District third plays: A modest proposal

FRC Districts have a problem with third-event plays. A team playing in districts is guaranteed up to two appearances at a district qualifier to earn points that would let them qualify for the District Championship (and therefore the World Championship). They can also register for additional district events, at a discounted rate. Playing in a third event is just like playing in any other event, except the team doesn’t receive any district ranking points at the end.

This creates a conflict, though.

In one group, we have teams who (presumably) want to attend as many events as they can - they have a strong, well-funded program, a vested interest in experiencing as much competition and practice as they can, maybe a goal of being a top competitor at the world championship.

In the other group, we have teams without those resources/ambitions. They haven’t played their quota when these events come around, and suddenly they come across a very motivated, very well-practiced team or teams. Those teams end up draining the pool of points that would allow others to advance to the district championship.

At Week 6 Hartford, 5/38 teams on their third district event snagged 22% of district points.
At Week 6 Pine Tree 6/32 third-event teams claimed 28% of district points, including the three event winners and five of the judged awards.

I’m not going to begrudge the talented teams who want to make the most of their seasons. But there’s friction here. Teams who play later events are increasingly likely to run into a train of well-practiced teams claiming the playoff spots and awards needed to qualify for DCMP.

I don’t like the idea of banning teams from being able to win awards or enter the playoffs at a third event - that’s anti-competitive. But the current situation leaves teams unsatisfied.

My understanding is that teams attend extra events because they want more opportunities to learn from mistakes, gain practice with their robot, and continuously improve. How can we enable that without pushing down other teams?

Here’s my proposal:
Create a new type of district event, a slimmed-down version to be held in the final weeks before a district championship. The purpose is to accommodate teams who want to maximize their practice/tune-up sessions with their robots.

This event will have no judged awards. The assumption is that, by the end of the season, these teams have already practiced their pitches. And these teams aren’t playing for district points. This saves a set of volunteers and removes the need for a formal award ceremony.

This event will also have no playoffs. Playoff matches intentionally sideline a large portion of the event attendees for several hours. That time (plus the mandatory field timeouts) could instead be used for a few more rounds of matches. If teams want to exit the event with bragging rights, either an Elo system, W/L/T, or average ranking points could be used to determine the best robots at the end.

The goal of the match schedule is to allow every team the opportunity for a full set of 15+ matches, but also open up slots for drop-in teams like the procedure with practice matches. A couple options for this:

  • Have a defined match schedule and a replacement-bot queue. If a team doesn’t show up in the queue by the time the prior match has started, they are replaced by the first robot in the extra queue.
  • Have no predefined schedule. Give every team 15 match “coupons”. If a team is ready to play a match, they can enter the queue, pay a coupon, and be scheduled to play in the upcoming match. In this way, teams could even collaborate to set up specific alliances for matches they want to play. Teams can also enter a standby queue without using a coupon, but have to defer to the others with coupons.
  • Play a regular match schedule, but also run full “test” matches on a practice field.

For practice space, there would be a smaller carpeted area with game elements for basic “does it work” testing. Ideally, if space and resources allowed, there would also be a regulation-sized field space with wooden game elements and tape markings, to allow teams to tune their autonomous mode.

This proposal would give competitive teams a venue tailored to their practice goals. They get two full days of matches, copious time to tune their robot on a real field, and the chance for custom matchmaking with partners of their choice (practicing complex maneuvers like double-climbs and synchronized autonomous). It could be run with fewer volunteers and a lower cost than a typical district event. And this would create more district point opportunities, so that teams whose local event takes place in week 5/6 won’t be forced to choose between travelling or playing an event where the winners are already sewn up.

The main issue I see with this proposal is the need for volunteers. Even without the judges, these events would still require referees, FTAs, inspectors, and other people necessary to make an event run. Unless these proposed events are replacing existing events, it creates more strain on the pool of volunteers. Maybe this could be an opportunity to train up less experienced volunteers on a lower-stakes event filled with experienced teams.

