This was, prior to the pandemic, the topic that consumed most of my thoughts about FIRST and this game. Here’s my take, which is a combination of speculation, internal team experience, and observations.
First, what I theorized. It seems to me that teams that were highly competitive were also already highly efficient, with little room to grow. They already did not have actual limits on their work time because of the bag, so I didn’t expect to see much benefit for them. Teams that I thought would benefit the most would be those that desired to be competitive, but had limited funds and other resources. I figured these types of teams (mine included) would be able to do a lot more development and make their robots significantly better. More time for prototyping, more for testing, more for drive practice. The group I was most concerned about is those who were counting on FIRST to dictate their work cutoff; without a due date, I was afraid that their work would both spread out ('there’s no rush") and fizzle out (“we should be done by now, I have other things to do”). I thought we might see teams that in the past had at least fielded complete robots, start to bring incomplete machines to their events, worse than in the past.
Internally we succeeded in building the best robot we’ve ever made. We shifted from two “identical” (never actually quite) robots to one proto-bot built on a pre-existing drive base, and one complete competition bot. This model worked well for us, and we were able to at least test its basic function to some success (finalist captain) in Utah. We definitely benefited from no-bag.
My observations (for the limited number of robots I saw fielded) were sort of confirming my biases. I saw typically excellent teams field robots that were excellent, but not beyond the expected. I saw a few teams that have struggled in the past, come to competition with incomplete or untested machines that did not function or even pass inspection. And, I saw a large number of teams “in the middle” start to diverge; some built robots WAY beyond what they had done in the past (4068 and 3200 come immediately to mind), while others found themselves more behind than before.
In the end I don’t know what to think about the end of the bag. It was hugely beneficial for my team. It was hugely beneficial for some other teams. For top level teams it barely mattered. But, for struggling teams that I’d like to find a way to see success, this seems like a net negative. Not really sure what to do about that yet, and this truncated season means I’ll have to keep guessing.