the jumbo torn and clogged the stairs.

  4. Make an announcement to stop throwing paper airplanes.

FIRST, if you are reading this, please do this. I was probably hit in the back of the head by ten paper airplanes, and there was someone in front of me who was hit even more. This was my first time at CMP, and saw a paper airplane land on the field before a good portion of the matches were just about to start. What if someone decides to throw it during a match, and it lands in a team’s lifting mechanism or drive train, rendering them useless? Of course they might call a replay, but if someone is throwing the Championship pamphlets (like I saw a few times), it could actually damage their robot.

Yeah, I think it’s pretty rediculous that you can win a match in a robotics competition without doing anything autonomously. They need to force teams to do something - anything - during autonomous. I would be in favor of there being some trivial autonomous task that is worth so many points that it is obvious on a first read of the rules that you can’t win without doing it.

This would decide some matches during autonomous though.

Programming controls is boring. trivial.

I don’t think you understand what “controls” means…

please, I am begging you FIRST with all my heart, please have a professional company do the stream and the audio. For those of you that were not watching the stream you have no idea what it was like.

  1. Awards for so grainy and washed out you didn’t even know who was talking
  2. we were lucky if we got audio at some parts
  3. During Einstein, we saw more of the human players and drivers than the actual robots
  4. the cameras kept cutting back and forth between individual robots and missing the action so when it was over your like “huh, when did that happen”
  5. please for the love of “bot” just show us a full field view that’s what the people want
  6. You were lucky if you got a whole match without it freezing.

I could continue in with this list but you get the point. Even if you didn’t get pros to do the audio and video at least get the kids from PNW that were doing it. Shout out to the PNW A/V crew you guys were the best. High quality streams and never missed the action.

So let me go through this in order of the season:

Preseason:
My team hosts a kick-off where we usually build a team built field for others to come and look at. I understand that FIRST does not want to give teams like mine an unfair advantage but the rate in which drawings and instructions for kick-off teams come out is really irritating. My team did not receive the final field drawing till Friday at 10:30 pm due to “a miscommunication” with when that drawing should have been released.

Kick-off:
The webcast was ok from what I can remember, but I think that is going to be a big factor in my negatives this year, this game did not lend itself to memorable events.

Build season:
Please do not mock our intelligence, how did you honestly not think we were going to figure out the noodle agreement? Why are game pieces always more expensive than diamonds? FIRST should really hint to suppliers about things that may be needed to be stocked up on for certain games (Mecanums this year, ANY wheels in 2013). Why is there still not a q&a for “hypothetical or design based” questions? If I am going to ask you a question it is because either a) My robot will do a thing that then may cause another thing will I be penalized? or b) My robot is built a certain way that the rules are ambiguous about can I receive clarification on if I will be allowed to compete?

South Florida:
I do not like week 1’s. I said it. We have no time to reflect on our design or finish any components, or even really fully utilize our withholding allowance. The setup for this game was unacceptable with an increase of teams we need a better seating setup as there was no way to actually watch the game unless you were in the top quarter of the seats or standing at floor level.
This is in bold because of all the parts of this game (and it beats Luncay as my least favorite) this is beyond my least favorite part of the season. I learned at the Bayou Regional that a Woodie Flowers Finalist from an out of state team was told he would not be coming out to present the award with the rest of us as it was for Florida Winners only. Who ever made this decision you are a detriment to our organization and do not deserve the power that allowed you to make that decision, while some of you may not like my bluntness their, the first ever Woodie Flowers Finalist at South Florida was from Massachusetts, and at Orlando for several years in a row was won by mentors from Pennsylvania, so it’s not like their is a lot of us.

Bayou:
Load in should have been a little clearer. Pits should really, really, really, be done numerically, a scavenger hunt does not make for easy scouting or communicating will alliance partners. For pictures of awards winners your photographer should have chosen a better location.

The Game Itself:
Since Bayou was were my competition season ended I will give my feedback of the Recycle Rush here. This game sucked. I have never immediately disliked a game so much, and then continued to dislike it more and more as the season went on. I dislike any game with a lack of defense, I really dislike any game where I never interact with the other alliance. The ranking system honestly resulted in some more anguish over certain matches, what I mean is in the previous win/loss system if I had the “weaker” scoring alliance we could play defense and make the game closer or even win it, in this game if I have a “weak” scoring alliance sometimes that one match is enough to drop me out of top 4 or top 8 all together. The playoff structure was even more unforgiving and really punished teams for lack of consistency but it also meant if you had a bad first match in quarters it didn’t matter what you did in the second because you were already done. I dislike the all or nothing autonomous, and really hate that at the highest level the game was decided in the first 5 seconds. Litter is the worst game piece ever actually that isn’t fair, litter is the worst scoring system ever. In a game called Recycle Rush why am I being rewarded for throwing trash in my neighbors lawn?(Credit to 180 SPAM for that) Also why is 3 pool noodles thrown over equal to 6 Totes? Finally as I said/implied above this game was BORING, I do not remember a single one of my teams matches or a single play from any of my events where I thought “wow that was impressive”, try to make a highlight reel out of this game then compare it to ANY of the previous ones from the last 10 years, tell me which is more entertaining.

The 2017-2020 Championship Announcement:
Why? Just why? I have answered every survey that FIRST has asked of me for 10 years and never once has the question of 2 Championships been posed. Based on Geographical distribution I will never play at Championship with any member of my 2007 or 2014 Championship alliance partners. I am not so much upset about the split I am more upset with how it was handled

2015 Championship:
I did not attend Championship for the first time since 2011 because I did not like the game that much. I also did not watch until division eliminations, which I only did in order to support the teams who I am friends with. I really really really did not like the interviews done on Einstein, they felt forced, repetitive and awkward. I REALLY REALLY REALLY did not like the treatment of the Chairman’s award especially from watching at home as there was not mention of it at all.

Overall:
I love FIRST, it has shaped my entire adult life, given me life long friends, and memories I will cherish forever. That being said if this is what the new FIRST looks like I am not worried about leaving FIRST as I think FIRST may be on the track to just leave me. Please don’t let Recycle Rush and the entire 2015 season be a sign of things to come, let it just be a small bump in the road to a much greater future.