Okay, I’ve said my piece. I’m sure you have your own opinions. Fire away!


Hot take: fewer teams are going to 3rd events this year. With the opportunity to just practice at home there is no reason to go to another event. And teams who want full match practice will try to find a way to hold scrimmages.


Consider the 3-play teams who aren’t having a career year, and they need to “steal” points at their third event in order to advance to the DCMP. Perhaps a team that just started to find its groove at the second event, by the end of the season was more than capable of being a DCMP-caliber team, but wouldn’t have made it based on their first two events.

There is a system set up by the coordinating entity, and teams are allowed to work that system to their benefit, even if there are negative consequences for others. Working through a system of tradeoffs sure sounds like Engineering to me.

Hotter take: 2020 will have a record number of multiple-event teams, including out-of-district plays. They will have extra funding due to not having to build a practice robot, and they’ll want to make sure their team is competition ready with a warm-up play somewhere else.


So the 3rd event you play in your district does not count towards your district point total at all. I think what the OP is saying is that third plays basically shrinks the number of district points available to teams who play later events.

I understand. That’s why stealing points was important - it keeps the team floating on top of others that would have otherwise overtaken it.

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Yup, there are two competing forces here. There is the fact that the 3rd event team “steals” points from other teams as the 3rd event team receives 0 regardless of performance. But at the same time, since these points disappear, the cutoff for DCMP goes down. Not qualified to comment on what the net effect is – I’m sure it’s heavily dependent on the specific situation.

Ahh I see what you’re saying, I never thought about it like that before. I assumed teams would mostly use it for a practice event, but I could see teams using it to potentially stay afloat in district rankings.

…this week on Chief Delphi: Making Mountains out of mole hills.

Or… you could attend competitions earlier in the competition season. Then you wouldn’t even have to worry about the third-play teams.

Why is everyone’s first reaction to any possible conflicting interest to complain and want to change the system?
This isn’t a problem. At most it’s a design feature.


I’m not necessarily against 3rd plays or its effects. But this isn’t really a valid solution for everyone, teams have to go to events they are able to go to based on location/cost/timing. And you gotta have at least some teams at later events.

From being in district and playing against teams who play more events. The bottom line is that the strong teams will shift to the top and the bottom teams will fall. This is just the natural order of things. With the points, there is some variance for small sample sizes and unlucky eliminations, but in the end the best teams wont make or break moving on because of one team playing an extra event. Teams should move to the next level if they are up to par, not because they got lucky.

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I don’t think this proposal necessarily works as an official district run event, but I could definitely see a team running it as an unofficial event if they have a full field set up in their work space, like the week 0 events, since there is no bag this year.

Wow, thanks for taking the time to think this out and share your ideas. This falls in the realm of my dreams that one day each district sees the return of a large regional that allows for some district teams to participate, but allows international teams global outposts of places they can compete. That’s a different topic for another day.

Its interesting you bring up Pine Tree Week 6 where 28% of the points were stolen. The reason I mention it is that our team captained an alliance where all three teams impacted by the scenario presented by the three teams on the #1 alliance and it drastically altered the remaining part of the year for all three teams.

We (3467) were Captains of the #5 alliance with 6329 and our third pick 2648 who we felt slipped far too low in the draft considering how well they performed on the field. Going into the weekend, 2648 & 3467 were well below the DCMP cutoff and needed every point we could accumulate. Windham was in 159th and Loop was somewhere in the 70s-90s.

After our Quarterfinals win, 2648 and 3467 knew that we were right on the DCMP cutoff. Loop was sitting with 58 points and Windham had 60 points. In semis we had to face an incredibly tough #1 alliance of 5687, 133, and 4055 who were all playing their third event and all inside the top 64 of NE having earned their spots. After a very tough series of Semi Final rounds including extremely narrow margins (1 point win) and an unfortunate Red Card on our part (we are still so sorry BERT), the #1 alliance rightfully won the series and moved on to the Finals. They played exceptionally on the field and earned their Pine Tree win in the finals.

