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!