Every time I look, FIRST (and namely the culture surrounding it) are moving further and further from the “science fair” end to the “sports” end. It’s this model that has made FRC so popular and so successful, as it can provide a much more entertaining and interactive method to science and technology. But is there a point where becoming too much like a sport is dangerous? How much like a sport should FIRST, FRC, and most importantly the culture surrounding it, be?
An example of what makes FRC so special can be seen within FTC and FTC’s reaction to the showcase challenge. Reading posts like this, this, and this show the feeling that heavily favor a “sport-like FRC-esque” game rather than a more “science-fair FLL style” challenge. I think we can all agree that the games are part of what has made FRC so special to all of us and kept us competing in it, but should the similarities extend beyond the field?
In the past few years we have seen the creation of The Blue Alliance, SOAP Gameday, Looking Forward, and Fantasy FIRST. This post calls for Looking Forward’s columns to be placed in the Sports Section of papers. Others in that thread suggested Sportscenter-like video segments about regionals. There is little doubt in my mind that FIRST’s atmosphere is becoming much more similar to a sport.
While the competitive, sports-like games have helped establish FRC as the leading high school robotics competition, sports have a slew of problems. Steroids, cheating, gambling, “fixing”, and other problems have been huge public issues for years. Why are things like this so rare in the sporting world? The winning-is-everything mentality has taken over far too much of the sporting world (and not just professional sports). After Eight Overtimes, the Michigan HS state championship hockey game was called a tie. While most applauded the decision, some didn’t.
There’s a cultural association in sports with winning and being the best. It’s the cause for performance-enhancing drugs, “spygate”, and every other form of cheating. And it extends beyond the playing field. Teams and cities have rivalries, individuals gamble on the results, and merchandise and memorabilia have become massive industries. Do we really want FIRST rivalries like this? Do we want betting pools on the Championship? Do I need a ThunderChickens recliner and Robowrangler’s authentic Rebok jersey? Should Karthik’s Delgado jersey sell for $500,000 some day?
Then of course there are the egos that are associated with the modern athlete. FIRST has publicly mentioned on multiple occasions how part of it’s mission is to place engineers and scientists on the same level as athletes and actors, but do we really want them to be the rockstar athletes? Or do we just want them to have the same fame. Does FIRST need a Michael Vick? “Pacman” Jones? Is FIRST really where the “egos come to play”?
It’s not hard to find comments stressing the importance of the word “competition” on these forums, and how winning is a valuable tool for inspiration. And this thread is not meant to be about whether or not winning is important. This thread is meant to discuss the culture that surrounds FRC and the value that culture puts on winning. There are plenty of threads discussing officiating (just like sports) and how team’s were “robbed” dotting Chief Delphi. Save those discussions for there. Don’t bring them here.
I realize this post sounds very negative. It’s not meant to be, it’s meant to bring to light the other side of this discussion. I don’t think I could manage without being able to watch matches on TBA or chat up other FIRSTers on the gameday discussions during regionals. There are obvious benefits to these and the sports-aspect of FIRST. But we need to tread carefully about how far we advance and what we want FIRST to become. And this aspect of FIRST is very much in our hands.