Unfortunately for us, it was the end of the weekend and placed 2648 and 3467 below the DCMP cutoff (mid/upper 60s). Loop was needing those 10 points from semis and an award/10 points from finals to move along and Windham needed only four points to qualify so an award would have tipped us over the edge. Both teams were prepared that the season was complete before the awards ceremony. We on 3467 were humbled to receive 10 additional points and automatic entry to the DCMP via the Chairmans Award. Very nail biting for us with it coming down a Week 6 event, the last award, and one of the last spots in.

It didn’t stop there. At the district Championship, 3467 and 6329 played with a tough field of competitors. 3467 rounded out the elimination rounds as the 24th pick while 6329 went unpicked despite playing very well on the field involved in many rocket RPs some on their own. At the conclusion of the weekend, 3467 finished New England ranked 34 (130 points) and 6329 finished rank 41 (122 points) with the 29th ranked team 1058 (136 points) receiving the last spot to advance on points. 6329 and 3467 walked out a little dismayed knowing the season was done. We were hopeful that only being 5 spots away maybe we would see an invitation, but that also means some good friends and great teams would need to decline. Our team was humbled a few days later to receive the last invitation to Detroit via declines.

My reason for writing all of this was that those 10 points that we “missed” out at Pine Tree would have changed the entire season for our three teams and others in the area. 2648 would have qualified if we had a shot at winning finals, 6329 would have attended Worlds, and 3467 would have earned our spots sooner than waiting eagerly to see if we would be the last team to make Worlds or the first to not receive a spot.

Those 10-20 points would have shifted the balance of other teams as well. 172 was ranked just above us in NE when all was said and done. They Captained the #6 alliance on Daly, but with 10 more points 3467 and 6329 would have finished above them and kept a Detroit Alliance captain from qualifying.

All of that only considers robot matches. What about awards? Was 2648 up for Imagery, Engineering Excellence, or Innovation in Controls that were awarded to teams in third plays? Was Windham if we didn’t receive the Chairmans Award considering some other amazing and recent CA winners were in attendance?

When you get into the topic of Third Plays and the influence of points, there so many What Ifs that can play out and its hard to see who truly benefits and who gets hurt/bumped in the end. Its easy to look at Pine Tree or Hartford and only see those teams as impacted, but if those points go to teams at the event, what about the teams ranked on the cusp who played at other events?

As a six year participant in Districts teams I’ve been involved with have benefited or potentially been hurt by Third Plays. I say potentially because its hard to say. At the end of the day it didn’t matter that 5687, 133, and 4055 were playing their third play or not. We still didn’t outscore them in 2/3 matches and the better alliance moved on regardless of them receiving points or not.

For me, I’m okay with the Third Plays as they are.

DISCLAIMER: I am only a mentor for 3467. I do not speak on behalf of 2648 & 6329.


This proposal is ignoring one significant factor - “third plays” are sometimes required to properly fill out a district event. A district may have too many teams to fit properly into X events, but not enough to equitably fill X+1 events. Third plays help augment the “empty” slots left at events one the total quantity is raised to X+1.


Some of us are engineers. A possible inequity exists. It is in our nature to attempt to improve it.

Your exact argument was made against district events too. What exactly is wrong with constantly striving to improve? More specifically, what’s wrong with brainstorming possible improvements? Have you ever heard the polar bear story?


Instead of allowing those points to evaporate, what about assigning them to the next highest eligible team?

District points are not that simple, I wish they were.


With the end of bag, how is this different than just hosting a scrimmage?

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It uses the official field, refs, and FTAs.

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So do most off-season events.

…I didn’t say they didn’t? The point of this is to be able to use an official field during the competition season without throwing away district points.

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